Employment is projected to decline. Workers involved in production and in installation, maintenance, and repair hold more than half of all jobs. Earnings are higher than average.
Vital to industries such as construction, motor vehicles, paper, electronics, transportation, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals, chemicals are an essential component of manufacturing. 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 goods.
Chemical manufacturing 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, coatings, 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
The 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.
The 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. Motor vehicle manufacturers are particularly large users of such products. This industry segment also produces plastic materials used for mixing and blending resins on a custom basis.
The agricultural chemicals 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.
The 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.
The 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.
[ Excerpted from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition - Chemical Manufacturing ]