Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology and math to solve problems and develop products. Many of our food, drug and energy products are developed through the efforts of chemical engineers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average chemical engineer salary is among the highest of all occupations, reflecting the key role they play in modern society.
Chemical Engineering Jobs
In addition to their involvement in product development, chemical engineers design manufacturing equipment and processes. The tasks they perform include design, research, testing and experimentation. They mainly work in labs and offices, but their responsibilities may require them to spend time at factories, refineries, plants and other industrial locations. Many chemical engineers specialize in a certain topic such as biotechnology or polymerization, or in the development of specific products like fuels or electronics.
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Education Requirements for Chemical Engineers
The job of chemical engineer requires at least a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or a related subject from an accredited program. Chemical engineering programs at the postsecondary level in the U.S. are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Many students augment their engineering studies with industry experience gained through internships and co-op positions.
Some chemical engineering programs offer both a bachelor's and master's degree in five years. Having a master's or doctorate in chemical engineering opens the door to higher-level research and teaching positions. Although licensing is not required for chemical engineers, many do earn a Professional Engineer license. A PE license is required to be able to sign off on projects and provide engineering services to the general public.
Chemical Engineer Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for chemical engineers in 2018 was $104,910, or $50.44 per hour. This is the amount at which half of engineers earned more and half earned less. The top 10 percent of earners made more than $169,770, while the lowest 10 percent made less than $64,890.
The top-paying jobs in chemical engineering are found in fuel manufacturing in the gas and oil industries, where the median annual salary was $113,380 in 2018. Chemical engineering jobs in pharmaceutical manufacturing are among the lowest-paying, with a median salary of $100,800. The majority of chemical engineering jobs are full-time and may even require overtime hours to solve a problem or finish a project.
States with Highest Chemical Engineer Employment
Texas has more chemical engineering jobs than any other state, with 7,870 jobs in 2018. The average wage was $147,720 per year, or $71.02 per hour. This reflects the importance of fuel production in the state. In California, there were 2,100 chemical engineering jobs during the same year. Louisiana had the third highest number of chemical engineers with 1,710 jobs.
Chemical Engineer Job Outlook
The job outlook for chemical engineers is good. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts an 8 percent job growth for chemical engineering between 2016 and 2026. There were 32,700 chemical engineers working in the United States in 2016, and there are expected to be 35,100 working in 2026, representing 2,400 new jobs. This growth rate is about the same as for other types of engineering jobs.
Demand for chemical engineers is driven by new technologies, so there is expected to be job growth in the development of alternative fuels. There is also expected to be increased demand for chemical engineers in the biotechnology sector. Engineers with a background in biology could have better chances for these jobs. Manufacturing is the only sector where the number of chemical engineers is projected to decline over the next few years.