15 Must-Have Skills for Chemical Engineers

If this is a career that appeals to you, then these are the skills necessary to succeed in this field!

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Skilled chemical engineers with a chemical plant in the background

Careers in chemical engineering remain on an upward trajectory, with demand forecasted to grow 4% per year for the next decade. As the global economy continues to roar back from the 2020 madness, corporations and governments will require these professionals with the key skills to perform the job.

Are you interested in a career in chemical engineering? It is imperative to possess the skillset necessary to flourish in this occupation – it is a blend of technical and soft skills.

We have compiled a list of 15 must-have skills for chemical engineers. Let’s dive deeper into what is needed to survive and thrive as a chemical engineer.

1. Analytical skills

Analytical skills are crucial for chemical engineers since it’s a discipline that consists of critical thinking, logical reasoning and data analysis. Understanding why something is not going according to plan or why a product is malfunctioning can help you decipher and identify potential issues, which could, in turn, allow you to resolve them.

2. Maths skills

Mathematics is a significant facet of chemical engineering. You are working with numbers all day, especially in a laboratory setting when using advanced computer software and complete theoretical models. Mathematics is also utilised in thermodynamics, process design and control, and chemical reactions.

3. Project management skills

This is a skill you will need to have as you climb through the ranks of this industry. That said, you don’t necessarily need a post-secondary degree in this area and or any form of formal training – this is a skill that you can home in as your progress in your career.

A chemical engineer in a project management role needs to delegate tasks, motivate employees, manage their time and ensure those project outcomes are of the highest quality.

4. Interpersonal skills

Human resources departments routinely state that there is a soft skills crisis unfolding in today’s workplace. And interpersonal skills – or the lack thereof – are included in this conversation.

Collaboration, behaviour, conflict resolution and perhaps even social etiquette are abilities that are missing from many modern-day offices. So, while chemical engineers are known to be rational problem-solvers, they also need to exhibit excellent interpersonal skills.

Indeed, interpersonal skills are essential if you collaborate successfully with others and lead a team of your own one day.

5. Problem-solving skills

In chemical engineering, problem-solving is one of the many key skills necessary to succeed in the job. Solving problems is what this career is all about - applying the principles of chemistry, biology and mathematics to the production of chemicals, pharmaceutical products, food, fuel and a long list of other consumer and industrial products.

6. Data analytics skills

Chemical engineers must have access to data science tools to exploit the treasure troves of available data. From data storage to data visualisation, these are part of the day-to-day work responsibilities that can lead to correct insights, accurate programming, and the right processes.

Since data is already an imperative aspect of any engineering field, it is one of those technical skills that chemical engineers can easily attain.

7. Science skills

While it might be superfluous to say that science skills are needed for chemical engineering, there is more to it when you begin to understand why this is essential for the field. On a fundamental level, you are using scientific rules and methods to solve problems by applying mathematics, chemistry, physics, and technology to succeed. Having a solid understanding of these scientific disciplines, then, is essential.

8. Decision-making skills

In chemical engineering, decision-making is a key skill since you calculate the relative costs and benefits of possible actions to select the most appropriate one. This requires active learning, systems analysis and evaluation and operation monitoring in any STEM field.

9. Attention to detail skills

Does it need to be said that attention to detail is something that chemical engineers need? Well, we’re going to say it anyway!

Attention to detail is especially important if you are working in a factory or laboratory – a lack of detail orientation could lead to serious accidents. Put simply, chemical engineers need to maintain a fine balance between concentrating on the small things without losing sight of the big picture. This is the power of being detail oriented.

10. Computer skills

Chemical engineers are educated and formally trained to be IT literate, numerate and computer savvy. As a professional in this field, you will depend on powerful and evolving technologies and software. Whether it’s working with data or making calculations, computer skills go hand in hand with chemical engineering.

11. Resource management skills

Is resource management synonymous with project management? Not quite.

While project management requires you to be eagle-eyed over an entire venture, resource management homes in on the details, in the case of chemical engineers, they need to allocate resources, from labour to materials, to maximise project efficiency.

The principles of resource management include resource capacity and allocation and teamwork management, and personal work management.

Ultimately, the objectives of resource management are to avoid unforeseen circumstances, foster an environment of transparency, create a safety net and measure the team’s efficacy.

12. Design skills

It might not seem like it, but design skills are important for the chemical engineer’s broader skillset. The reason? One of the common functions for this STEM professional is to design new process plants, factory equipment, or alter existing products. Overall, the design component of chemical engineering can lead to new products in energy, agriculture, manufacturing and other crucial industries.

13. Visualisation skills

When working in a business-related role, visualisation skills are necessary because you must visualise data, analytics and other findings related to your position. By employing various visualisation tools, you can manufacture visual representations of your data to make it clear and concise for management, consultants, clients and colleagues.

14. Critical thinking skills

In undergraduate studies, one of the key technical skills that students are taught is critical thinking. Everything from how critical thinking fits into chemical engineering to how this skill can be applied to senior design and multi-disciplinary-based projects.

In other words, students are instructed on how to be critical thinkers, whether it is asking thoughtful questions or self-evaluating their contributions to a project. To be a critical thinker, you must be an inquiring individual.

15. Research skills

In this field, research skills are about creating new ideas, putting together different perspectives, and gathering a broad array of arguments. Research skills are indeed tied into critical thinking, but they are still independent of one another.

For example, possessing a research skill consists of developing an understanding of information. A critical thinking skill requires questioning facts, statistics and evidence. In chemical engineering, it is paramount to have a fundamental understanding of anything and everything you come into daily contact with. Otherwise, you will miss the forest from the trees – and that can have lingering consequences on your career development.

Final thoughts

Chemical engineers will find themselves working in diverse industries, whether pulp and paper or oil and gas extraction. With enough years of schooling and plenty of experience, these STEM professionals will come across many opportunities, even in business roles like management.

Suffice it to say, chemical engineers should not be expected to do one thing throughout their careers. Like the periodic table, there are many components in this field.

Are you interested in pursuing a career as a chemical engineer? Which of these skills do you think is the most important for this occupation? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 14 August 2014.