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Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers conduct research; develop and optimize processes; design and select equipment; and provide technical and management services for plants that convert raw materials into a wide range of end products (for example, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food products, fuels, plastics, metals).

Also Known As:Engineer, Professional Engineer
NOC Number(s):2134
Minimum Education:4 years post-secondary education/training
Employment Outlook:Job openings generated due to employment turnover. Occupational outlook currently unavailable.
Interests:I O D

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Related Legislation | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study

Duties

In research laboratories, chemists, biochemists and materials scientists develop metal and chemical products such as drugs, detergents, fertilizers, plastics, fuels and fabrics. Chemical engineers work with others to develop the processes required to produce these products commercially. They adapt and optimize the small-scale production used in the laboratory to large-scale, commercial and industrial production.

In general, chemical engineers:

  • operate or manage chemical, biochemical, pharmaceutical and materials processing plants
  • advise management regarding the selection of technology, layout of industrial plants and the selection, sizing and installation of equipment
  • determine the most effective processes for commercial production
  • conduct economic evaluations of processes and projects to identify cost effective options
  • design and develop new and better processes and equipment for converting raw materials into products
  • troubleshoot problems in industrial processing plants
  • ensure efficient, safe and environmentally responsible plant operations
  • use computers to simulate, model and control processes
  • choose the best instruments for measuring pressure, temperature, flow rate and composition
  • design and operate quality and environmental control systems
  • supervise technologists, technicians and other engineers engaged in support activities.

Chemical engineers may work in one or more of the following areas.

  • In research and development, chemical engineers conduct experiments to develop or improve products and processes. They usually work with a team of scientists (for example, chemists, metallurgists, biochemists, material scientists, physicists) and engineers (for example, mechanical, metallurgical, electrical engineers).
  • In process design, chemical engineers use information on new technology, operational data and design methods to design processes and specify equipment and operating specifications for industrial plants. Cost, safety and environmental concerns are vital components of plant design. Chemical engineers working in this phase often work with chemists, financial experts, technologists and engineers from other disciplines. Chemical engineers typically lead risk assessments of new projects.
  • In plant operations, chemical engineers ensure that the equipment in their unit operates efficiently and safely, and that the desired quantity and quality of product is produced. This includes troubleshooting, process improvement and equipment modification. They work with technologists, operators and other engineers and usually report to production managers.

Working Conditions

Chemical engineers work in office, industrial plant, field and laboratory environments. Those who work in production may come in contact with hazardous machinery and chemicals on a regular basis, or be required to climb process equipment up to ten stories high. Lifting up to 20 kilograms may be required.

Chemical engineers may be on call after hours. The work can be stressful when processes do not work as planned.


Personal Characteristics

Chemical engineers need the following characteristics:

  • the ability to think analytically and solve problems
  • an aptitude for physics, mathematics and chemistry
  • the ability to visualize complex processes and equipment
  • good oral and written communication skills
  • an interest in and an aptitude for management
  • a willingness to improve their knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis
  • the ability to work effectively with or lead groups of people from various disciplines and educational and cultural backgrounds.

They should enjoy being innovative, doing precise work, making decisions and directing the work of others.


Educational Requirements

The minimum education requirement for chemical engineers is a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. A graduate degree usually is required for consulting, research or university teaching positions.

Programs leading to a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in chemical engineering, as well as master's and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering, are offered at the University of Alberta  in Edmonton and the University of Calgary. The admission requirement for four year bachelor's degree programs is a competitive average in English Language Arts 30-1, Pure Math 30, Math 31, Chemistry 30 and Physics 30.

Industry work experience prior to graduation is recommended. A co-operative education or internship program, consisting of periods of academic study alternating with periods of planned work experience in industry, is available through the Faculties of Engineering at both the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. The co-operative engineering degree program usually requires five years to complete.

Post-secondary institutions throughout the province offer university transfer programs that allow students to apply up to two years of study to university bachelor's degree programs. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that the courses they choose to take will be accepted for credit at the institution to which they wish to transfer.

For current information about programs, admission requirements and mature student admission policies, please check post-secondary calendars or websites.


Related Legislation

Under Alberta's Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act, you must be a registered member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) to practice as a Professional Engineer. You do not have to be registered if you work under the direct supervision of a Professional Engineer and do not call yourself a Professional Engineer or use the word Engineer in your job title.

To find more information on the certification process see Chemical Engineer Licensing Process, Civil Engineer Licensing Process, Electrical Engineer Accreditation Process, Mechanical Engineer Licensing Process and Petroleum Engineer Licensing Process on the AlbertaCanada.com website.

Section revised June 2013

Employment and Advancement

Chemical engineers work wherever there is a process of conversion (for example, in pulp and paper manufacturing, petroleum refining, oil sands extraction, energy conversion, polymer processing, metal extraction and refining, power generation, food processing, adhesives and coatings production). Some chemical engineers are employed by instrumentation and control companies, engineering design companies, or environmental companies and agencies.

A typical first job after graduation is in process development. In these initial positions, junior engineers usually work on diverse assignments under the supervision of more senior engineers to gain experience and learn company procedures. With experience, chemical engineers may progress from production management positions responsible for a single unit or product to operations management positions responsible for large industrial complexes.

In Alberta, 84 per cent of people employed as chemical engineers work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Section revised November 2013

Salary

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Chemical Engineers occupational group earned on average from $44.18 to $56.66 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $52.59 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

Section revised March 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website: www.alis.alberta.ca/edinfo

Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) website: www.apegga.org

Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) website: www.cheminst.ca

American Institute for Chemical Engineering (AIChE) website: www.aiche.org


Related Occupational Profiles
Biomedical Engineer
Chemical Engineering Technologist
Chemist
Engineering Physicist
Environmental Auditor
Environmental Engineer
Petroleum Engineer

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; Mathematics; Natural Resources (Agriculture; Environmental Stewardship; and Primary Resources); and Science (Chemistry; and Physics)

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Engineering, Architecture and Related Studies

Produced October 2009
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For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at alis.alberta.ca, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.


Government of Alberta, Human Services