13 High-Paying Alternative Careers for Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineering involves using science and mathematics to solve problems related to food, chemicals, fuel, and other products.

To qualify as a chemical engineer, one needs to have acquired a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a bachelor’s degree in a closely related program. The program should be approved by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)

The training and education one receives equips one to work competently in multiple fields. Upon graduating, chemical engineering graduates have myriads of opportunities in multiple industries.

Most chemical engineering jobs pay well, which means you don’t need to worry about which industry you venture into.


Alternative Jobs for Chemical Engineers

Alternative careers for chemical engineers in 2023

Based on salary data from PayScale, FederalPay, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10 highest-paying alternative careers for chemical engineers are:

  • Petroleum engineer – $145,720
  • Nuclear engineer – $131,010
  • Waste management manager – $121,161
  • Mining engineer – $103,961
  • Materials engineer – $101,950
  • Environmental engineer – $100,220
  • Industrial engineer – $95,200
  • Biotechnologist – $90,527
  • Agricultural engineer – $87,350
  • Food scientist – $84,150

That said, we will have a look at each of the high-paying alternative jobs chemical engineers can do and the education requirements you’ll need.

1. Environmental engineer

Environmental engineers use their skills and expertise in chemistry, engineering, biology, and soil science to investigate environmental problems and develop solutions. These professionals design improved processes such as recycling and waste disposal, which are good health practices.

Environmental engineers also work hard to solve large-scale environmental challenges like climate change. They evaluate and recommend the necessary steps to fix environmental issues, monitor pollution levels, and help architects to design sustainable echo-friendly structures.

The ability to examine, evaluate, and enhance available local resources is helpful in this field. This minimum qualification to become an environmental engineer is a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, but a master’s degree in the same area is recommended. 

The average annual salary for environmental engineers is $100,220 and the top earners enjoy more than $153k a year in wages.

2. Food scientist

A food scientist works in laboratories and agriculture environments. Their work is to enhance food supplies and monitor their safety. Some responsibilities of a food scientist include conducting studies on food sustainability and designing new policies for processing food. 

They also test the options for storing food and make suggestions on areas that need improvement. Food scientists will also look for better methods to process, preserve, package, and distribute the food. Doing this helps to improve the taste and ensure the food is healthy. 

The minimum requirement for a food scientist is a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, engineering, and chemistry. This degree must be from an accredited university or college. 

The average annual salary for food scientists is $84,150 with the highest-paid getting more than $130k a year.

3. Industrial engineer

Industrial engineering involves looking for ways to eradicate wastage in the production processes. These professionals concern themselves with getting effective techniques that will integrate the materials, equipment, information, energy, and workers to manufacture products or provide services.

They also review the process flows, production schedules, and other necessary details that help them understand the techniques and activities used during production.

To become an industrial engineer, you must have a minimum bachelor’s degree in industrial, electrical, mechanical, industrial, technology, or general engineering.

The average annual salary of an industrial engineer is $95,200. The highest-paid industrial engineers earn more than $129k a year, which makes this one of the highest-paying alternative careers for chemical engineers.

4. Biotechnologist

A biotechnologist is highly important in medical research institutes and pharmaceutical organizations. Their primary duties include developing new vaccines, artificial organs, drugs, and experimental treatments. They also produce antibiotics, hormones, and insulin from biological methods and use organisms to create and improve processes and products. 

Biotechnologists work with teams to design and develop new research processes. They can focus on a specific field like agriculture or medicine or work with particular organisms, for example, marine life.

The necessary skills include research, analytical, communication, technical, organization, and time management. The minimum qualification is a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology or a related field. 

The average annual salary of a biotechnologist is $90,527 with the highest-paid earning more than $121k a year.

5. Agricultural engineer

Agricultural engineering is also among the best alternative jobs for chemical engineers. It involves the application of scientific knowledge and skills in designing and improving farm equipment.

Some of the responsibilities of agricultural engineers include designing agricultural machinery, construction, and manufacturing techniques, conducting research in laboratories and farms to devise effective, safe, and eco-friendly food production ideas as well as analyzing and developing strategies for efficient soil conservation fall under the mandate of agricultural engineers.

The average mean salary for agricultural engineers is $87,350 and the top-paid earn more than $127k a year.

6. Analytical chemist

Analytical chemists use diverse techniques to investigate the chemical composition of substances, the goal being to know how a substance behaves under different situations and why that’s the case.

As an analytical chemist, you can work in various settings such as toxicology, product validation, quality control, and forensic or chemical analysis. One can also work in drug formulation, development, and process development.

The roles of analytical chemists include the preparation and analysis of samples from different sources to identify the compounds present in a substance and their quantities, presentation of scientific results to concerned teams, and writing reports and research papers. 

To be an analytical chemist, you must have a bachelor’s degree in analytical chemistry or biochemistry.

Analytical chemist is among the highest-paying jobs in specialty chemicals. They earn an average salary of $61,573 and the highest-paid earn more than $90k a year.

7. Nuclear engineer

Nuclear engineering is one of the highest-paying alternative jobs for chemical engineers. It involves monitoring operations of nuclear facilities and identifying any construction, structure, or procedures that do not adhere to safety laws and regulations.

Nuclear engineers also research projects that use nuclear energy to help solve problems related to its application and devise proper atomic waste disposal mechanisms. They also design machinery and produce operating methods in nuclear firms.

Responsibilities of nuclear engineers include overseeing how fuel is loaded in a nuclear reactor, supervising the staff who use radiation technology in the production of substances, and controlling radiation levels for safety. 

Some of the necessary skills for a nuclear engineer include the ability to operate complicated equipment, a strong background in mathematics, and high problem-solving skills.

The minimum qualification for this job is a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. You should also have deep experience in the setting of nuclear power plants to land the highest-paying jobs.

The average annual salary of a nuclear engineer is $131,010. Best-paying employers such as the Department of State pay as high as $155k a year at the intermediate level.

8. Materials engineer

Materials engineering is also among the high-paying alternative jobs for chemical engineers. The specialists in this field help look for solutions to problems in various engineering fields. They use their computer knowledge to study the properties of substances and their components. 

The necessary skills for materials engineers include analytical thinking, superior verbal communication, and good knowledge of mathematics and physics. One also needs to know about chemistry, such as safe use and disposing of chemicals. 

A minimum bachelor’s degree in material engineering, science, or any other related field is required for this career.

The average annual salary for materials engineers is $101,950 with the high-paid earning more than $161k a year.

9. Mining engineer

Except for things obtained from the sea or grown in the soil, almost everything else comes from mining. It would not be easy to get products like silver, iron, gold, nickel, building materials, and others without the help of mining engineers. This makes the career a good alternative for chemical engineers.

These specialists help to establish where valuable material deposits exist. They then come up with safe ways to mine and refine the materials.

A mining engineer needs a broad understanding of the fundamentals of physics, maths, and other engineering fields such as geological, civil, electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering.

The minimum academic qualification is a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering or a related field. According to the Federal Pay, the average annual salary for mining engineers is $103,961.

The highest-paid earn more than $218k a year, which makes this one of the highest-paying alternative jobs for chemical engineers in the United States.

10. Water treatment engineer

Water treatment engineers ensure the provision of clean water and the safe elimination of sewage and wastewater. They also deal with the prevention of flood damage, improving people’s living standards through better infrastructure, and building and repairing water structures.

Water treatment engineers spend most of their time maintaining, repairing, or building reservoirs, pumping stations, and other water structures. 

They devise engineering solutions to help prevent flood damage, enhance drinking water safety, and advise government agencies on environmental policies and standards. 

The minimum qualification to become a water treatment engineer is a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, civil engineering, or any related field.

The average annual salary of a water treatment engineer is $67,299 with the highest-paid earning more than $86k a year.

11. Production engineer

Production engineering involves planning, overseeing, managing, and improving the production processes in an organization. Production engineers also design, develop and implement cost-effective methods to maximize profits.

They may also take part in the training, management, and supervision of workers to improve the effectiveness of the production processes.

The minimum requirement for a production engineer is a bachelor’s degree in engineering, but some employers may prefer a master’s degree in the same field. 

The average annual salary for production engineers is $73,069. It is one of the highest-paying alternative jobs for chemical engineers as the top-paid earn more than $108k a year.

12. Waste management officer 

A waste management officer deals with the oversight of waste management systems like landfills. They also ensure safe waste disposal to prevent the contamination of water, air, and the environment at large.

As a waste management officer, one will also be responsible for formulating and controlling the budgets for disposing of waste. They will also collaborate with residents, housing associates, community groups, and traders to provide safe waste disposal.

The minimum qualifications for a waste management officer is a degree in waste management, environmental science, or any relevant field.

The average annual salary for waste management managers is $121,161 with the highest-paid earning more than $146k a year.

13. Petroleum engineer

Petroleum engineering ranks high among the best-paying alternative careers for chemical engineers. Their responsibilities include developing extraction plans, supervising gas and oil drilling, and the maintenance and use of fracturing and drilling machines. They also research new techniques and sites for gas and oil extraction. 

The minimum requirement for a petroleum engineer is a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, or a related field. 

The average annual salary for petroleum engineers is $145,720 with the highest-paid earning more than $167k a year.

Watch this video to learn more about the best industries for chemical engineers. Credit: Eggs the Engineer.

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Alternative jobs for chemical engineers

Several alternative careers for chemical engineers exist in different fields such as energy, mining, petroleum, environment, water, and waste management. With the relevant skills, academic qualifications, and experience, you can transition easily from one industry to another. You can also shift your focus to other fields rather than work as a chemical engineer.

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