Chemical engineers, also known as biochemical engineers, work alongside other professionals to create the buildings and machinery used in the production of chemicals, fuels, plastics, synthetic materials, food, drink and medicines. There is a constant demand for people with expertise in this field and new areas of speciality are constantly arising. This is a highly skilled job and requires the bringing together of many varying qualities, but because of this offers great rewards in career advancement and pay.
Sometimes people gain entry to the industry as technicians straight from school while studying an apprenticeship but most people continue in education to degree level. In order to be offered a place on a chemical engineering course at university you should have three A-levels, or equivalent, in subjects such as chemistry, maths or design. You should also hold five or more GCSEs graded A*-C including maths and chemistry. Some universities offer foundation courses to allow candidates who have not gained all of the relevant qualifications to reach the entry requirements.
Many universities offer sandwich courses where the second year is completed on a placement in the industry, giving you an advantage over other candidates who have only studied in the classroom. Other universities offer joint courses where chemical engineering is taught in conjunction with other subjects such as building design or environmental management.
It is very important to have a strong grounding and natural ability in chemistry and/or biology as, although you will be designing the buildings or machinery, you must know the properties of the chemicals they will house or control. A good chemical engineer will also have strong inter-personal skills as a lot of the work involves discussing projects with professionals from other fields. As many chemical engineers rise quickly and to high positions, such as on the board of directors for various companies, a good head for business will also help you. As well as all of these; an eye for detail, strong analytical skills and an aptitude for problem solving are also important skills in this demanding career.
Whereas many other engineering disciplines regard experience as being almost as important as education, it is very difficult to progress in chemical engineering without having an extensive education. However, while studying at college and university there are many opportunities to gain practical experience. There are many schemes offered to young people which allow them to visit a company on work experience and see first-hand the role of a chemical engineer. Some companies even offer training schemes where they will pay for you to get the education needed to join them once you finish.
In order to be offered the best jobs in the industry you should study to become a member of the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). To become an incorporated member you must first have completed an undergraduate degree and hold a bachelor of Engineering (BEng) before then going on to complete a period of professional development which can be organised with your employer. Once you have worked in the industry for two to three years you can then apply to the IChemE for a professional review which involves an examination before becoming a corporate member of the IChemE.
To become a chartered member you must have completed a postgraduate degree (MEng) before completing a number of years in the professional workplace. You can then apply to the IChemE for a professional review involving an examination and an interview. Chartered members of the IChemE are able to get the very best jobs in the industry as well as the best salaries.
The starting salary for a recent graduate is around £23,000 which rises with experience and qualifications. Corporate members of the IChemE typically earn around £40,000 while chartered members are often offered £60,000+.