Planning a career in chemical engineering
Chemical engineering is a highly sought after profession. Chemical engineers are employed in many sectors including energy, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and FMCG. If you’re thinking about a career in chemical engineering, whether you’re applying for undergraduate courses, embarking on an apprenticeship, recently graduated or considering a career change, these are our tips for a successful application.
Where to start
Chemical engineers traditionally have at least a BEng (frequently a BEng). Less common, but possible is a BTec route and the are apprenticeships for the field too. There is a lot of competition to get onto a chemical engineering apprenticeship so you will need to demonstrate excellent skills in maths and sciences (chemistry & physics particularly). Without A-Levels in Maths, Physics & Chemistry you may struggle to get into chemical engineering but you may be lucky enough to get an apprenticeship as a production technician or similar where you could progress into the role and further your education whilst in work.
Choose a field that interests you
Chemical engineering is a broad subject and covers a multitude of sectors and day-to-day tasks. You may want to work at the early research stages or you may be more interested in the more ‘practical’ manufacturing end of the process. At its core, chemical engineering is about turning raw materials into a useable substance so the applications are endless. Find a field that really interests you be it energy, textiles, food, pharma, biotech, environment… Some sectors pay more than others, some have lots of vacancies all over the country, some work on cutting edge technology, some more everyday. What are your personal goals? Don’t dismiss sectors too quickly either. It depends on the company, for example, you may not want to work in fashion textiles but a company designing innovative textiles adapt to body temperature may be fascinating. You may be turned off by big pharma but a small research lab developing affordable life-changing drugs may be ideal for you.
Opportunities for career progression in chemical engineering
Most chemical engineers work towards becoming chartered through the Institution of Chartered Chemical Engineers (IChemE). The IChemE usually require at least seven years of experience after graduation. Chartered status is very valuable in chemical engineering and without it, you may well find career progression grinds to a halt and when applying to large corporations it is often a prerequisite for senior roles. Chartered status is internationally recognised, opens new opportunities and will probably enhance your pay packet considerably. Demand for highly rated chemical engineers is high and with chartered status, you should never struggle for employment. Read IChemE’s 10 Reasons to Get Chartered if you’re not convinced!
Experienced chemical engineers often find themselves in freelance consultancy which can generate considerable earnings as well as provide flexibility and variety that may not be available in permanent employment.