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Industrial Chemical Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Industrial Chemical Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

The industrial chemical industry makes chemical products that are used by other industries to make plastics, paint, explosives, and thousands of other products. The industry makes chemical products from a variety of raw materials, including coal, oil, plants, salts, and minerals. Chemical products are also used to manufacture steel, glass, detergents, cosmetics, drugs, and film.

The industrial chemical industry spends a lot of time and money on research to develop new processes and products. As a result, the industry has grown into one of the largest in the nation. It employs many different kinds of professional and skilled workers in subfields within the industry involving the production of industrial organic chemicals, plastics and synthetics, and agricultural chemicals. More than 596,000 workers were employed in the chemicals and allied products industry in 2004. Although industrial chemical plants are found in nearly every state, especially large concentrations of plants are located in California, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, and Ohio. A number of plants are situated near oil fields or coal fields. Many other plants are located near manufacturing centers, often in the vicinity of large urban areas.

Over half of the workers in this industry are engaged in production. They process the raw materials into chemical products in the plant. Production work in the industry is highly automated. Huge amounts of chemical products are often processed in one continuous operation. Conveyors or pipes move materials to different areas of the plant. Raw materials may go through many chemical changes during processing.

Chemical operators constitute one of the largest groups of production workers. They operate automated equipment that controls the timing, temperature, pressure, and flow of materials. They use instruments to test the quality of chemical products. They also record and report test results. Chemical operators usually have helpers to assist them. The processing of chemical products may require dissolving, mixing, or filtering as well as heating or cooling and drying. As a result, many chemical operators perform specialized jobs. Filterers operate equipment that separates solid particles from liquids. Mixers run machinery that mixes solids and liquids. Drier operators tend machines that remove liquids from solids. Grinders use machinery that crushes solid raw materials before processing.

Besides chemical operators, many maintenance workers are needed to keep machinery and equipment in good working order. They include pipe fitters, machinists, and boilermakers, among many others. Lead burners install and repair pipes, vats, and other equipment that are made of lead. Highly skilled instrument repairers maintain the electronic equipment that controls the manufacturing process.

Chemists are the largest group of scientists employed in the industry. They often do research and work to develop new products. Plastics and synthetic fibers are two of the discoveries chemists have made. Chemists are usually assisted by chemical technicians, who test and analyze chemicals for quality and content. Chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers develop new processing equipment and methods or plan the construction of new chemical plants.

Administrators and many other professional and clerical workers handle the business and financial side of the industrial chemical industry. These workers include accountants, chemical sales representatives, technical writers, and public relations and advertising workers.

Education and Training Requirements

Most industrial chemical firms prefer to hire high school graduates for entry-level production jobs. These workers are usually assigned to a labor pool. Under the supervision of an experienced worker, they learn to do responsible processing work. Some maintenance workers learn their trade on the job. Others enter a three- to four-year apprenticeship program. Some instrument manufacturers offer experienced workers the opportunity to attend training programs in the operation of specialized instruments.

Chemical technicians sometimes have to complete two years of college courses in science or engineering to qualify for their jobs. High school graduates who have a background in chemistry and a few years of work experience can sometimes qualify for a technician's job. Beginning scientists and engineers need a bachelor's degree in engineering or science. An advanced degree is typically required to get a job in research. Many firms in the industry offer training programs. They often pay part or all of the tuition for courses that are related to the industry.

Getting the Job

Your high school, technical or vocational school, or college placement office should be able to help you find a job in this industry. You can also apply directly to any chemical plant. Some job openings may be listed with private or state employment agencies or in newspaper want ads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

The industrial chemical industry provides many opportunities for advancement. For instance, beginning workers in labor pools may be transferred to processing jobs. Chemical or maintenance helpers, through on-the-job training, may become chemical operators or supervisors. Technicians can advance to laboratory or drafting jobs. Engineers and scientists, with further education or experience, can move into high-level positions in their field or into administrative jobs. Some begin their own consulting firms. People with technical, scientific, or engineering backgrounds can get jobs in marketing research, sales, technical writing, or other areas.

Although chemical production is expected to increase, employment growth is anticipated to decline through 2014. Increased automation, streamlined production processes, environmental regulation, and foreign competition may reduce employment opportunities. There is a continued emphasis on research and the development of new products and applications, particularly in areas related to biotechnology and biomedicine. The introduction of increasingly complex production and management systems may result in the hiring of more administrative and technical personnel than in the past. However, most job openings are expected to be for production workers, often to replace workers who retire or leave the field for other reasons.

Working Conditions

Good physical health is a requirement for work in this industry. Most jobs are not strenuous, but many workers need to stand, walk, stoop, bend, or climb ladders. Other workers have to lift and carry heavy chemicals, tilt vats, or assist in moving 500-pound drums. Some workers may be subjected to noise and vibration from machinery. However, most plants are well lit and ventilated to protect workers from dust, odors, high temperatures, and air that is too dry or humid. Good vision is a requirement for production workers who have to test products by their color. Good eyesight is also necessary for accurate reading of thermometers, gauges, charts, and meters.

Safety measures are important in industrial chemical plants, and the industry has a good record in this area. Goggles, safety shoes, gloves, and respirators are among the different kinds of safety equipment provided to protect workers from chemicals that are dangerous to touch or breathe. Showers and eye baths are available to workers in some processing areas. Chemical plants usually run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and workers rotate shifts. Employees may work the day shift one week and the night shift the next. Many production workers are members of labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Chemical Society
1155 Sixteenth St., NW
Washington, DC 20036
(800) 227-5558

Chemical Manufacturers Association
1300 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209
(703) 741-5000

International Chemical Workers Union Council/UFCW
1655 W. Market St.
Akron, OH 44313-7095
(330) 867-2444

Earnings and Benefits

Most workers in the industrial chemical industry are highly skilled and their earnings are relatively high. Some maintenance workers in specialized fields earn more. Chemical engineers are usually paid higher salaries than other kinds of engineers. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production