Strong job growth predicted for chemical engineers

Both the short- and long-term job outlook appears positive for chemical engineers.

By Ken Schnepf, managing editor

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and recruiters are predicting steady job growth for the field.

Growth in jobs for chemical engineers should match the average for all occupations, which is from 9% to 17% though 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although overall employment in chemical manufacturing is expected to decline, chemical companies will continue to research and develop new chemicals and more efficient processes to increase output of existing chemicals, the bureau reports.

Among manufacturing industries, pharmaceuticals may provide the best opportunities for jobseekers. However, most employment growth for chemical engineers will be in service industries such as scientific research and development services, particularly in energy and the developing fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology.

“The outlook is for slight growth in ’07 — maybe 2% or 3% growth,” says Andrew Hammer, president of CareerMarketplace which runs ChemicalEngineer.com, Canton Ohio. “Beyond that the outlook for chemical engineers is very strong.”

As baby boomers retire, there will be more opportunities especially for those in the five-to-seven-year experience level and those just out of college, says Hammer. When those engineers do leave, it will take a while to fill the void, but that will put pressure on everyone else and push salaries upwards. Along with job growth, he foresees an increase in salaries. Companies will be looking for individuals who can contribute and advance quickly as well as experienced engineers willing to step into a management role and accept more responsibility.

“Senior engineers with 30 to 40 years of experience will move out (retire),”  says Hammer. “They can come back as contract employees and maybe work two days per week. They will be able to pick their projects and almost pick their own billing rate.”

Earnings for engineers vary significantly by specialty, industry, and education. Even so, as a group, engineers earn some of the highest average starting salaries among those holding bachelor’s degrees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows chemical engineers with a bachelor’s degree receive an average starting salary of $53,813. Those with master’s degrees earn a $57,260 average starting salary. And engineers with a Ph.D. start at an average salary of $79,591.

“The sweet spot for most technical careers is seven years,” explains Hammer. “They have at least a master’s and have worked long enough to change careers at least once, they’re still mobile, are willing to move and can run a project on their own.” His company has been assisting engineers in finding jobs since 1996 and has a rolling registration of approximately 10,390 engineers seeking jobs and 3,790 employers seeking to hire chemical engineers.

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