Chemical engineering, also known as process engineering, describes the processes that are used to turn raw materials, such as oil, into useful products such as fuel, plastics, textiles and cosmetics. It plays an important role in the design and production of all manufactured goods. Chemical engineering technicians support the work of chemical engineers. There are jobs in a number of fields including research and development, design, construction, operations and maintenance.
Because the applications of chemical engineering are so wide, chemical engineering technicians may work in a huge range of industry sectors including:
Duties vary from industry to industry and job to job, but may include:
Technicians usually work in a team with engineers, other technicians and operatives.
Chemical engineering technicians working in laboratories and research establishments work around 37 hours a week. Those in other jobs may need to be flexible and may need to work longer hours, especially when meeting deadlines. Shift work and weekend working is required in some jobs. There may be some opportunities for part-time work.
Work environments vary. Depending on their field, technicians may spend time outdoors, on construction sites, factory floors, mineral processing installations and oil and gas explorations, or in laboratories and offices. Laboratory work is often carried out under sterile conditions.
It may be necessary to wear protective clothing such as overalls, gloves, goggles, hard hats and safety boots, depending on the work environment.
Around 250,000 people are employed in the chemical industry in the UK. There are opportunities in a wide range of sectors throughout the UK. Employers may be companies involved in oil and gas, chemical and allied products, food, energy and pharmaceuticals, and companies that design and construct production plant. Opportunities also exist with central government departments and government agencies. Employers range from large international companies and research organisations, to smaller companies.
Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, Connexions centres and Jobcentre Plus offices, as well as on websites such as www.jobsinscience.com, and in magazines such as Chemistry World.
The majority of candidates enter this career though Advanced Apprenticeships. Applicants usually need a minimum of four to five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent, including English, maths and science or technology.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Another entry route is with Level 3 qualifications such as A levels/H grades, BTEC national diplomas, City & Guilds, or SQA national units in engineering. Applicants to courses usually need four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, in subjects including maths and science or technology.
Advanced Apprenticeships take between three and five years to complete. Training usually combines on-the-job training with day or block release to study at a local college or registered training centre. Advanced Apprentices work towards NVQ/SVQ Level 3. Trainees may be able to study for additional qualifications, including a BTEC national certificate or diploma, an SQA national certificate group award, or City & Guilds certificates.
After finishing training (which can form part of the Advanced Apprenticeship), technicians are encouraged to apply for Engineering Technician registration with the Engineering Council UK and, if successful, gain EngTech letters after their name.
To apply for EngTech status candidates must:
Registration may be more straightforward for candidates who:
A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.
Some employers offer opportunities for sponsorship for an HNC/HND, Foundation degree or degree course.
Technology changes quickly in this field, so it is important for chemical engineering technicians to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A chemical engineering technician should:
Chemical engineering technicians who qualify for professional status (EngTech) may have a wider choice of career development options.
With further qualifications, such as an HNC/HND or degree, a technician may be able to work their way up to the position of engineer.
There may be opportunities to work overseas, sometimes in remote areas.
Chemical Industries Association,
Kings Buildings, Smith Square, London SW1P 3JJ
Tel: 020 7834 3399
The Energy Institute, 61 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7AR
Tel: 020 7467 7100
Engineering Council UK (ECUK), 246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Women's Engineering Society, The IET, Michael Faraday House,
Six Hills Way, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 765506
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.