In many universities around the world, carrying out an apprenticeship is part of the course requirements. Apprenticeships in chemical engineering are no different, and undergraduates are often seen filling these roles in order to gain industry experience. But they can also be undertaken by fresh graduates looking to get their foot in the door, or even by those who have no formal education and need on-the-job training.
Whatever your experience level, apprenticeships are a great way to pursue a career in chemistry. In this article, we’ll explore all the different aspects of chemical engineering apprenticeships.
What Is A Chemical Engineering Apprenticeship?
Unlike internship programmes, apprenticeships in chemistry, as well as in other industries, offer you a salary while training you on the job. Apprentices are also entitled to things like holiday and sick pay. However, in an apprenticeship, the employment status is usually probationary, and the pay grade is lower than that of a full-time employee’s. The compensation package may also not include some of the benefits and bonuses that regular employees enjoy.
Typically, chemical engineering apprenticeships in the UK offer better compensation packages than other apprenticeship programmes. These could include benefits like:
- Annual bonuses
- A sponsored degree
- A competitive salary
- Access to training events
After completing an apprenticeship in chemical engineering, the prospect of being taken on as an employee is also high because the job is very technical and only small numbers of people are qualified to do it.
In general, apprenticeships involve structured training and learning that are designed to improve a candidate’s knowledge in a given field. Those who pass the apprenticeship stage are deemed by employers to have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in a particular industry. Completing an apprenticeship in chemical engineering will, therefore, make you a desirable employee because it demonstrates that you’ve been trained according to the best industry practices.
But getting a chemical engineering apprenticeship is difficult, even if you have a degree in the subject. This is because it’s a highly competitive position in a highly competitive sector. In fact, people first take an apprenticeship in areas like process operation in order to secure future chemical engineering apprenticeship opportunities. At the same time, this also highlights one of the advantages of chemical engineering apprenticeships: they’re accessible via many different routes.
What Does This Type Of Apprenticeship Involve?
Chemical engineers have broad, technical job descriptions that mainly include designing machines for processing chemicals. They’re also involved in designing new chemicals, materials, and chemical production methods from scratch. In between all this, chemical engineers spend a lot of time maintaining pieces of equipment, and ensuring the smooth and safe running of operations based on quality standards in the industry.
You should expect the same tasks and obligations to be asked of you when applying for a chemical engineering apprenticeship in the UK. The main difference is that these duties will be structured as hands-on training, and you’ll be overseen by a licensed professional while performing them. You’ll essentially be a student who’s training on the job, and you’ll be tested on many aspects of it as you go along in order to assess your progress.
Aside from technical knowledge and skills, your proficiency as a chemical engineering apprentice will also be tested in terms of teamwork. There’s no such thing as lone wolves in chemical engineering. In this role, you’ll learn how to work as part of a team, and you may even be required to lead others to do certain tasks. Chemical engineers are there to advise others and keep standards in check, so communication and collaboration skills are vital in this role.
It’s also crucial that, as a chemical engineering apprentice, you learn the best practices of the industry, as well as of the company that’s hiring you. Therefore, you’ll routinely do, or will be part of, the following:
- Quality assurance: Aspiring chemical engineers need to learn the various stages and the precise steps involved in manufacturing. This is to ensure the quality, safety, precision, and accuracy of production. This will be based on a company’s specific set of quality standards.
- Regulatory compliance: You must also learn the various aspects of the processes so that you can ensure they comply with safety protocols and environmental laws and regulations.
- Teamwork: You need to have good EQ, or emotional intelligence, when working with various professionals in the company, such as scientists and technicians. People have different temperaments and may react differently to work-related stress, so keeping a cool head is key.
- Problem-solving: Chemical engineering is mainly about solving various problems that are encountered on a daily basis. You must be analytical and creative in solving various types of problems. As an apprentice, you’ll be expected to offer your ideas as part of the solutions.
- Optimise projects: As part of the problem-solving aspect of a role in chemical engineering, you must also learn how to make improvements or innovations on projects and routine tasks.
Do I Need A Degree To Do A Chemical Engineering Apprenticeship?
Often, but not always. Many apprenticeship programmes require a degree in chemistry, but it depends on what type of chemical engineering apprenticeship you’re applying for:
- Private companies often partner with universities to allow their employees to earn degrees while working as an apprentice. In this setting, the degree is earned through the actual work.
- Undergraduates of chemical engineering may also be required by their course to carry out an apprenticeship in the field. This is usually a prerequisite to earning their degree.
- Some apprenticeships require the candidate to have a degree in a related subject in order to be accepted onto the programme. This is the case when a higher level of experience is needed.
Apprenticeships in chemical engineering are about learning while you work, so even if you don’t have a degree, you’re usually able to either earn one through the programme, or be sponsored by your company to earn one. Some universities in the UK, like the University of Chester, offer chemical engineering degree apprenticeships, where students are required to spend time both on campus and at the workplace.
Who Can Do Chemical Engineering Apprenticeships In The UK?
Chemical engineering apprenticeships in the UK can be divided into two types. The first type is offered to those who have already earned degrees in chemistry or chemical engineering, but do not yet have work experience. The second type is offered to those who want to earn while they learn, either at entry level or as current employees of a company. This is known as a chemical engineering degree apprenticeship.
Students are required to have at least three ‘A’ Levels or equivalent at grade B or above in order to be accepted onto the latter. Two of these must include either chemistry, biology, physics, or mathematics. Similarly, you also need GCSEs in English and maths.
Where Can I Do A Chemical Engineering Apprenticeship?
Various industrial chemical and pharmaceutical companies offer apprenticeship programmes for either new graduates, or those who are seeking to earn a degree through a chemical engineering apprenticeship. To find out more information about how to secure one, you can either enquire at your university, or contact companies directly about any available opportunities.
When looking for an apprenticeship in chemical engineering, make sure to do some online research about the kind of programme you’re interested in, what it offers, and its requirements. Alternatively, if you’re struggling, the following organisations can help you in your search:
Where Are The Best Chemical Engineering Degree Apprenticeships In The UK?
In 2019, the first chemical engineering degree apprenticeships were offered in the United Kingdom. This was made possible by the partnership of The Institution of Chemical Engineers with the University of Chester and employers. This makes the University of Chester one of the frontrunners in offering reputable chemical engineering degree apprenticeships.
The other major organisations that also offer chemical engineering degree apprenticeships in the UK are:
- ATAC: The Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community offers a bio/chemical engineer degree apprenticeship that gives you the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree once you’ve completed the programme.
- GlaxoSmithKline: The apprenticeship programme offered here comes with a good compensation package, as well as the opportunity to work permanently at one of the GSK locations. This programme is particularly focused on pharmaceutical processes, products, and equipment.
- University of Greenwich: This is an excellent university that offers a five-year course in chemical engineering, which teaches you everything from investigative methodology to chemical plant design and quality engineering. It also offers part-time learning, so you can work as you study.
Although there are many companies offering chemical engineering apprenticeships, chemical engineering degree apprenticeships are few and far between. These programmes allow students to be employed and trained on the job by a company throughout their university course – so if you want to have your cake and eat it too, degree apprenticeships in chemical engineering is the option for you.
Find out more about chemistry education in our chemistry education resources hub.
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