Nature of the Work
Chemical engineers work in many phases of the production of chemicals and chemical products. They design equipment and plants and determine and test methods of manufacturing the products. Chemical engineers also work in areas other than chemical manufacturing such as electronics manufacturing or biotechnology. Because the duties of chemical engineers cut across many fields, they apply principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mechanical and electrical engineering. They frequently specialize in a particular operation such as oxidation or polymerization. Others specialize in a particular area such as pollution control or the production of a specific product like plastics or rubber.
Chemical engineers held 51,000 jobs in 1990. Three-quarters were in manufacturing industries, primarily in the chemical, petroleum refining, and related industries. Most of the rest worked for engineering service or consulting firms that design chemical plants or do other work a on contract basis or worked for government agencies or as independent consultants.
Employment of chemical engineers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Most openings, however, will result from the need to replace chemical engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Employment is in the chemical industry where many chemical engineers are employed, is expected to expand due to increase output and increase research and development expenditures. Areas relating to pharmaceutical, biotechnology and materials science may provide better opportunities than other portions of the chemical industry. However, much of the project growth in employment will be non-manufacturing industries, especially service industries.
Low oil prices have reduced opportunities for chemical engineers in petroleum refining and energy-related industries as well as for chemical engineers working in research on alternative energy resources and energy conservation. Opportunities for chemical engineers in these areas will be limited until the price of oil increases.
Sources of Additional Information
American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 345 East 47th St., New York, N.Y. 10017.
American Chemical Society, Career Services, 1155 16th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20036.