Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Career of a Process Engineer

I am writing this piece to share some insights to chemical engineering graduates who are clueless about the prospective careers available for them. 

As a chemical engineer, there are various career options available. You can work as an R&D scientist, a technical sales engineer, an operations engineer, an academic or as in my case a process engineer.

In this article, I will focus on the career trajectory of a process engineer working in an engineering and construction company catering to the engineering design and construction of infrastructure projects of the oil and gas industry (to a certain extent pharmaceutical and chemical industries).

As a process engineer, I started out as a cadet process engineer, meaning I am being trained on the crafts that I have to do. The first company I worked for is a Japanese company, that is why I got a good training on basic process engineering design. In there, I learned how to simulate a process using a simulation software, design and rate various kinds of heat exchangers, size vessels and columns, conduct hydraulic studies and prepare documents pertaining to process design such as equipment and instrument datasheets, equipment and line list, effluent summary, etc. After our cadet-ship training, I was assigned to do actual project job.

Having gained sufficient experience, I was able to seek career opportunity in an American company. The American company is not as rigid as the Japanese company in terms of project execution. It also put more emphasis on meritocracy as opposed to seniority. The project execution in American company is not as orderly as that in the Japanese company, but there's more flexibility. Innovation or ingenuity is also encouraged in the American company.  

As a process engineer, the next career step can be in project management. In fact, it is advantageous for process engineers to become project managers. The reason is that process engineers know quite well the entire process and he or she can advice immediately what design configurations will work and not work. With project management in mind, I pursued MBA full time so I left my work.

After MBA, I got an offer in Korea still to work as a process engineer. I took it with the thought in mind that I still need more process engineering work experience before I can become a competent project manager. After my contract in Korea finished, I transferred to Singapore because of its familiarity to me and also for its proximity to Philippines.

Some of my fellow process engineers at this stage of our careers was able to seek employment in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. As such, an experience in process engineering opens up opportunities globally. Some work opportunities are permanent and some are contract-based. Working outside of the Philippines provides a different challenge and it is nothing but moving out of your cultural comfort zone.

As such, I would say, there is a good outlook with process engineering career. There are a lot of opportunities globally and it is up to you how you can make advantage of it.

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