With more than 500,000 students in chemical engineer programs, it’s no wonder demand for this highly technical specialty is outstripping supply.
The shortage of qualified candidates is especially acute in manufacturing and construction industries, where there are many more students interested in engineering.
A growing number of companies have begun hiring chemists, but only about 10 percent of chemists in the U.S. are considered qualified, according to a recent report from the American Chemical Society.
The National Association of Chemists and the National Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest trade group for chemical engineers, have been advocating for a higher ceiling on the number of graduates they can admit.
The association and the ACS have launched a joint initiative, called the “Chemical Engineer Career Pathway,” to promote more applicants in the field.
The group also has started to expand the number and variety of courses offered to students in the program.
The program is still small, with about 150 students in five high schools and colleges in the Northeast and Midwest.
But it’s a promising first step toward narrowing the gap between students and graduates, said David W. Turetsky, the association’s president.
“We know that this is a big problem,” Turetysays.
“This is a problem that has to be solved.”
Turetsky said he’s confident that students will take advantage of the program’s resources, and that he’ll continue to be optimistic as more graduates enroll in the industry.
The ACS recently hosted a workshop at its Washington headquarters on how to best prepare students for the chemical engineering pipeline.
But Turetiesky cautioned against being too confident.
“The fact that the pipeline is so wide doesn’t mean that it’s open to everyone,” he said.
“It’s important to remember that it can take a long time to get to a point where you’re not doing the right thing.”
A graduate’s job title can vary.
Some chemical engineers work for companies like GE and Boeing, which are large manufacturers of aerospace parts and components, and others work in the aerospace and defense industries.
Turingtsky also pointed out that the ACS doesn’t count any graduates in a “Chemistry 101” class taught by an instructor, so some students are left with limited job knowledge.
The profession is also changing.
For years, chemical engineers were considered more advanced and technical than the rest of their industry peers, said Chris Knecht, an associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
But Kneches, who is also the president of the Chemical Engineering Association of America, said the number who are considered “proficient” in a particular area is actually declining.
“What we’re seeing is that chemical engineering is not the same as it used to be,” he says.
The Chemical Engineering Career Pathways program has already helped students make more informed decisions about which fields of study they want to pursue, Knech says. “
There are going to be many more jobs for people in this industry,” he predicts.
The Chemical Engineering Career Pathways program has already helped students make more informed decisions about which fields of study they want to pursue, Knech says.
That could mean finding more employment opportunities.
In the U, the average salary for chemical engineering graduates in 2017 was $80,000, according the ACS.
But graduates in other countries also are getting paid more.
In Europe, graduates earn about $72,000.
The U.K. is one of the highest-earning countries for chemical and engineering graduates.
Knechnits hopes that the program will help attract students who would be less likely to take a technical course, or to take on jobs that don’t require a degree.
“If you look at the people who are going into the industry right now, they’re more likely than not going into a management position, or into some type of engineering position,” he hopes.
He said he believes the ACS will continue to expand its program to other areas of engineering in the future.
For example, KNECHTS said the ACS plans to offer courses in environmental engineering, engineering technology, and the business of engineering.
For more information about the Chemical Engineer Career Plan, visit the ACS website.