Chemicals are an essential component of manufacturing and are vital to
industries such as construction, motor vehicles, paper, electronics,
transportation, and agriculture. Although some chemical manufacturers
produce and sell consumer products such as soap, bleach, and cosmetics,
most chemical products are used as intermediate products for other
is divided into seven segments, six of which are covered here: Basic
chemicals; synthetic materials, including resin, synthetic rubber, and
artificial and synthetic fibers and filaments; agricultural chemicals,
including pesticides, fertilizer, and other agricultural chemicals;
paint, coating, and adhesives; cleaning preparations, including soap,
cleaning compounds, and toilet preparations; and other chemical
products. The seventh segment, pharmaceutical and medicine
manufacturing, is covered in a separate industry profile.
basic chemicals segment produces various petrochemicals, gases, dyes,
and pigments. Petrochemicals contain carbon and hydrogen and are made
primarily from petroleum and natural gas. The production of both organic
and inorganic chemicals occurs in this segment. Organic chemicals are
used to make a wide range of products, such as dyes, plastics, and
pharmaceutical products; however, the majority of these chemicals are
used in the production of other chemicals. Industrial inorganic
chemicals usually are made from salts, metal compounds, other minerals,
and the atmosphere. In addition to producing solid and liquid chemicals,
firms involved in inorganic chemical manufacturing produce industrial
gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and helium. Many inorganic chemicals
serve as processing ingredients in the manufacture of chemicals, but do
not appear in the final products because they are used as catalysts --
chemicals that speed up or otherwise aid a reaction.
synthetic materials segment produces a wide variety of finished products
as well as raw materials, including common plastic materials such as
polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polystyrene.
Among products into which these plastics can be made are loudspeakers,
toys, PVC pipes, and beverage bottles. This industry segment also
produces plastic materials used for mixing and blending resins on a
custom basis. Motor vehicle manufacturers are particularly large users
of synthetic materials.
agricultural chemical segment, which employs the fewest workers in the
chemical industry, supplies farmers and home gardeners with fertilizers,
herbicides, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals. The segment
also includes companies involved in the formulation and preparation of
agricultural and household pest control chemicals.
Paints, Coatings, and Adhesive
paint, coating, and adhesive products segment includes firms making
paints, varnishes, putties, paint removers, sealers, adhesives, glues,
and caulking. The construction and furniture industries are large
customers of this segment. Other customers range from individuals
refurbishing their homes to businesses needing anticorrosive paints that
can withstand high temperatures.
cleaning preparations segment is the only segment in which much of the
production is geared directly toward consumers. The segment includes
firms making soaps, detergents, and cleaning preparations. Cosmetics and
toiletries, including perfume, lotion, and toothpaste, also are produced
in this segment. Households and businesses use these products in many
ways, cleaning everything from babies to bridges.
Other Chemical Products
"other chemical" products segment includes manufacturers of explosives,
printing ink, film, toners, matches, and other miscellaneous chemicals.
These products are used by consumers or in the manufacture of other
are classified into two groups: commodity chemicals and specialty
chemicals. On the one hand, commodity chemical manufacturers produce
large quantities of basic and relatively inexpensive compounds in large
plants, often built specifically to make one chemical. Most of these
basic chemicals are utilized to make more highly refined chemicals used
in the production of everyday consumer goods by other industries. On the
other hand, specialty chemical manufacturers produce smaller quantities
of more expensive chemicals that are used less frequently. Specialty
chemical manufacturers often supply larger chemical companies on a
contract basis. Many traditional commodity chemical manufacturers are
divided into two separate entities, one focused on commodities and the
other on specialty chemicals.
The chemical industry
segments vary in the degree to which their workers are involved in
production activities, administration and management, and research and
development. Industries that make products such as cosmetics or paints
that are ready for sale to the final consumer employ more administrative
and marketing personnel. Industries that market their products mostly to
industrial customers generally employ a greater proportion of precision
production workers and a lower proportion of unskilled labor
will continue to benefit all of the manufacturing industries. The
advantages of the applications of nanotechnology have far from reached
their limits, but research and development in nanotechnology are both
expensive and time consuming. In the chemical manufacturing industry,
developments in nanotechnology will help conserve energy needed to
produce chemicals and reduce the amount of waste products, making the
manufacturing process more efficient. Some localities are imposing or
considering restrictions on the use of plastic bags, a product of the
chemical manufacturing industry. Whether the outcome is a ban on plastic
bags or a tax on plastic bags, demand for such bags will be affected
negatively. In addition, many grocery stores offer reusable bag
discounts for customers who forgo the plastic bags.
chemicals usually is a continuous process; this means that, once a
process has begun, it cannot be stopped when it is time for workers to
go home. Split, weekend, and night shifts are common, and workers on
such schedules usually are compensated with higher rates of pay. The
industry employs relatively few part-time workers. Most jobs in chemical
manufacturing are in large establishments. In the basic chemical
manufacturing segment, large establishments that employed 50 or more
workers provided 80 percent of the industry's jobs. The plants
usually are clean, although machines that run constantly sometimes are
loud and the interior of many plants can be hot. Hardhats and safety
goggles are mandatory and worn throughout the plants.
The chemical and
allied products industry employs about 560,000 wage and salary workers.
Chemical firms are concentrated in regions where other manufacturing
businesses are located, such as the Great Lakes region near the
automotive industry. Chemical plants also are located near the petroleum
and natural gas production centers along the Gulf Coast in Texas and
Louisiana. Because chemical production processes often use water, and
chemicals are primarily exported by ship all over the world, major
industrial ports are another common location of chemical plants. Texas,
New Jersey, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Illinois are the nation's top
chemical producers. Most segments of the industry had substantial numbers of
jobs as shown below.
Distribution of wage and salary employment in chemical
manufacturing, except pharmaceutical and medicine
manufacturing, by detailed industry, 2008 (Employment in
manufacturing, except pharmaceutical and medicine
cleaning compound, and toilet preparation manufacturing
synthetic rubber, and artificial synthetic fibers and
coating, and adhesive manufacturing
fertilizer, and other agricultural chemical manufacturing
chemical product and preparation manufacturing
National Employment Matrix, 2008-18
Paths into this Industry
are many career paths into every industry...within the Career
Cornerstone Center we focus on describing the STEM and Medicine (STEM)
career paths that may be prevalent in a given industry.
Most workers in
professional and related occupations in this industry conduct research
and develop chemical products.
Chemists and materials
scientists carry out research over a wide range of activities, including
analyzing materials, preparing new materials or modifying existing ones,
studying chemical processes for new or existing products, and
formulating cosmetics, household care products, or paints and coatings.
They also try to develop new chemicals for specific applications and new
applications for existing chemicals. The most senior chemists sometimes
advance to management positions. Although chemical companies hire some
chemists with bachelor's degrees, a master's or doctoral degree is
becoming more important for chemist jobs.
design equipment and develop processes for manufacturing chemicals on a
large scale. They conduct experiments to learn how processes behave and
to discover new chemical products and processes. A bachelor's degree is
essential for all of these jobs, and a master's degree may be preferred
or required for some.
science technicians assist chemists and engineers in research activities
and may conduct some research independently. Those with bachelor's
degrees in chemistry or graduates of 2-year technical institutes usually
fill these positions. Some graduates of engineering programs start as
technicians until an opportunity to advance into an engineering position
conduct cost estimations, perform plant design feasibility studies, and
coordinate daily operations. These jobs require a college degree in a
technical discipline, such as chemistry or chemical engineering, as well
as experience in the industry. Some employees advance from research and
development positions to management positions.
Employment of wage and salary workers in chemical
manufacturing, except drugs, 2008 and projected change,
(Employment in thousands)
business, and financial occupations
financial operations occupations
and related occupations
do not add to total due to omission of occupations not
directly derived from degrees in STEM.
Original Source: BLS National Employment Matrix, 2008-18.
is projected to decline, and applicants for jobs are expected to face
Although output is
expected to grow, wage and salary employment in the chemical
manufacturing industry, excluding pharmaceuticals, is projected to
decline by 13 percent over the 2008-18 period, compared to 11 percent
growth projected for all industries combined. The expected decline in
employment can be attributed to trends affecting the U.S. and global
economies. A number of factors will influence chemical industry
employment, including technological advances that have enabled plant
automation and more efficient chemical processes that have affected the
production process, the state of the national and world economy, company
mergers and consolidation, increased foreign competition, the shifting
of production activities to foreign countries, and environmental health
and safety concerns and legislation. Another trend in the chemical
industry is the rising demand for specialty chemicals. Chemical
companies are finding that, in order to remain competitive, they must
differentiate their products and produce specialty chemicals, such as
advanced polymers and plastics designed for customer-specific uses --
for example, a durable body panel on an automobile.
in production technology have reduced the need for workers in
production; installation, maintenance, and repair; which account for
large proportions of jobs in the chemical industry. Sophisticated
machines with computerized controls have replaced some workers in
standard production. With automation manufacturers can increase accuracy
and decrease time and labor costs, thus contributing to increased
production efficiency. Although production facilities will be easier to
run with the increased use of computerized controls, the new production
methods will require workers with a better understanding of the systems.
It is important for
firms to improve their bottom line. Pressure to reduce costs and
streamline production will result in mergers and consolidations of
companies both within the United States and abroad. Mergers and
consolidations are allowing chemical companies to increase profits by
eliminating duplicate tasks and departments and shifting operations to
locations in which costs are lowest. U.S. companies are expected to move
some production activities to developing countries—in East Asia and
Latin America, for example—to take advantage of rapidly expanding
The volatility of
inputs like crude oil and natural gas prices impact the chemical
manufacturing industry. Likewise, prices of chemical feedstocks—like
ethane or propane, which are used to produce petrochemicals, plastics,
fertilizers, and other products— can be unstable. In response, prices
for chemical products must fluctuate and so does demand for chemical
products. If prices of such inputs are continually high, demand will be
low for chemical products and manufacturer will need to employ fewer
workers; the opposite would occur if inputs are continually low priced.
interest in going "green" throughout the U.S. may affect the chemical
manufacturing industry. For example, there are efforts to reduce the
amount of emissions the U.S. produces. As manufacturers have limits
imposed on their emissions, the cost of producing chemical products will
rise, likely reducing demand. Also, many localities are considering
restrictions on the use of plastic shopping bags, a product of the
chemical manufacturing industry.
influencing employment in the chemical manufacturing industry will
affect different segments of the industry to varying degrees. Only one
segment—paint, coating, and adhesive products segment—is projected to
grow. The remaining segments are projected to lose jobs.
employment in the chemical manufacturing industry are expected to face
keen competition, particularly those seeking to enter the industry for
the first time. For production jobs, opportunities will be best for
those with experience and continuing education. For professional and
managerial jobs, applicants with experience and an advanced degree
should have the best prospects. In addition, some job opportunities will
arise from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations
or who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.