Chemical engineering salaries under pressure

20th December 2017

Current earnings trends for chemical engineers in the UK are now available in the latest salary survey report from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).  The report is available as a free download for the first time.

Published today, IChemE's Salary Survey 2017 finds that the overall median salary for chemical engineers has fallen. They typically earn £55,000 per year - £2,000 less than reported in 2016.

The median salary for chemical engineers, aged under 25 is £30,000 – broadly similar to 2016. The higher earning sectors for that age cohort were reported as oil refining (£40,300), power generation – nuclear decommissioning (£33,400) and pharmaceuticals and personal; care products (£30,000).

The highest median salaries reported were in finance, insurance and risk (£120,000), surface chemistry/paints and adhesives (£77,000/y), process automation, system and control (£76,000/y) and oil and gas exploration and production (£73,000/y).

The report reveals that Chartered Chemical Engineers earn more than their non-qualified counterparts across all age cohorts. A steady differential of around £10,000 per year is apparent.  This illustrates the value of peer-reviewed professional qualification throughout a chemical engineer's career.

The median salaries for women match those of their male counterparts in early career. However, the gap widens markedly from 30 onwards. The median salary for females aged 30-34 is almost £6,000/y less than their male counterparts (women: £45,400/y; men: £51,000/y). Meanwhile, the median salary for men aged 55-59 is £36,000/y more than women (women: £52,000/y; men: £88,000/y). The sample size for older female engineers is smaller and caution is advised in interpreting the findings.

Salaries vary significantly across the UK, with the highest paid chemical engineers in the South East earning £67,300/y – an increase from £65,000/y in 2016. Survey participants based in Scotland and the North West (£54,750y) reported the next highest median salaries. The lowest paid chemical engineers can be found in Northern Ireland, where a median of £46,800/y was reported.

The largest number of survey responses came from South East England – where the top employment sectors are oil and gas exploration and production, industrial gases, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Scotland had the second highest concentration of chemical engineers – with 46% of participants working in the oil and gas exploration and production sector. The majority of those in the North West can be found working in power generation and nuclear decommissioning work.

For the first time, IChemE’s salary survey asked participants to report their nationality. UK nationals living in Great Britain reported a higher median salary (£56,400), compared to EU nationals (£45,700) and non-EU nationals at (£44,000). However, earnings differ slightly when comparing the same age cohort. For example, EU nationals aged 25-29 reported a marginally higher median salary (£39,600) compared to the UK nationals (£39,000) and Non-EU nationals (£38,750) of the same age.

26% of IChemE members in the UK reported benefitting from a defined benefit or company final salary scheme (down from 30% in 2016). 66% of members reported membership of a defined contribution pension scheme or company money purchase scheme - a marginal increase from 60% in 2016.

IChemE Director, Andy Furlong, said: 

“Chemical engineers across in the UK are typically earning less today than they were two years ago. We are currently seeing an employer's market with downward pressure on salaries. Upstream activity is still feeling the impact of the downturn in the oil and gas prices and we have seen major job losses in recent times.

“Oil and gas has consistently been the top employment sector for chemical engineers. More candidates are applying for fewer, probably lower-paid, positions. However, it is encouraging to see the typical salary for the under 25s is holding steady at £30,000.

“Chemical engineering matters and the report demonstrates the value of professional qualification and IChemE membership throughout a chemical engineer’s career. Chartered Chemical Engineers are being recognised for their commitment to trusted professional status. A majority of members responding confirmed that their professional membership fees are reimbursed by their employers.”

1,702 UK members participated in IChemE's 2017 salary survey.

The UK survey data has been uploaded onto the online UK salary calculator, accessible to IChemE members only. The salary calculator is a unique, interactive tool that allows IChemE members to benchmark their earnings by sector, age and position.

The full UK Salary Survey 2017 report can be downloaded for free at:

All salaries noted in this press release are reported as median salary per year (£/y), unless stated otherwise.