California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Chemical Engineers in San Diego County

May also be called: Chemical Research Engineers; Process Engineers; Refinery Engineers; Refinery Process Engineers; Research Chemical Engineers

What Would I Do?

Chemical Engineers* apply the principles of chemistry and related sciences to solve problems involving the production or use of chemicals and biochemicals in products, such as detergents, plastics, or petroleum. These Engineers design equipment and processes for large-scale chemical manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production. They also develop procedures that are energy-efficient, use renewable raw materials, and reduce pollution and waste. Additionally, Chemical Engineers must be aware of all aspects of chemical manufacturing and how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of workers and consumers. Chemical Engineers work in a variety of industries, such as biotechnology, clothing, energy, food, healthcare, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and scientific research.

Engineers may specialize in a particular chemical process, such as oxidation or polymerization. Others may use their extensive knowledge of chemical processes to minimize the effects of toxins that have entered into the air, soil, or water. In addition, they may develop chemicals that break down in the environment without having any lasting effects. Chemical Engineers also work on developing safer solvents and substances in products, such as cleaners, inks/toners, paints, and pesticides to lessen or eliminate the effects on human and environmental health.

Some Chemical Engineers research, design, and develop fuel cells to power vehicles, trucks, or generators. They work with renewable resources such as biomass to create fuel for heating homes and powering vehicles. They research and develop new materials and improve cell chemistries for batteries to increase efficiency, decrease size and weight, make them safer, and reduce the environmental impact. They also conduct research on recycling and converting carbon dioxide for use in environmentally friendly products. Other Engineers are re-designing solar cells to collect a higher concentration of energy from the sun.

Tools and Technology

Chemical Engineers use a variety of tools in their job including centrifuges, computers, distillation systems, heat exchangers, mass spectrometers, and wet scrubbers. The technology they use include various types of software, such as computer-aided design (CAD), database query, object-oriented development, office suite, project management, and thermal analysis systems.

Green Economy

Chemical Engineers will play an important role in the emerging green economy. Some will assist with the research and design of energy-efficient systems, such as fuel cells and batteries. Others will work within the renewable energy generation sector developing, designing, and testing products using energy sources, such as solar and biomass. Some Engineers will work with traditional non-renewable sources (oil, coal, gas, and nuclear) that are undergoing green technological changes. Engineers are also involved in environmental protection, such as remediation, air quality, and climate change adaptation.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

*This product was partially funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration. The information contained in this product was created by a grantee organization and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. All references to non-governmental companies or organizations, their services, products, or resources are offered for informational purposes and should not be construed as an endorsement by the Department of Labor. This product is copyrighted by the institution that created it and is intended for individual organizational, non-commercial use only.

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Develop safety procedures to be employed by workers operating equipment or working in close proximity to on-going chemical reactions.Writing
Troubleshoot problems with chemical manufacturing processes.Troubleshooting
Evaluate chemical equipment and processes to identify ways to optimize performance or to ensure compliance with safety and environmental regulations.Systems Analysis
Conduct research to develop new and improved chemical manufacturing processes.Chemistry
Determine most effective arrangement of operations such as mixing, crushing, heat transfer, distillation, and drying.Critical Thinking
Perform tests and monitor performance of processes throughout stages of production to determine degree of control over variables such as mixing, crushing, heat transfer, distillation, and drying.Deductive Reasoning
Design and plan layout of equipment.Information Ordering
Design measurement and control systems for chemical plants based on data collected in laboratory experiments and in pilot plant operations.Mathematics
Develop processes to separate components of liquids or gases or generate electrical currents using controlled chemical processes.Engineering and Technology
Perform laboratory studies of steps in manufacture of new product and test proposed process in small scale operation such as a pilot plant.Science
Direct activities of workers who operate or who are engaged in constructing and improving absorption, evaporation, or electromagnetic equipment.Administration and Management
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Most Chemical Engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites, oil and gas facilities, or production sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve on-site problems. Chemical Engineers may need to be trained in safety procedures and wear personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, gloves, protective clothing and footwear, and respiratory masks.

Many Engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may require Engineers to work longer hours. Some Engineers travel extensively to chemical plants or other work sites in the United States and abroad.

Unionization is not common in this occupation. However, government Engineers typically belong to a union.

Will This Job Fit Me?

Chemical Engineering may appeal to those who enjoy working with ideas and activities that require an extensive amount of thinking and include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and materials such as chemicals, metals, and pharmaceuticals.

Chemical Engineers tend to be analytical, creative, dependable, detail-oriented, and inquisitive. They are also able to adapt and place high importance on achievement, cooperation, leadership, and innovation.

Chemical Engineers must be able to work alone or as part of a team. Effective oral and written communication skills are critical. Engineers usually convey information to interested parties on a range of topics, such as biofuel development or manufacturing processes.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2020 for Chemical Engineers in California was $103,800 annually, or $49.90 hourly. The median wage for Chemical Engineers in San Diego County was $113,708 annually, or $54.67 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2020Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$83,105$113,708$142,605
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2020 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Most Engineers receive a good benefit package including health and life insurance, vacation, sick leave, and a retirement plan.

What is the Job Outlook?

With the increased focus on the green economy and environmentally sustainable business practices, it is expected that there may be increased opportunities for Chemical Engineers. The strongest demand will mostly likely be in the areas of research and development in biofuel technology, biotechnology, energy efficiency, nanotechnology, and pharmaceuticals. However, like many occupations, employment is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Chemical Engineers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Chemical Engineers are expected to increase by 8.0 percent, or 200 jobs between 2016 and 2026.

In San Diego County, the number of Chemical Engineers is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Chemical Engineers are expected to increase by 16.0 percent, or 40 jobs between 2016 and 2026.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Chemical Engineers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is generally the minimum educational level that employers will consider for a position as a Chemical Engineer. Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in mathematics, physical and life sciences, and hands-on laboratory classes. In addition to the core classes, which often reflect chemical engineering basics, coursework may also include a focus on corrosion engineering, microelectronic processing, pollution prevention, air pollution, and environmental compliance. Advanced computer skills are also vital to the Engineer's education.


Some employers may require at least two years of experience in chemical engineering as well as a professional engineering (PE) license. However, larger companies may offer entry-level engineering positions for college graduates and provide them with formal classroom or seminar-type training. Entry-level Engineers, while under the supervision of an experienced Engineer, gain knowledge and experience and are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Early Career Planning

High school students planning to become Chemical Engineers should take college preparatory courses such as English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science. Students would also benefit from participating in extracurricular science or engineering programs geared toward middle and high school students such as Odyssey of the Mind; Science Olympiad; and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs.

Work-Study Programs

Some colleges and universities help students find work-study programs or internships. These internships are usually paid and are an opportunity for the sponsoring organization to recruit future employees.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is currently not a requirement for maintaining a professional engineer’s license in California. However, it is important for Engineers to keep up to date with the latest developments in their field to do their jobs properly.

Licensing and Certification

Chemical Engineers who approve engineering documents or whose work may affect the public welfare must obtain a professional engineering license. The license must be renewed every two years.

To become licensed, Engineers must first pass the Engineer-in-Training or Fundamentals of Engineering examination which requires at least three years of coursework from a college or university offering an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), or three years of engineering-related experience. The next step in the process is to pass the professional examination which requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited institution, along with two years of eligible engineering experience. Engineers without a bachelor's degree in engineering must possess six years of eligible experience. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

There are a variety of certificates available for Chemical Engineers, such as Chemical Treatment or Protective Coatings Specialist. A certification can demonstrate to an employer that the Engineer has additional skills and knowledge beyond their education. These certifications are offered by various professional organizations. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Chemical Engineers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Chemical Manufacturing21.5%
Scientific Research and Development Svc13.0%
Architectural and Engineering Services10.1%
Federal Government5.0%
Employment Services3.2%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Chemical Engineers.

  • Architectural, Engineering and Related Services
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Chemical Manufacturing
  • Petroleum Manufacturing
  • Scientific Research and Development Services

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

With increasing experience and skills, the Chemical Engineer may take on additional responsibilities leading to increased pay. Also, numerous professional certifications exist that may offer improved opportunity for advancement to better-paying senior technical or general management positions. Graduate degrees such as a master's or doctorate in chemical engineering may lead to teaching opportunities at a college or university. Some Chemical Engineers may also become consultants, working under contract for various companies for a limited period of time.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Chemical Engineers with links to more information.

Agricultural EngineersProfile
Conservation ScientistsProfile
Environmental EngineersGuide
Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and GeographersProfile
Health and Safety Engineers, Except Mining Safety Engineers and InspectorsProfile
Nuclear EngineersProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification17-2041
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Chemical Engineers17-2041.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRC