Becoming a Chemical Plant Manager: Job Description & Salary

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A chemical plant manager's median annual salary is about $92,470, but is it worth the education and training requirements? Get the truth about the job descriptions and career prospects to decide if becoming a chemical plant manager is the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Chemical Plant Manager

Chemical plant managers oversee personnel, production, safety and quality in chemical plants. Read on for more pros and cons of becoming a chemical plant manager.

Pros for Being a Chemical Plant Manager
Higher-than-average pay (the 2014 median annual salary was $92,470 for all industrial production managers)*
A bachelor's degree can meet the educational requirements for most jobs*
A variety of possible professional responsibilities (quality control, safety, production or data analysis)*
Flexibility in areas of specialization, like petro-chemical, plastics and food chemicals*

Cons for Being a Chemical Plant Manager
Years of work experience is typically mandatory*
Declining job growth (negative-two percent growth from 2012-2022 for all industrial production managers)*
Possibly a hazardous working environment due to interactions with chemicals and machinery*
Long hours, including nights, weekends and possibly on-call schedules*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

Chemical plant managers are responsible for overseeing many of the day-to-day operations of a chemical production plant. They are also responsible for the plant's personnel and the long-term goals of the organization, such as efficiency, budgeting and data analysis. The job is usually a mix of office work and interactions on the production floor. Since these plants can be potentially hazardous environments, you would typically wear safety equipment, including a hardhat and goggles, when in the production facilities of the plant. You would also be in charge of keeping your employees safe.

You would commonly be responsible for the quality of both the chemical products being produced and the equipment being used to produce it. The hiring and firing of employees is usually conducted by the plant manager, as well as the training of new workers and the evaluation of old ones. When problems arise in the production process, it could fall to the chemical plant manager to correct them. Coordination with suppliers, buyers and other managers is also a part of the job. Chemical plant managers can manage the production of a variety of chemical products, including natural gas, acrylic sheets and petrochemicals.

Salary and Job Growth Information

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that industrial production managers as a whole earned a median annual salary of about $92,470. The top ten percent of all industrial production managers earned $158,170 or more, and the lowest earned about $56,290 or less in those years. While the BLS expects industrial production managers as a whole to experience a negative-two percent growth in employment from 2012-2022. This lack of growth may be attributed to the general decline in American manufacturing.

What are the Requirements?

As an aspiring chemical plant manager, you will typically need at least a bachelor's degree in a subject that is relevant to the field, according to the BLS. A relevant degree program could include subjects like industrial engineering or chemical engineering. These programs can prepare you for management responsibilities in plant environments and can also teach you the technical information you'll need to know about chemical production. According to the BLS, a position in a larger facility may require that you hold a master's degree in a subject like industrial management or business.

Most management positions in this field require relevant work experience, which may range from 2-10 years. This work experience could be in production worker or supervisor capacities. In some cases, a master's degree is required for a management position. In general, a chemical plant manager must possess skills in communications, have the ability to lead and be able to handle problems as the arise. As they are commonly responsible for several different aspects of chemical plants, these managers also usually need to be good at multitasking.

Job Postings from Real Employers

All employers looking to hire chemical plant managers are going to require at least a related bachelor's degree and a minimum amount of experience, though undergraduate majors and years in the field vary by organization. Below are some examples of job postings that were open during April 2012:

  • An acrylic sheet manufacturing facility in Louisville, Kentucky, was looking for a chemical plant manager with a bachelor's degree in engineering, preferably chemical engineering, and at least ten years working in a chemical manufacturing facility. The applicant was required to be familiar with protrusion technology, and the job posting specified that production planning, quality assurance and safety regulations were all a part of the job.
  • A petro-chemical plant in Columbus, Ohio, advertised for a chemical plant manager with at least a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or chemistry, as well as 2-4 years of experience in a supervisory position. The post indicated that labor relations, employee scheduling, quality assurance, safety, raw materials and finished products would all fall within the realm of the manager's responsibilities.
  • A food and crop chemical manufacturing plant in Los Angeles, California, was looking for a chemical plant manager with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and at least ten years of experience working in the chemical industry. Experience with the chemicals used in the food industry was also required, as well as previous engineering experience in a plant setting.

How to Stand Out

Experience is a very valued part of the preparation to become a chemical plant manager, so it could take years to obtain a management position regardless of how much you stand out. However, there are some steps you can take to be noticed above your competition. At the undergraduate level, chemical engineering programs commonly offer concentration options in one of a variety of related subjects, like food and drink technology, plastics, petro-chemical, environmental, biochemical or management. Because employers typically prefer their employees to hold industry-specific bachelor's degrees, a specialization could better qualify you for a particular field or for management work. Additionally, a master's degree in a subject like business administration or industrial management could qualify you for more advanced chemical plant management positions at larger facilities, according to the BLS.

In addition to education and work experience, you can also gain industry certification, which could demonstrate an industry-approved level of skill to employers, according to the BLS. Through the American Society for Quality, a wide variety of certifications can be earned for different levels and specializations of quality professionals, most of which are based on years of experience. You might also be interested in certification through the Association for Operations Management.

Other Career Paths

Chemical Engineer

If you're interested in obtaining a job that doesn't require years of experience to qualify, you may consider looking into the chemical engineering profession. If you're already planning to complete a chemical engineering bachelor's degree, this is the level of work you would be qualified for immediately upon graduation. The BLS reports that the occupation's growth rate isn't much better than chemical plant managers (about six percent), but the median salary for these professionals is about $90,000 a year. Chemical engineers are responsible for the development of chemically-based goods, as well as some equipment and process design.

Construction Manager

If you are interested in becoming a manager in a field with a better job growth, you may consider construction management. Construction managers typically make less than both chemical plant managers and chemical engineers, earning a median of about $84,000 annually, but the expected job growth from 2010-2020 is predicted to be about 17%, according to the BLS. Like a chemical manager, work experience is typically a requirement for obtaining a management position. According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree is becoming a standard for construction managers, but some managers may require no education beyond a high school diploma, as long as they have sufficient work experience. Certification through organizations like the American Institute of Constructors and the Construction Management Association of America may also be preferred by employers, according to the BLS.

Like chemical plant managers, construction managers may work in hazardous environments, can be responsible for raw materials and finished products, enforce safety regulations, manage budgets and manage personnel. Construction managers are typically concerned with cost estimation and must be very familiar with building and construction codes.

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