Chemical Engineering: Graduate Area of Work

Chemical engineering provides solutions to a variety of issues, such as overcoming water shortages and advancing pharmaceutical drug discovery.
The gradsingapore Team

The growth of the chemical industry in Singapore is centered chiefly within Jurong Island, a well-developed area that most of the world’s leading energy and chemical corporations have seen as suitable to build their base.

Among some of the big names to be found within the area include BASF, ExxonMobil, Mitsui Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemicals, Shell, and Lanxess. The products produced at such companies range from oil, pharmaceuticals, and polymers, to fine chemicals and commodity chemicals (e.g. methanol and ammonia).

There are also establishments set up in Singapore to work on a range of research projects, such as the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES) – an independent national research institute operating under A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology, and Research), and the Singapore Chemical Industry Council.

Other career opportunities in the chemical industry include support businesses, such as engineering contractors who specialise in building chemical plants, or technology development organisations that develop and patent new chemical manufacturing technologies.

Trends and developments in the chemical industry

Some of the most relevant and prominent issues that are propelling the global chemical industry are environmental concerns and the rising costs of certain feedstocks (raw materials).

For instance, the rising cost of oil is placing pressure on companies to optimise processes involving this commodity, resulting in chemical engineers being urged to find solutions to offset the rising costs of processing oil.

Environmental concerns such as water shortages and climate change are also affecting the industry drastically. Still, such concerns also tie in to good business. By optimising a process to use fewer resources, for example, this not only helps the environment, but lets the company save money.

What it's like working in chemical engineering

Depending on the nature of your responsibilities and duties, life as a chemical engineer can either be fast-paced or slow but steady. As a resident chemical engineer, operational problems at a plant will need to be speedily resolved – usually within a few hours or days.

Inversely, if you are developing new process technology or finding commercial outlets for a new chemical compound, then your project timescale may span years.

Work is very often demanding but exhilarating, especially when you come face-to-face with new technologies and discoveries. Travel and secondment opportunities are also not out of the ordinary, so this industry is most suitable for those who like the occasional change in their working environment.

Another option may be to work in commercial- and management-oriented positions, such as project management or technical sales roles.

Getting a graduate job in chemical engineering

Fresh hires in the chemicals industry will usually be put through a three- to five-year graduate scheme as training by hiring employers, where they will be rotated around the different areas of their business in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the business.

Most chemical engineers will opt to branch into a specialised sphere of the industry after having identified their key skills and interests. For instance, some may start out as manufacturing engineers – one of the more common professions within chemical engineering – but later end up as a process design engineer.

As long as you are able to identify the expertise or field that appeals to you, you can always approach your manager or mentor to discuss the direction of your career progression.

Since the project work is largely team-based, hiring employers will look out for graduates who are sociable, adaptable, and good at team work. Aside from that, you will also have to possess good numeracy skills and attention to detail.

The highlights of a career in chemicals

One highlight of a career in this industry is the opportunity for continuous learning. You will be continually exploring new innovations or improvements to existing processes. The flexibility to change career directions and explore a variety of specialised career opportunities are some of the other benefits that graduates in this industry look forward to.

You will, however, have to contend with heavy pressure. Most of your work as a chemical engineer will require accuracy and precision – particularly in terms of computing certain processes – as well as rapid turnaround. It is necessary for you to always be accountable for your work.

The chemicals industry seeks graduates in...

  • Chemical
  • Civil/structural
  • Control
  • Electrical
  • Environmental
  • Instruments
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials
  • Mathematics
  • Mechanical
  • Physics