The Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industry: Jobs, Skills and Job Outlook
The Chemical and Pharmaceutical industries encompass all of the activities involved in or necessary for the processing or transformation of materials into products designed to improve the quality of life.
Chemicals are present in every aspect of our daily lives, including the buildings we live and work in, the vehicles we travel in and the energy that powers them, in washing and cleaning products, in our clothes and footwear and in the medicines we take to feel better.
Chemical substances, processes, tools and technologies are employed in practically every manufacturing sector, although certain sectors - including the agrochemicals and agri-food sectors, textiles and leather goods, petrochemicals, the automotive and building materials industries - as well as, of course, the pharmaceutical industry - are particularly reliant on them.
A wide variety of professions work in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical industries, including researchers and laboratory technicians in R&D, production workers in chemical manufacturing plants and sales and marketing specialists, such as pharmaceutical sales representatives and pharmacists, whose job is to sell medicines to the public.
Given the complexity of chemical and pharmaceutical products and the risks associated with their manufacture and use, key roles in both industries are played by quality assurance and environment health & safety specialists. An equally crucial role, in the pharmaceutical industry, is played by those responsible for regulatory affairs and clinical trials.
Job vacancies in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical sector typically have fairly high educational requirements, e.g. a degree in a science subject such as Chemistry, Industrial Chemistry, Material Sciences, Environmental Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical Sciences or Pharmaceutical Engineering.
What types of businesses operate in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical industry?
The main branches of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are:
- Commodity chemicals (also known as bulk or basic chemicals) - organic and inorganic basic chemicals, industrial gases, dyes and pigments, compounds, plastics and synthetic rubber in primary forms
- Specialty chemicals (also known as effect chemicals) - for example, paints, varnishes and enamels, chemicals for agricultural use, glues, explosives, thermoplastic elastomers, artificial and synthetic fibres
- Production of detergents, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products and other consumer goods. This sector includes the pharmaceutical industry, which produces medicines, pharmaceutical and botanical preparations and health products.
In addition to chemical and pharmaceutical production plants, another major employer are research laboratories at companies, universities and institutes, which conduct basic and strategic research into new pharmaceutical products and processes.
Chemists, pharmacists and laboratory technicians may also be employed in testing laboratories, while others work on a self-employed basis, providing consultancy services to industry, the public sector and research organizations - for example in the environmental protection, waste disposal and plant maintenance sectors.
Finally, there are large numbers of job vacancies at chemists’ and pharmacies, where pharmacists are widely employed.
Companies hiring in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical industry:
Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries - Trends and Job Outlook
Due to the relatively high level of training and specialization required to work in chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the industry can offer many attractive job opportunities. Chemical and pharmaceutical companies are among the world’s biggest employers and tend to be particularly strong on innovation and technology.
One of the key factors in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry is investment in research and development. Scientific research into new chemical substances, better, more effective products and cheaper, more sustainable manufacturing processes, promising increased safety, improved health and a cleaner environment, is what drives practically every single chemical and pharmaceutical discovery.
Accordingly, the Chemical and Pharmaceutical industry offers excellent career prospects - in particular in frontier areas, such as bio- and nanotechnology, materials chemistry and green chemistry (e.g. focusing on areas such as renewable energy).
Other highly specialist industry roles for which demand in the coming years looks set to grow include quality control and compliance roles such as Quality Assurance Manager and Legal & Compliance Manager. These are key figures, whose job is essentially to ensure that all operations carried out at chemical and pharmaceutical production facilities are compliant with local, national and international laws on health, safety and environmental protection.
What skills are required in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical industries?
In addition to extensive scientific knowledge, which is a general requirement for anybody wanting to work in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, there are a number of area-specific technical skills and competences:
Research and Development (R&D)
The typical skills of an industrial or basic researcher include an ability to gather data and carry out experiments in accordance with strict protocols, using chemical laboratory equipment. Another key ability is the ability to work as part of a team, often in international settings.
Since modern pharmaceutical and chemical production facilities are highly automated, production workers need to have strong organizational and control skills, as well as a technical understanding of the various steps of the production process, so that they can monitor production operations effectively. Also crucial from a workplace safety point of view is for workers to have an awareness of the chemical risks associated with their individual role.
Chemical and pharmaceutical sales and marketing professionals and medical and pharmaceutical sales representatives, need to be able to describe to their clients the characteristics of their products, promote their use and provide expert assistance and advice, where necessary. To do this, they need a high level of scientific and technical knowledge, strong communication and interpersonal skills and a client-oriented approach.
Pharmaceutical - Job Descriptions
Interested in finding out more about jobs in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical industry?
Take a look at the job descriptions we’ve prepared: