In Chemical Processing’s 2014 Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey, we asked participants to share their comments regarding what advice they’d give someone looking to go into the field, and their observations on public perception of the industry, and what can be done to improve it. Here are all the responses. Be sure to read the article 2014 Salary Survey Yields A Mixed Bag. For more charts, check out Additional 2014 Chemical Processing Salary Survey Data.
What single piece of advice would you give someone who is thinking of going into the field?
Find a way to develop leadership and business skills along with the technical stuff. That gives wider opportunities than you might get in a purely technical role.
Be personable. Engineering is a great career but the people who can handle the technical and personal interactions will really shine
Always remain customer focused (external not internal).
Good field to get into. The pay is pretty good and job is challenging due to all the new technology coming out in the instrumentation world.
Get a mentor, use the mentor, be a mentor.
Chemical industry is difficult — be prepared to work a lot.
Work as intern (while getting your degree) to gain work experience
All chemical engineers should get a PE license and keep it active for their entire career, even if they go into manufacturing or research.
Think very carefully about changes to technology and constantly take advantage of learning opportunities as the more you know the better for you to keep your job otherwise it can be outsourced to China or India. There is no such thing as job security in this field anymore — anyone and everyone is expendable.
Be prepared to work long hours with low compensation unless you are in higher management positions.
Never stop learning — your university education equips you with the basics required to work in the chemical industry, but you will find you need more depth to have a productive and satisfying career.
Go for it! The work can be incredibly rewarding.
Diversify your skill set, get an MBA and/or career development in process and energy efficiency. Look out for better opportunities when you can.
Know what you want specifically. The work is difficult, stressful and substantive. You must be right. Not a job of talk.
Most operations are 24 hour a day operations. You need to be flexible at least in your early years to long and variable hours
Engineering consulting is an awkward mix of scoping jobs with big ideas, and then detailing those ideas to the "Nth" degree. Better be thick skinned as consultants are hired so the client has someone to blame when thing aren't as expected. This is where a detailed scope of work is a life saver.
Get a broad base of studies, since industry is changing and you can't predict what type of knowledge will hold hidden value.
Plan to work hard. Companies are demanding more gets done with less.
Start a co-op as soon as possible. Not only will a co-op better prepare an interested person more than classwork, but employers value relevant work experience tremendously.
Safety management is what matters in this field. Whatsoever you do, minor mistakes can affect lives of hundreds. Think and rethink before taking any actions.
Make sure that you learn early on how to communicate effectively with employees at all levels, from shop floor to executives, in order to be successful.
Unless you're lucky, you're not going to be wealthy working in the chemistry field without a PhD. Stay in school and earn that PhD!
I would say that engineering and computer science fields are up and coming fields in America. We need you.
Chemical engineering isn't physics and chemistry. It's fluid flow, reactor design and process control. Know what you're getting into.
Always look for new ideas and opportunities to improve yourself, your products and the process used to get the job done.
Do not enter chemical engineering because it is high in the "starting salary" surveys — go into the field if you enjoy using math and science to solve problems.
To become a successful engineer, you need to persevere for the first few years, get your hands dirty and try to learn as much as possible. There is no short cut to acquire the knowledge and experience in this field. So, when you are prepared with the above in mind, you will be sought after for the rest of your career.
I think the field of safety and health is becoming increasingly important and it is very fulfilling to assist others with going home the same way that they came to work.
Chemical engineering is a very broad, diverse field. I used to say that I would not advise anyone to work in oil refining due to potential lack of future, but with the changes in oil production, it's a very viable long-term field again.
Most chemical-related industries are very small, niche, and tight communities. Focus on networking and always act professionally!
Be a people person and have a thick skin.
Don't fail to consider a career in manufacturing just because it doesn't seem to be as glamorous as other careers.
At some point you will likely move into management. When you get there, remember where you came from. Never put yourself above others.
Stay as current on technology as you can through out your working life. Be honest, and trust your common sense.
What observations do you have about the public's perception of the industry?
We make "cancer-causing poisons."
The public's perception of the industry seems to come from uninformed news people and governmental "do-gooders." It seems that all the attention is on the negative and not on the positive. It seems that there is not enough time to get involved, due to the time constraints of everyday living, so have the government do it.
The term "chemical" is perceived as a "dirty word."
Some states are not as environmentally regulated as other states and enforcement is not equal. This can lead to negative publicity to ALL of the chemical industry, leading to an overall negative perception by the public.
Our industry seems to focus on the wrong things at the wrong time. We need to explain at a high school level what we do.
Given the BP spill, problems with fracking contamination and the Freedom Chemical disaster in WV, I'd say they might be better than the industry deserves. There are a lot of slimy actors in the chemical business.
Some spectacular failures by companies that don't seem to know what they are doing has hurt the whole industry.
Most people have absolutely no clue about the role the chemical industry plays in modern society. Without this industry, you don't have plentiful food, effective medications, efficient transportation, comfortable housing, modern communications, and on and on.
In all honesty, the average American is pretty ignorant about our industry. I do not think they are worth the effort to educate either.
The public does not understand that gas and oil is sewn into the very blanket on which our society is based. Going green helps, but no one person can break away from the products. Accidents will happen, but as long as the responsible parties take action to remedy the effects, and prevent future occurrences, the public should show satisfaction.
Many people in the USA today do not understand science, so the news media defines their perception of industry.
We supply environmental control systems. We are looked upon favorably by the public.
Chemical industry is a modern four-letter word, as every wisp of vapor is frowned upon. Our company tried to start a new production plant, but folks in that area said “no chemical plant in my backyard.” Must not need jobs. Public has been frightened by past mistakes. As a whole, my clients are very conscientious about anything leaving their facility.
Most are oblivious to the need for engineers. Our worth as value creators is ignored. Chemophobia drives an incorrect understanding of what we do and how modern life depends on what we do.
Their perception is typically swayed by a few bad actors within the industry who have large scale industrial accidents, spills or injuries.
Present day managers are much more focused on profits and passing their time /meeting schedule rather than on safety, operation optimization and cost benefit justifications.
The public opinion feeds off of horrible past practices from 40 to 50 plus years ago. This industry has completely turned around and is among the best stewards of the environment. Yet the public is constantly bombarded with negative emotional propaganda from organizations that have no regard or understanding of facts.
Some of the perception is valid due to the accidents in the industry — some of the emphasis on production has cause accidents.
There are a few bad apples in the industry that get all the attention when they do something wrong, but I'm realistic enough to know that "good" news doesn't sell!
Public is a fickle lot. They clamor for more products and conveniences without realizing it is the chemical industry; that supplies them.
It’s very black and white in view of what is good or bad. The impact of the chemical field is a question of amounts and moderation and the public seems to have a hard time with this.
The public is right to be skeptical of the industry. The industry does little to look good. They talk a great game about the environment but they do not want to pay people to have a safe work place. Money to environmental controls takes away from the profits and the bonuses.
I believe that the public lacks knowledge and is misled by the media. Having said that, I also believe that Industry needs to accept a lot of the blame. It is a self-inflicted wound.
For the good the pharma industry does, it does not get much publicity. As always, the negative makes better news for the 24-hour news cycle we live in today. My past employers (oil field services and industrial chemical companies) fare even worse with the public; however, people forget (or do not know) all the positives these industries provide. Luckily too, I have always worked with very reputable companies with good safety and environmental compliance records.
I think recent accidents have soured the public's perception but I don't think the industry's image is permanently damaged.
People are "against" the industry but they are driving cars, talking on cell phones, wearing Nike shoes, etc., all of which would be non-existent if it was not for our industry. I don't think that most of them know where plastics, foams, adhesives and such actually come from.
The public is justifiably suspicious of the chemical industry (and industry in general) because it has been shown repeatedly that corporations consistently put profits ahead of public and customer health and safety — witness Monsanto and their hardball tactics against farmers and protesters, the oil companies with fracking and spills all over the place, abandoned contaminated plants all over the world with the local government picking up the tab, pharma companies knowingly releasing products with harmful side effects, agribusiness chemicals causing environmental problems, etc, etc. What ELSE is the public to think???
With the number of accidents occurring, it is not surprising that the chemical industry has some public relations to do.
We try to be environmental stewards but do not discipline ourselves to manage in that fashion.
Public does not realize the safety features many companies have in place to protect the employees and community.
In Western Australia it is pretty good as the oil and gas and the mining industry drives the economy. Engineers are well paid and sought after so public perception is high.
There will always be some negative angle that someone will go after. I am most concerned that companies value people, both customers and employees. I think that companies that do not share expanding profits with employees but instead increase executive salaries are on the wrong track. Henry Ford's philosophy of making sure employees can afford the product being made is one that is fading and that is bad.
Do you have any suggestions as to how public perception of the industry's image can be improved?
Implement a positive message campaign similar to what once was done several years ago to stress the value that the chemical industry has had to improving living conditions and what the future holds.
Risk is a very difficult subject for humans. More recognition of how we perceive risk and work to understand risk perception vs. actual risk is important.
The world does not function without the chemical industry. A multitude of products are made and used on a daily basis — emphasize these many products and the great strides the chemical industry has taken to reduce spills, emissions, releases into the environment. There are many industry controls used to protect our environment.
Companies in the industry need to be forthcoming and transparent with their communications and less protective of positions that are in conflict with the public good.
A properly coordinated effort on the part of industry advocacy groups can help — i.e., ACS, ASCE, ASME, AICHE, AOCS all working together to promote the engineering profession as a whole while educating the masses as to what we do to improve the daily lives for everyone.
Tour grade school students through facilities to let them learn how and what work is done at the operational level.
Add shows about different aspects of the chemical industry on "Modern Marvels" or similar TV programs.
Start building the association in people's minds that when decisions are made about this industry, it will affect pricing and availability of everyday products, which ultimately has an effect on how convenient these products are. The best thing people can do if they feel the industry is doing wrong is to stop buying and using the products directly related to that industry.
There's no single answer, as it depends on the sector you're trying to impact, but most people are going to be skeptical of any company saying their chemicals are good and/or safe. Generally, offsetting negative perception with positive public outreach (helping underprivileged, cleaning up an area for public use, building a kids' sports field, etc.) helps.
Average people just do not realize the amount of regulation industry must meet to even operate. It is a tough sell to those who will not make some effort to understand the industrial environment.
It is a self-correcting problem. As a shortage of chemical engineers and all engineers in general increases things will stop getting done and more problems will arise (keeping the lights on and the commodities coming at reasonable cost). This will drive the point home hard enough that even the bankers, lawyers and accountants will understand. Then the salaries will come back but by then we will have lost a whole generation of knowledge.
The message the industry provides will always be suspect, while the entities communicating on the opposite side are perceived as noble warriors attacking the evil greedy industry. It is a tough nut to crack.
The best way would be to have a closer watch on all chemical companies. There should be an industry standard that all chemical processing plants must follow, or face an immediate shutdown. This would go a long way to reinforce the public perception in a positive manner.
More science required in high school. I was only REQUIRED to take two science courses; I think more high school science would help. Also, it would help if we could get a community involved in the chemical field in their area, specifically the environmental impact side.
At each facility, have high expectations and hold personnel to them. Get involved with your community. Be a partner. Have a communications plan.
Work toward requiring best practices in EH&S throughout the industry. Zero lost time accidents for multiple years should be the norm, not the exception.
The CSB [U.S. Chemical Safety Board] has to do more (somehow) to encourage industry in states that do not enforce the regulations on the books to operate safely and in an environmentally conscious way.
Industry in the U.S. and Western Europe is by far the cleanest in the world. The rest of the world is 30–50 years behind us in safety and environmental standards. Yet, we add more of these burdens on our industry forcing it out of business and promoting growth in countries with low standards. This needs to be publicized.
Ensure that we are willing to clean up our footprint at areas we no longer operate. The chemical industry has a legacy of walking off and leaving abandoned sites that should have be dismantled and that site cleaned.
Promote positive recognition of the awards that industry provides (Balmert, others from API, AIxxx) Get those stories into the public via electronic media (because good news doesn't sell newspapers or FoxNews ratings. How about more TED talks [on TED.com}— those attract a credible audience of seekers.
There is no shortcut to trust. Actions speak louder than words. First and foremost a company must be a good neighbor and protect it's employees and the community. If a company is transparent, pro-active and a good neighbor, the reputation will build itself.
I recently read an article on what it would be like if there were no engineers. It was very interesting. The same should be asked about no industry to show what would not be available. Most people have no comprehension as to where things come from.
Weed out the bad actor companies who are not well run and represent a hazard to the rest of us.