Traditionally, graduating chemical engineers have enjoyed solid employment prospects, but this year a strong economy and heated competition from new employers creates a profusion of jobs.
For the second year in a row, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) reports in its September 1997 newsletter "AIChExtra," the unemployment rate for ChEs stands at its lowest level in six years. In 1990, it was at a high of 15.53% and has since plummeted to 5.10% in 1996. "We are graduating more ChEs than ever before in history," concurs professor J. Larry Duda, head of chemical engineering at Penn State University.
Even so, professor John Ekerdt, chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin notes, "There are never enough good students." Several factors contribute to his statement. For one, enrollment of chemical engineers is headed down according to a December, 1996 AAES Engineering Workforce Commission chart.
Wake Up and Smell the Competition
And there's more competition for graduates. Not only are petroleum and petrochemical companies coming out of a slump, they also find themselves up against newcomer service and consulting companies. Industries such as food and consumer products that hired some chemical engineers but never in large numbers are taking bigger bites out of the total BSChE graduates. Design and construction, too, went up as the employer of choice. In fact, the number of graduates taking jobs with chemical companies went down, and rose only slightly in fuels.
However, it must be pointed out that petroleum and chemical company hiring tend to be cyclical. Duda, who has seen both sides of the cycle, observes that chemical engineering employers, like just about every other industry, went through the downsizing mode. Those companies are now returning to campus, fit and hungry for new talent. This year's students have hit the cycle at a peak time.