Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chemical Engineering : A Launch that Failed to get Momentum after Take Off !

As an engineering student I learnt chemical engineering, the modern day engineering discipline which equips a student to get familiarized with various knowledge inputs, theories and mathematical tools that are required for designing and operating various kinds of process plant systems concerned with all kinds of gases, liquids and solids and their physio-chemical conversions.

As part of the curriculum, I remember getting introduced to various topical concepts such as Fluid and Particle Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Transport Phenomena, Instrumentation, Process Control, Stoichiometry, Unit Operations, Unit Processes, etc, etc with necessary equipping inputs in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and fundamentals of established conventional engineering such as civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical and electronics engineering.

Those who devised this relatively new branch of engineering perhaps thought of having a better trained lot of professionals for designing and operating complex automated chemical process plants such as the oil refineries, the fertilizer plants, the petrochemical complexes, mineral processing plants, bulk industrial chemical production plants and the like with a better understanding of the multi-disciplinary skills required for such complex industrial production units of modern times.[For those interested in knowing the history and origin of chemical engineering click here or here !]

If  conventional engineering disciplines such as Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering   originated as what we know today as a result of the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries in UK and Europe which instigated professionalism in modern civilization, Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering was on account of a similar professionalism of some US academicians a century later.

Chemical Engineering being more modern got a curriculum cramped with much of the information from the former engineering disciplines and some more of its own from the Industrial Chemistry and Applied Physical Sciences.

In that way, Chemical Engineering offered the students a much broader aspects of knowledge about the modern industrial technology and was thought to equip the newly trained engineers with better inter disciplinary skills that are required to work in the complex industries of the twentieth century.

From my personal experience, I can say that those who got trained as a chemical engineer is in a better position to grasp the interdisciplinary complexities of the modern day industries where physio-chemical processes are employed for various kinds of production activities.

Stringent statutory stipulations in industrial safety and environmental issues coupled with the economics of production caused greater opportunities and challenges for chemical engineering. Higher demands of instrumentation and process control automation incorporating modern day advances of digital electronics added more complexity to this field of studies. Developments in corrosion sciences and modern materials of construction technologies enhanced the burden of diverse knowledge in chemical engineering.

As a result chemical engineering began disintegrating into more and more specialized fields. Petroleum and Petrochemical engineering, Bio-chemical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, etc came into being as a result of academic initiatives in the last few decades.

However, the enthusiastic universities that went ahead with specialized fields of studies some how appeared to care little to create equivalent awareness about such courses and their benefits in the minds of the industrial planners and decision makers.

This has caused the recruiters often forgetting to include such advancely trained candidates from their essential qualification specifications for their new recruits or to allot a lesser intakes for such candidates.

The result was lesser career opportunities for those who ventured to learn more. This resulted in vacant seats in the universities which offered advanced courses.

This in turn created a shortage of adequately trained people for the industries, the latter resorting to place conventionally trained engineers even in specialized interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary areas for which they lacked the necessary background knowledge. This resulted in poor technical management of industries causing poor industrial safety and higher Operational and Maintenance costs.

A vicious circle has been created !

Let me cite the example of India. In the days when I was a student some four decades ago, chemical engineering was one of the most sought after disciplines of engineering.

Now it is not. No new engineering colleges which came into existence in this country in the past one and a half decade period offer chemical engineering as a course of study. Chemical engineering is offered only in the elite and old institutions. Even in those, the responses from the students are lukewarm due to the collapse of career opportunities in this branch of engineering.

At the same time engineers who work in the industry, like me in senior positions, feel the shortage of adequately trained chemical engineers in the intake levels who could take up the industrial challenges.

In India, the massive exodus of fresh engineers of any discipline to non-engineering field of works should be another concern for any body who has long term thoughts on human resource planning.

I would like to get feed backs and opinions on the issue that I just highlighted from engineering academicians, students and engineers working in the industries.

Update-1 [4-12-12]

Let me thank all those who gave their comments so far.

There are two professional bodies in India which are supposed to take care of the professional development needs of the chemical engineers. These are:

1. The Institution of Engineers (India) : This body is for all engineers including ChE.
2. The Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers (IIChE) : This body is exclusively for ChE.

Though these professional bodies are doing some work in organizing professional seminars and conferences or conducting associateship examinations, their contribution in ensuring good career prospects to those who have chosen this discipline, on a broader perspective, is not so commendable. They lack the will to take up major issues with the government or the Industry. Their activities in the recent years appear to be more of a routine nature than some thing of a proactive nature.

There are some industries in India who have realized the benefits of having ChEs in their technical and general management streams. These industries usually provide a good career opportunity for the ChEs.

However, in many other industries and areas, jobs which are most suited to ChEs are professionally diluted due to the ignorance of their top management. In such industries, brilliant ChEs get entrapped in an intellectual and professional dilemma, making them soon losing their interest in professional work.

Many bright ChEs are compelled to switch over to other areas of work which has nothing to do with their background training and education.

In the 1950's handful of ChEs passed out with degrees in India from one or two engineering institutions. In 2012, this should be to the tune of about 6000 [ I do not have any correct information. This is a mere estimate. There are nearly 165 engineering institutions now having a department of ChE. Assuming that they are capable of training an average of 40 ChEs every year, then the number should be about 6600. Besides, the IIChE and the IE(I) conducts their own associateship examinations in ChE which is equivalent to a Bachelors degree such as the BSChE, BScEngg (ChE), BE or BTech (ChE). All the engineering colleges that impart training in ChE are reputed institutions who have been in existence for quite some years. The majority of Indian engineering colleges established in the private sector in the last 10-15 years do not have a ChE department.

For a country of India's population and size, this is a small number. Since ChEs are comparitively short supply, their employability is better as compared to the other disciplines now.

In this context, I find this paper  presented by Mr Sharu S Ratnekar in one of the conferences of ChEs an interesting reading.

[Chemical Engineers-Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow

It would be of help to all , if you express your views and reactions. 


  1. dear Sir ,
    I totally agree with you and it sounds that you exactly pinpoint the inefficiency or lack of action that must be taken by Education system and esp with the field you and me are involved.
    Since now we are aware of the circumstances what is your opinion how should one tackle ?
    Sir I Graduated as B.E Chemical in 2011 from Thadomal Shahani Eng College Mumbai and my final year Project got Published in Chemical Weekly and Chemical business and since then I am looking for job but seems all in vain and half of my classmate shifted to IT other in Finance and MBA but I want to be in Chemical Field. What will you Advice as you are my Senior and working since 3 decades ?
    I need Help and what should be my course of action to fetch a job
    Your Advice is IMPORTANT !!
    looking forward to listen from you soon.

  2. Dear Sumit,
    Chemical Engineering is a very good field of study and it broadens one's skills and professional outlook. Good opportunities exist for meritorious students, mostly in the developed countries like the US. The point I wanted to stress was the declining level of awareness about this great discipline of engineering, especially among policy makers. That has caused the industry not taking the advantage of the better trained chemical engineers which in turn caused a decline of good career opportunities for the ChEs. Under the present circumstances, what I suggest for you is to carry out your studies further to PG /PhD levels and seek for befitting opportunities abroad.
    Best Wishes !

  3. This blog is about chemical engineering. Nice blog. Thank you

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  8. It was a very interesting post related today's chemical engineering situation sir; being a chemical engineer, today's circumstances related to jobs and research make me feel depressed. However I believe that chemical engineers are at bright side as compared to the other engineers, you mentioned (petroleum, etc). Anyhow, I agree that the system needs to be changed...

  9. Yes really interesting post only. I agree this. Nowadays chemical engineering course is becoming more modern for modern industry.

  10. Hi Rajan, your blog is very helpful for me. I have searched so many blogs that related to chemical engineering. But that blog haven't impressed me when compare to your blog. Really nice. Keep it up.

    1. Thank you, Albert for the compliments.Chemical Engg which used to be one of the most sought after engg course during our times seems to have lost its appeal both among the new aspirants and the industry leaders. At least that's what I feel from my broad observations in India. I wish those who know better would react with their views.

  11. This is a good blog for chemical engineers. But, I found no updates for so long times. Could you write more updates? So we can learn more about this field? Thank you.

    1. Thanks for that suggestion. I would try to incorporate some interesting information in due course.

  12. Very Enthusiastic Blog great information but in vain can you show some data which says how many fresh chemical engineers got jobs from the year 2008 to 2012 , I bet it would mere 15 to 20 % of the total students who completed the degree , I would like to present my views on Chemical Engineering Stream , It has great potential but in India its a flop show ,I don't see any prospect comparing other branches like IT and ENTC , COMP specially,rather I would say its a waste of money and time pursuing this course in India specially where there is no scope for Chemical Engineering , most of the companies don't hire freshers, why would they if the same job can be carried out by a bunch of Mechs and R&D people with the help of some diploma people , there are no new jobs for freshers thats the hard truth, Now why you should get through the boring tests after four years of engineering like GATE , ONGC , etc you have completed four years achieving the degree now does it have less value than those other stream folks getting direct recruits, Private companies never hire CHEM Engineer Fresher why ? Its because the freshers are not skilled enough to handle the responsibility of a plant , students are not capable because they have never been trained or taught to take responsibility so lame syllabus outdated books and incapable professors are the main reason, tell me a name of an author whose book you have read in you college time ( Mcaabe Smith , Bird Stewart ,Lyuben ) where are Indian names >>>> our PhD people are busy in the R&D section so will you be , after many years when you get tiered of fetching employment finally you decide to do MTech and then PhD its your time to make money in the R&D ,yes if you are lucky you might get a job in Gujrat companies making paints dyes or edible oil with 10k per month or 15 atleast after 5 years when other branch people make a sum of 40 to 50 k per month then these so called big companies will hire you for 25 k .. 5+ yrs Exp 4 yrs of degree total 9 yrs of involvement in chemical engineering will make you fetch 25k and where as your mates will fetch around 50 k at this time. Atleast by other engineering stream you can brag a job of any kind in any sector like IT , sales , marketing when they don't get placed whereas chemical engineers I sorry there are only two options Mtech or MBA ..... THINK TEN TIMES BEFORE PURSUING CHEMICAL ENGINEERING get the facts and datas before you make your decision .

    1. Dear Mr Jena,

      What anguish you have conveyed here is exactly what I wanted our policy makers and educationists to think over. ChE is an advanced course for those countries who want to keep their intellectual and industrial superiority. The sad part is that our nation some how does not have a vision with regard to our Human Resource Development. Unfortunately, India does not provide good opportunities for any kind of engineers for that matter, to get trained and use their expertize in innovative fields. The situation is more or less same in all sectors, private, public, government or academic. The pro-active movement should come from the professional bodies of engineers. Unfortunately, they do lack charismatic and visionary leadership.

    2. I completely agree with Mr abhijeet jena. Private companies are not recruiting freshers and also demanding for experienced engineers.They should think once from where the experience comes if they don't give chance to freshers.

  13. hey rajan thanks for blog posting. and i think many chemical engineers are read your blog. and you know one chemical angineer advise me for write a blob.

  14. Sir,
    I am Priyadarshini.B form Bangalore.I have just finished my 12th standard.I wish to do my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering follwed by an MBA from one of the IIMs.But from what I see, the scope for chemical engineering is not that vast.I really need your guidance in this matter.I am looking forward to your reply.
    Thank you,

  15. From what you have written, I presume that you a bright student. If you wish to pursue a management career, then your ChE studies would give you a better understanding of engineering because it has a wider interdisciplinary approach. This would prove useful for your management career later. If you keep up your academic excellence, you would not have to regret about your choice. Best Wishes !

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