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Working In The Chemistry Industry


An overview of the industry

There are a variety of chemistry careers available, including: laboratory technician/scientist, analytical chemist, pharmacologist, or chemical engineer. While many roles in chemistry will require an undergraduate degree in chemistry or a related subject, there are actually routes into a chemistry career available via apprenticeships. Apprenticeships will give you hands on experience of the work environment as well as support (and often fully funding) for your academic studies.

Chemistry-related positions can be found in private sector industry (Pharmaceuticals, Toiletries, Food & Drink, Consumer Goods, Oil & Gas, Mining & Metallurgy) and within public sector and regulatory bodies (for example the NHS, the Food Standards Agency or the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy). Chemistry roles in private sector organisations can often be found in research & development (R&D) departments.

Careers in chemistry typically involve scientific research within laboratories, performing analysis on different materials to understand their chemical properties and potential applications within industry, to develop new drugs and chemical therapies, to test the safety of different products or to understand potential impacts of compounds at a molecular level. You may well be involved in the development of new methodologies for testing and research.

While most careers within chemistry will involve significant practical scientific work, you may also need to prepare written reports for experts and non-experts, including in industry publications or for use in commercial decision-making (for instance reporting on the performance of a new material or pharmaceutical product to support an investment decision). Chemical Engineers will also work in manufacturing and industrial sites, designing processes and technologies to support the production process.

Skills & interests required

All careers in chemistry require applicants to display practical scientific skills in a laboratory context. Chemists will need to display their abilities in understanding complex data sets, interpreting and explaining statistical trends in written reports. Practical experience of organic or inorganic chemistry in a laboratory will be important.

It is important for applicants to be passionate about their work (in whichever field of chemistry they are considering working in), and flexible in their approaches to problem-solving. Applicants need strong maths skills to progress.

- Data Analysis
- Numeracy
- Problem Solving

Typical Career Progression Routes for School Leavers

Depending on your employer, your apprenticeship will be geared toward gaining either a Level 3 Qualification (for Lab Technician positions) or a Level 5/6 Qualification (Foundation or Bachelors Degree). You will usually have a mixture of time spent in the laboratory / office and in academic study.

Early on in your career as a chemist you will likely spend most of your time in a laboratory context, though as you progress into more senior roles you may find yourself in an office-based position more often.

Often employers will want to give you support to achieve postgraduate qualifications (an MSc or Ph.D for example), or in certain industries will support you to attain Chartered Engineer (CEng) status, which can be important for you to progress to more senior roles.

Tips for getting into the field

Speak to your Careers Advisor to discuss your interest in working in the Chemistry field, they will be able to offer you advice and support in finding the right sort of positions and employers.

Work experience in a laboratory environment can be very useful in helping you find a position. Many employers will offer short-term work experience programmes over the summer vacation.

Consider applying for Lab Technician positions to gain some experience of working in a laboratory before applying for an Apprenticeship.

Earning potential

Typically, Apprenticeships in Chemistry will pay between £12,000 and £15,000 when you start, and most employers will have regular salary reviews in which you can increase your salary.

With a few years of experience and after you complete your apprenticeship, Chemistry positions can pay between £25,000 and £40,000 per annum, and more senior roles can pay higher, although may require more management experience.

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

Most Apprenticeships in Chemistry will require 3 A-levels or equivalent, and one of the subjects must be Chemistry. Your employer might specify the grades/UCAS points you need, typically CCC+ although some employers can require higher grades. You will also likely need to have a maths GCSE (Levels 4-9 or grade C+), too.

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Industry bodies

Royal Society of Chemistry
Institution of Chemical Engineers
British Psychological Society
The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry
Science Council