How to Become a Process Engineer

How to Become a Process Engineer: Career Guide

Although there are many possible paths for becoming a process engineer, here is a basic outline for what it takes to get into this field:


1. Take advanced-level coursework in Math, Physics and Chemistry in High School

2. Make sure you have the right personal traits for this work

3. Pursue an Engineering degree in your preferred field

4. As a student, get work experience via internship and summer employment

5. Get an ‘engineer-in-training’ job after graduation

6. Earn the Professional Engineering designation

7. Advance into roles of greater responsibility and pay as you gain experience


Below, we’ve expanded on these points to give you an idea of what you'll need to begin a career as a process engineer in the United States or Canada. We've also included helpful information for this occupation, such as what you’ll be doing, what education you’ll need, and the ability to look through actual “Process Engineer” job postings!



What Education Will I Need?

In a general sense, process engineering is a vast field that encompasses most disciplines of engineering, so the type of engineering degree you’ll need will be one that’s relevant to your employer’s area of operations.


For example, if your future employer is involved in refining petroleum products, you would likely need a Petroleum, Chemical or Environmental Engineering degree.


This is good news, because it means that no matter what field of engineering most interests you, the potential exists to become a process engineer with that degree.




What is a Process Engineer?

Production engineers focus on the design, operation, control, optimization and intensification of various chemical, physical, and biological processes, as it relates to their field of specialty. They also coordinate the various aspects of production process engineering, including design, planning and development.


Process engineers are also responsible for studying the environmental implications of particular industrial processes, and work towards ensuring that these processes are as environmentally safe and non-invasive as possible. 



What Does a Process Engineer Do?

Although their duties can vary, process engineers are generally responsible for the following tasks:


• Implementing new technologies which will increase efficiency and quality

• Providing specialist technical input into team project work

• Designing, managing and interpreting pilot plant demonstrations and production processes

• Acting as process lead in studies and projects

• Preparing and review all project proposals, studies and technical reports

• Ensuring that projects are completed within timeline and budgetary restrictions

• Overseeing the development of both short and long term processing plans and designs

• Keeping abreast of developments in the field



Will I Need Work Experience to Become a Process Engineer?

Most “engineer-in-training” roles (entry-level engineering jobs) don’t require any work experience above what you gain as part of your mandatory degree-based internship or co-op work placement. Mid and senior-level roles however, often require 3-5 years of experience working in lower level roles, with progressive amounts of responsibility in those roles, as well as Professional Engineer certification. 


Success Tip: Working in process engineering (at any capacity, even in a marketing department) during your summers is a great way to gain even more experience above an internship/co-op work opportunity. 



Do I Need to Be Licensed/Certified?

You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (“PE” - United States; “P.Eng.” - Canada) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise engineering technicians, as well as other engineers. You will also need to have the designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly. However, since it can only be earned through years of supervised real-world work experience, you won't need to have it to be hired on as an engineer-in-training.



How Do I Become Licensed?

Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an accredited engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam (or series of exams). However, the requirements can vary by region, so please contact your provincial/territorial/state engineering association for the full story on becoming licensed.



How Can I Prepare in High School?

Process engineers need a comprehensive understanding of both math and science. Excelling in these areas while you’re a high school student is a great way to build this foundation at an early age, and will help you qualify for engineering degree programs.


Success Tip: Take up advanced science and math coursework in areas such as physics, chemistry, trigonometry and calculus during your high school years.



Should I Become a Process Engineer? 

Is it good enough to just want to become something? If so, you just need to meet the educational requirements and find a suitable job. However if you want to stand out in this field, and really make a name for yourself, having the following personal qualities will take you a long way:


• You have a natural aptitude in math, physics and engineering

• You’re the kind of person who studies and applies engineering principles in your spare time

• You have a keen interest in the optimization and intensification of various chemical, physical, and biological processes

• It gets you excited to think about creating designs, and then having a team implement them

• You’re interested in how the total costs to produce products affects company decisions

• You’re willing to learn to live by your employers’ values and codes of conduct

• You’re willing to stay ahead of the curve and seek out opportunities to learn new technologies

• You're willing to travel, and possibly permanently relocate, for a job that makes proper use of your skills



What Industries Employ Process Engineers?

Process engineers apply their expertise in a vast range of industries, such as chemical, petrochemical, agriculture, mineral processing, advanced material, food, pharmaceutical, software development, biotechnological, and other industries.



Who Creates Jobs for Process Engineers?

There are a number of places process engineers can find employment. Some of the more common types of employers include:


• Engineering consulting firms

• Government departments and agencies (all levels)

• Manufacturing firms in the above-mentioned industries

• Industrial contractors

• Colleges, universities, and research institutes



Process Engineer Jobs

Our job board below has "Process Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. 

What Career Advancement Opportunities Are There?

If you demonstrate a strong work ethic, dedication, competence, and an interest in continuously challenging yourself professionally, then plenty of opportunities to advance into roles of greater responsibility and pay will present themselves to you.


For example, with enough experience you would move on to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. You could also move into supervisory or management roles, such as Project Engineer.


As you become more familiar with the various stages and scopes of process engineering projects, you could potentially become a Quality Assurance Engineer, or a highly valued specialist in a specific area of process engineering.


Alternatively, you could choose to work in an outside area of operations or administration related to process engineering, such as business development, sales, purchasing, manufacturing management, or marketing.


Choosing to Become a Specialist? Success Tip: Obtaining a master’s degree facilitates specialization and develops expertise in an area of process engineering, and thus career advancement.



What are Careers Similar to “Process Engineer”?

Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as “Process Engineer”:


• Chemical Engineer

• Design Engineer

• Environmental Engineer

• Industrial Engineer

• Manufacturing Engineer

• Materials Engineer

• Mechanical Engineer 



What Scholarships Are There for Aspiring Process Engineers? 

The “Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career” section below lists fields of study in our system that are relevant to becoming a Process Engineer. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our "Any Field of Study Scholarships” page.


Success Tip: Apply for any and all scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Sources for This Career Guide

Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a process engineer:


• Occupational Profile: “Manufacturing Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

• Occupational Profile: “Industrial Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Industrial Engineers.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

• Career Profiles: “Process Engineer.” (n.d.). ECO Canada. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

• Career Hub: “What is Involved in a Process Engineering Job.” (April 28, 2014). Randstad. Retrieved March 8, 2017. 



Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database; below we've outlined those that are most relevant to becoming a process engineer. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!


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