Become a Process Engineer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Should I Become a Process Engineer?

Process engineers develop various kinds of chemical processes used in manufacturing. They also handle safety practices as well as test and monitor any required equipment. Process engineers often work in laboratories but might also travel to facilities to make sure procedures and equipment are working appropriately; some might even get to travel internationally.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree generally required; some positions may prefer a graduate degree
Degree Field Chemical, manufacturing or industrial engineering
Experience Most employers require at least 3 years of experience
Key Skills Math skills, analytical skills, teamwork, familiarity with field-specific software such as C++, G&P Engineering Software, EngVert and CAD, ability to use chromatographic scanners, vial handling systems, agitators
Salary (2015) $97,360 yearly (median for all chemical engineers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; O*Net OnLine; Job postings

Step 1: Attain a Bachelor's Degree in Chemical, Manufacturing or Industrial Engineering

Most entry-level process engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree in chemical, manufacturing or industrial engineering. The degree should be granted by a program accredited by ABET. These programs can last 4-6 years and are available at many universities. Some programs allow students to specialize in process engineering. Coursework typically covers organic chemistry, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, process design, heat transfer, physics and micro-scale processes.

Success Tips:

  • Participate in an internship. Students who participate in internship or cooperative learning (co-op) experiences during their undergraduate programs may have a competitive advantage, since they'll be gaining valuable work experience. A search of process engineering job postions in December 2012 indicated that most employers prefer candidates with some professional experience. Some programs include internships or co-ops as either a mandatory or optional part of the curriculum. In some cases, students must seek internships on their own.
  • Join a professional organization. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) offers internship and job postings, networking opportunities and other resources for students. AIChE has local and student chapters nationwide. Students who join their university's AIChE chapter may find opportunities that help them build their resumes, and they may be able to attend regional or national conferences to meet with engineering professionals.
  • Get trained in Six Sigma. Many employers, especially in manufacturing, prefer candidates with knowledge of or experience in Six Sigma. A variant of Six Sigma know as Lean Six Sigma, sometimes simply referred to as 'Lean', is especially in demand.

Step 2: Consider a Graduate Degree

A graduate degree isn't mandatory to pursue a career in process engineering, but many employers may prefer prospective employees who hold a graduate degree. Plenty of schools offer master's or doctoral programs in chemical, manufacturing or materials process engineering. Topics of study in manufacturing or materials process engineering programs may include manufacturing process control and monitoring, computer-integrated manufacturing, materials performance and supply chain analysis. Chemical engineering programs may offer classes in process systems engineering, polymer processing, process system dynamics and chemical process control theory. Students may have to write a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation.

Step 3: Obtain an Entry-Level Job in the Field

Once graduated from an accredited degree program, aspiring process engineers may find work in the field. Job duties derive from and focus on the development of manufacturing processes of products, such as plastics and industrial materials. Process engineers will most likely find employment within the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, among a few others.

Success Tip

  • Consider licensing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics stated that though licensing for chemical engineers (which is the broader category to which process engineers belong) is rarely mandatory for the field, gaining the Professional Engineer designation is still recommended. Licensing requirements vary by state, but these usually entail holding an accredited degree, passing a series of exams and meeting experience requirements.

Step 4: Pursue Career Advancement

Engineers who have years of experience and show leadership skills may be qualified to lead teams of engineers or related workers.

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