Career Corner: What Skills Do Chemical Engineers Need Now? | AIChE

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Career Corner: What Skills Do Chemical Engineers Need Now?

Career Corner

Fifty years ago this month, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. This science fiction epic follows a spacecraft bound for Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL 9000. While the movie dealt with issues such as existentialism, human evolution, and extraterrestrial life, it also foreshadowed the widespread use of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in everyday life.

Fast forward to today. A McKinsey & Co. study reports that about 30% of the activities in 60% of all occupations could be automated (1). This means that many workers will find themselves working alongside rapidly evolving machines, pushing human counterparts to keep pace.

This trend will no doubt filter into the chemical process industries (CPI). In a recent AIChE Job Board posting, a startup sought a petrochemical process engineer for a team whose goal is to disrupt the process industries with breakthrough machine learning technologies. Job requirements included learning the principles of the company’s machine learning technology, applying them to appropriate points in the process, and evolving the machine learning models via chemical process understanding.

Chemical engineers have long worked on cross-disciplinary teams, but AI and automation provide a new twist. “I don’t believe chemical engineers of the future need to be experts in robotics, AI, etc. They need to have...

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