How to become a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers design and coordinate the construction and operation of manufacturing facilities and processes that convert raw materials into everyday products such as petrol, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

Personal requirements of a Chemical Engineer

  • Enjoy technical and engineering work
  • Safety-conscious
  • Able to identify, analyse and solve problems
  • Good communication skills
  • Aptitude for computing and design
  • Practical and creative
  • Able to work independently and accept responsibility

Education & Training for a Chemical Engineer

To become a chemical engineer you usually have to complete an engineering degree at university with a major in chemical engineering or industrial chemistry. Alternatively, you can complete a relevant degree, followed by a postgraduate qualification in chemical engineering. To get into the degree courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics are normally required. A number of universities in Australia offer degrees in these areas. Entry to postgraduate courses usually requires completion of an appropriate bachelor degree. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements or offer external study. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information. For full details, refer to the entries on the website at www.goodcareersguide.com.au or university handbooks.

Duties & Tasks of a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers may perform the following tasks:

  • seek new and more efficient processes and materials, or improve or find new uses for existing materials
  • design methods and equipment to control and contain the processes that transform basic materials into useful products
  • ensure the safe, efficient and environmentally friendly operation of equipment and test products at various stages of production to check their quality
  • make plans and specifications for new production plants, taking into account available technology, the cost and size of equipment and storage space, market requirements, transport methods and disposal of surplus substances
  • review current methods of production for cost efficiency, environmental friendliness, maximum output and optimal product quality
  • identify faults in the day-to-day operation of process plants (such as oil refining, steel making and water treatment) and take corrective action
  • prepare reports, feasibility studies and cost analyses of processes
  • provide product process information to sales and marketing personnel or customers
  • direct and coordinate the work of maintenance and construction tradespeople or process plant operators.

Working conditions for a Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers usually work standard hours, but may be called in to meet demanding deadlines. Those with responsibilities for continuous process plants may be on call 24 hours a day. Some may work shifts during the commissioning of new plants. Workplaces range from laboratories and processing plants to engineering design offices and research institutions.

Employment Opportunities for a Chemical Engineer

Major employing industries include manufacturers of iron and steel basic products, manufacturers of organic industrial chemicals, the minerals industry and petroleum refineries. There is also scope for chemical engineers to move into related areas such as biotechnology, food engineering and mineral engineering. Others are employed by government agencies assessing and monitoring the risk and impact of chemical processes on the environment (checking air and water quality, for example). Those with several years of experience may become consultants with engineering firms or on a self-employed basis. A range of careers also exist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and state authorities concerned with gas, electricity, water supply and environmental protection. With experience, and sometimes further training, chemical engineers may advance to become business, technical, financial or works managers; personnel directors; or managing directors of large companies.

Additional Information
Graduates may be eligible for membership of Engineers Australia or the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in Australia. Visit their websites for more details.
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