BY ABHISHEK SAHU
With the government’s ‘Make In India’ initiative, demand for chemical engineers is set to increase across the nation, experts said.
Chemical engineers account for a small fraction of the country’s engineers. Over 930,000 students enrolled for computer science in the academic year 2020 and the second most sought-after discipline was mechanical engineering with more than 680,000 students enrolled, according to the education ministry.
Though fewer in number, chemical engineers have been graduating at a steady pace. But how has demand for them fared over the past five years? Moneycontrol examines the trends of chemical engineering talent in India.
The number of chemical engineers who graduated in India from 2012 to 2020 was 88,600, according to talent specialist Xpheno. Though the ministry has not yet published the official data for 2021 and 2022, enrolment figures for the corresponding intake years 2017 and 2018 show sustained growth, as per All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE). The output figures are estimated to be in the 12,000 range for both years.
While the mechanical, civil, electrical and electronic engineering streams have recorded rising and falling trends, the growth curve for chemical engineering has been steady.
Only 14,373 chemical engineering graduates appeared for the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) in 2022.
GATE tests the understanding of undergraduate subjects in engineering and science for admission into the master’s programme and jobs in public sector companies and has recorded a steady increase in chemical engineering students appearing for the exam, except in 2022.
Much larger numbers of students from other engineering streams appeared for GATE in 2022: civil (over 1 lakh), mechanical (about 90,000), and computer science and IT (over 77,000).
Xpheno estimates that the number of chemical engineering graduates has grown by 80 percent over nine years, while the number at the post-graduate level has grown by 37 percent in the same period. The only other engineering stream with sustained growth in output is computer engineering.
The number of active and accessible chemical engineers in the workforce in India exceeds 64,000, as per Xpheno data. The distribution of the active talent by experience levels shows a steady intake of chemical engineers, except for the past 2-3 years when it dropped.
With over 34 percent of the active chemical engineering talent in the 10+ years’ experience slice, there is a prominent presence of senior talent.
Amid the buoyancy in the hiring market in 2021 and early this year, 22 percent of the chemical engineers switched jobs over the past year. With attrition levels almost as much as in tech talent, there is demand for chemical engineers.
There are currently over 400 active openings for experienced chemical engineers.
Top locations and diversity
Over 38 percent of the chemical engineers are working in Mumbai, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Pune. Ahmedabad leads the pack with 21 percent growth in demand for chemical engineers over the past 12 months, ahead of Pune, which grew 8 percent over the same period.
The gender ratio of chemical engineers remains skewed with an 80-20 percent male-female talent mix, except in Bengaluru, where the ratio is 73-27 percent. In other top locations, there is a diversity challenge in the chemical engineering workforce.
The 80 percent growth in chemical engineering talent over the past decade shows the continued rise in demand for this specialist talent, Kamal Karanth, cofounder of Xpheno, told Moneycontrol.
“The growth of key sectors like oil and energy, pharma and chemicals, process manufacturing, mining and metals, mechanical and industrial engineering has driven the demand for this talent pool,” he said.
Karanth noted that secondary sectors such as biotechnology, environmental sciences, infrastructure and aerospace have also contributed to the growth in demand.
“The Middle East, south-east and far-west are also consumers of chemical engineering talent for their oil and energy, process manufacturing and research sectors,” he said.
India’s incentives for local manufacturing and its global positioning as a viable alternative to China will take demand for chemical engineers to the next orbit, said Balasubramanian A, VP and business head (consumer & healthcare) at TeamLease Services, a staffing company.
“The global push for renewable energy such as solar electric power, rechargeable batteries, nuclear and hydro is bound to give a fillip to demand for chemical engineers in India,” he said.
Popular roles and pay packages
The popular roles for chemical engineering talent in India include process engineers/senior process engineers, process managers, process design engineers, production engineers and production managers.
According to Prashant Kumar, assistant professor in the department of chemical engineering at Lovely Professional University, the average starting salary for chemical engineering graduates is more than Rs 3 lakh a year. The salaries of production engineers, design engineers and technical services & sales engineers are higher than the average.
“Some chemical engineering graduates from the IITs get more than Rs 15 lakh at the entry level,” said L Koteswara Rao, principal, College of Engineering at KL Deemed to be University in Hyderabad, adding than an experienced professional usually gets more than Rs 10 lakh a year.
ABHISHEK SAHU covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.