Job descriptions and industry overviews

Chemical (process) engineer: job description

27 Feb 2024, 13:37

Chemical engineers are responsible for the processes and machinery used to transform raw materials into usable products.

A chemical engineer's hand wearing a blue glove and holding a conical flask containing blue liquid.

Chemical engineer : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Chemical engineers (also known as process engineers) design the processes that are used to turn raw materials into chemicals, drugs, fuel, plastics, cosmetics and other products. They apply their knowledge of chemistry and physics to develop and test the processes, machinery and equipment needed.

Typical duties include:

  • using and developing process simulation software to work out the most efficient production methods.
  • building prototypes.
  • managing the development and layout of new process plants.
  • designing and testing new processes.
  • working with other professionals to ensure processes and premises are safe and do not have a detrimental effect on the environment.
  • collecting the data needed to make improvements and modifications to processes and plants.
  • investigating and troubleshooting problems.
  • scheduling and coordinating work to tight deadlines and within financial budgets.
  • ensuring that equipment works to its specification and to appropriate capacities.
  • liaising with installation/project engineers.
  • managing and training other engineers.

Work may involve shifts and unsociable hours if a plant operates continually. You may also need to be on call to respond to problems.

Graduate salaries

Salary survey websites suggest that pay for graduate chemical engineers ranges from around £22,000 to £37,000. Salaries tend to be higher in London, and within the oil and petrochemical industries.

Earnings will increase with experience, especially if you achieve chartership.

To find out more about how much money you could earn as an engineer, head to our engineering salary round-up .

Typical employers of chemical engineers

  • Chemical production and process companies (for example, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, synthetics, plastics, paints and polymer manufacturers.
  • The water treatment industry.
  • Food manufacturers.
  • Energy providers, including those in the nuclear industry.
  • Oil refining/petrochemical companies and associated service and contractor companies.

Vacancies are advertised on targetjobs , by careers services and by industry professional bodies. You can also find jobs advertised on specialist jobs boards and by specialist recruitment agencies, although these roles tend to be for more experienced chemical engineers.

We provide tips on finding and applying for jobs with smaller engineering companies here .

For help with applying for engineering jobs and internships, take a look at our engineering CV and covering letter tips and our advice on filling out online applications .

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into this career for both graduates and school leavers. Graduates will need a degree in a relevant subject such as chemical engineering, biochemical engineering or mechanical engineering – often at a 2.1 or above.

Make sure to read our list of engineering employers that accept 2.2 degrees .

You don’t need a postgraduate qualification to get a graduate job as a chemical engineer, although you will need one if you want to become chartered. If you choose to study at this level, make sure your course is accredited by the Engineering Council. A list of accredited courses is available on the Engineering Council’s website and you can read our article on engineering postgraduate study to explore your options.

Competition is tough for chemical engineering roles, so work experience will help your job applications stand out. If your degree doesn’t involve a placement year, look for summer internships and insight days. You could also join the Institution of Chemical Engineers or the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining as a student member. This will give you access to training and networking opportunities that could help you secure work experience.

See our list of engineering employers who offer industrial placements and summer internships.

Once you are employed, achieving chartered (CEng) status with the Engineering Council will help to demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to this field. To become chartered, you will need an accredited bachelors degree in engineering or technology, plus an appropriate masters degree (MEng) or doctorate (EngD) accredited by a professional engineering institution such as Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). You will also be eligible with an integrated MSc. To learn more, head to our guide to chartership .

If you’re a school leaver, you could get into chemical engineering via a degree apprenticeship. You’ll study on a day release basis and work the rest of the time in a related job so you can apply your learning.

Key skills for chemical engineers

  • An aptitude for and interest in chemistry.
  • Excellent numeracy and maths skills.
  • A commitment to health and safety.
  • Analytical skills.
  • Commercial awareness.
  • The ability to work well under pressure.
  • Communication and teamworking skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.

Next, check out our guide to engineering assessment centres to learn how you can demonstrate the above sought-after traits to engineering employers.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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