James Colley offers sound advice on careers transition when you need to switch sectors
THE prevailing winds of climate change and the pandemic have created turmoil in fossil fuel related sectors, with many jobs lost and many more at risk. Yet there is positive news for chemical engineers seeking to transition elsewhere. The skills developed in research, design and manufacturing offer a wealth of opportunities in the wider engineering and manufacturing sectors.
High growth areas include technical sales and marketing roles, manufacturing advisory services, battery technology and their near neighbours and related supply chain. On the whole, we are seeing an uplift in the automotive, general manufacturing, FMCG and packaging, medical products and aerospace sectors.
With a large influx of public investment being allocated to engineering and manufacturing through UKR&I, Innovate UK and others, there has been marked growth in academic and public collaborations with the engineering sector rooted in the creation of positive impact for society. This has resulted in projects supporting people and society itself, the environment, technological developments, high growth business return on investment, and sustainability. Often it is a combination of the above. The net result is a healthy state of affairs in engineering and manufacturing and a great time to be considering moving sectors.
The aim of this article is to explore key synergies and transferable skills, and provide a general checklist on how to approach the jobs market. While this article references UK trends, the advice on what to consider when switching sectors is globally applicable.
The core skills inherent in a chemical engineer include problem solving, analytical capability, process management, project management, software capability and commercial awareness. These translate well to any sector, but particularly well to wider manufacturing and engineering due to similar cycles of R&D, product testing and development and subsequent manufacturing and sales of the product. Ultimately, chemical engineers develop and deliver products, services and processes for commercial return in the same manner.
Addressing the more specific technical skills inherent in a chemical engineer and their relevance to wider manufacturing and engineering, there are increasingly prevalent synergies to be found in areas such as hydrogen, battery development, and other low-carbon/net-zero propulsion projects.
Additionally, within the development and supply of innovative material solutions such as lightweight composite materials, additive manufacturing, low-carbon construction materials and plastics/packaging solutions, there is a high level of chemical engineering knowledge used and in demand.
With the rapid growth and proliferation of collaboratively-and privately-funded organisations in the UK such as the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, The Manufacturing Technology Centre, the Buildings Research Establishment and electrically-powered automotive, aerospace and maritime solutions developers all recruiting heavily – the climate for changing career path into other sectors looks very positive.
When entering the jobs market, it is worth taking time to plan and prepare. I strongly recommend the following steps before exploring the market. There are also some key questions to ask yourself.
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