The prospects for chemical engineers in the United States are good but not great, according to the “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016–17 Edition,” which was published in late December by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor. The report includes data for 2014 and projections for 2024.
The report predicts the number of chemical engineering jobs will increase to 34,900 in 2024 from 34,300 in 2014. This gain of 600 positions translates to 2% growth over that period, a rise lower than that expected for engineers in general (4%) and all occupations (7%), notes the BLS.
Employment of chemical engineers in traditional manufacturing will decline but demand for chemical engineers in emerging areas such as nanotechnologies, alternative energy and biotechnology will more than compensate, believes the bureau. Moreover, the retirement of many current chemical engineers by 2024 will create favorable job prospects for engineers earlier in their careers, it adds.
The BLS forecast certainly is less optimistic than that of the American Chemistry Council, a well-regarded industry trade group. Its chief economist, Thomas Kevin Swift, predicts growth in the output of the U.S. chemical industry will outpace the overall increase in gross domestic product for the next five years (“Momentum Builds”). Moreover, he expects industry employment to rise by more than 4% to 845,100 jobs in 2020 from 811,500 jobs in 2015.
The BLS data for May 2014 show, not surprisingly, Texas has the most chemical engineering jobs (6,990), about three times as many as the state with the next highest number, California (2,320). Rounding out the top five states for chemical engineers are Louisiana (2,190), New Jersey (1,730) and Pennsylvania (1,630). However, Delaware (690) dwarfs all other states when it comes to the proportion of chemical engineering jobs to overall positions — with 1.64 per thousand jobs, far exceeding runners-up Louisiana with 1.14 and Texas with 0.62.
Chemical engineers surpass other engineers in one key area — salary. The median annual wage for chemical engineers as of May 2014 was $96,940, versus $88,720 for all engineers and $35,540 for all occupations, says the BLS. Among top sectors employing chemical engineers, petroleum and coal products manufacturing provided the highest median annual wage ($112,670); followed by basic chemical manufacturing ($100,530); resin, synthetic rubber and artificial fibers and filaments manufacturing ($100,040); research and development in the physical, engineering and life sciences ($98,860); and engineering services ($96,950).
The average median salary the BLS reports doesn’t come close to the average salary of $104,500 we found in our 2015 salary survey — “Readers Speak Out on Salary and Satisfaction,” — but our survey wasn’t limited to respondents with a title of chemical engineer and was more recent.
The BLS assessment focuses on jobs with a chemical engineering title. However, as most of us realize — and academia and professional societies proudly and persistently proclaim — a chemical engineering education equips graduates for many jobs that aren’t titled chemical engineer and for an incredibly broad range of careers. So, I, for one, expect a somewhat brighter outlook for chemical engineers than the BLS does.
The full BLS report on chemical engineers is available online at http://goo.gl/a7HSCK.
MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org