Chemical engineering is a very bad option in Ontario.
I started chemical engineering in Waterloo in 2011 and graduated this year and I've been extremely underemployed since and have been doing retail work at minimum wage while applying to jobs.
I actually read a post last year on this forum regarding how bad chemical engineering (or any engineering) was, with people even citing that familiar "30% of engineering graduates don't work in engineering" statistic for Ontario's engineers. I've seen many people criticize the way the government in Ontario works, and the mentality of why many companies wouldn't want to hire in Ontario due to having so many costs. I agree.
Honestly, I've had a very rough past six months since graduation and I just wanted to give my insight on how bad it's been applying for those chemical engineering jobs. I live within the GTA (have been applying everywhere though), but this advice might be different depending on both your location and your socioeconomic status.
My story: I did very well in school and always played by the rules. Growing up in the GTA my high school was primarily made of minorities - most people would cause trouble and not care about university at all because they'd be inheriting their parent's business that wouldn't require a degree or because they knew people. I want to say about 12/450 of the graduating year in my high school actually went to any form of post-secondary.
I chose Waterloo because of its unique co-op program. I actually found the curriculum easy - even easier than high school because there was extremely little bias in marking unlike in high school where teachers would have favourites. But really, I thought that completing exams were like completing puzzles - you just need to know the laws of conservation, etc. to be able to form some equations and you can just solve it. Some students would take fifteen minutes solving 3 sets of linear equations because they'd be using substitution, whereas I'd just use maybe two or three minutes because I'd use a matrix and invert it. I could even tell if I set up the eqns wrong because I could check the determinant instead of checking it at the end. I've always loved to take an intuitive approach to solving problems.
But I digress - I finished my degree with a 3.9/4.0 GPA, and also got extra titles on my degree like "with distinction", "dean's honour list" etc. Let me instead tell you my mistakes:
I ended up completing 5 co-op positions at four different companies. My first few co-ops were at what you call "co-op farms", the companies that only have a couple of managers and have 20-30 co-op students. Why? The financial benefits of hiring co-op students, of course! Unfortunately, the management was very poor and they ended up taking shortcuts, were unsuccessful, and one had closed their facilities. That also happened because one of the students got seriously injured as well due to poor training. The other company still exists, but they would rather keep hiring students instead of hiring full-time graduates due to the financial benefits.
My later co-ops were research-based and were done at companies who had special connections to get NSERC grants - I did this because these companies would pay more. I don't know if it'll vary, but for me it was like "employer pays only 1/4 of my salary and NSERC contributes the rest", meaning that it was the first time I'd be making like $16/hr rather than $12/hr (it was still poor, I know - the company would only be paying $4/hr).
The problem is that these companies were also a lot like the co-op farms, except that they'd only hire students eligible for NSERC's, though I didn't realize it at the time and often the management would misrepresent the facts, "Oh yeah you'll have a nice full-time job here after you've done co-op," then your NSERC finishes, "Oops, budget is very bad, we can't afford it, please try online in a few years, Thanks!" and they move onto the next student.
The big problem why I used to have difficulties getting a job after graduation was because all of my experience had looked research-oriented. I figured out that problem quickly with the help of some of my colleagues, and even removed the words "NSERC" as well as any reference to research from my resume. That kind of stuff is really bad if you just want to get a entry-level full-time engineering position, and as soon as I made changes to make my resume have more "applied skills" and even removed software I knew like MATLAB and COMSOL, and immediately I was getting more interviews. Publicly available articles from Sean Moran on LinkedIn actually give a lot of good advice for new chemical engineering graduates.
But let me discuss my next point. Chem eng in Ontario is very bad. Due to the previous oil prices going down, there were a lot of unemployed chem eng seniors who have been taking junior positions. I've interviewed at several companies and I can tell that employers see a lot of unemployed chemical engineering graduates. Most of my interviews turn into a "how low can you go?" kind of situation.
People will say that chem eng jobs are more often found in remote areas, but that's not always true, some can be found in the cities, but they pay so badly they're not worth it. I tried applying to the states but was extremely unsuccessful - but the one time I did get an offer, it was from the "big electric car manufacturer", who really wanted me because I did battery research as my final design project. Problem was they were offering like 40-50k USD for a position in Silicon Valley. I could go to a third-world country and live in less poverty.
But seriously. I applied for about 100-200 jobs online each month, and my rate is actually pretty decent - I usually get one interview per every month or two. I've interviewed at Canada's largest generic pharmaceuticals manufacturer and even one of Ontario's largest process controls companies. The thing is about interviews you get from applying online is that they're fake.
Most companies for these kinds of positions will end up hiring people specifically for hiring - the "Talent Acquisition" team they're usually denoted as - and during interviews you'll never even get to talk to someone who would be even working in a similar role (or even your potential boss), leading to very fake and weird interviews. A lot of the times your potential boss or supervisor will give questions for the talent acquisition team to read, and the talent acquisition will simply spend the whole interview blandly saying these questions and recording your answers onto their notebook and not even having a conversation.
Worst part is that they'll interview 30 people in a day for a typical chem eng entry level position - because I've seen it on both paper logbooks for the visitors and even on their computer logbooks that you tap to sign. Hey look at that - what are the chances of a visitor coming in for an interview every fifteen minutes? Due to non-overlapping times and the poor economic conditions, I can easily tell that you're interviewing them for the same position.
And yes, a lot of chem eng positions are also in remote locations. It's so sad, I remember my first interview after graduating - they called me three weeks in advance to tell me the time of the interview. I spent all that time just researching the company and preparing for the interview. It was 250 km away and I had to be there for 8AM, so I pretty much left at 5AM, parked up, prepared until about 10 minutes before and walked in. The first thing I get asked is if I know anybody internally, to which I respond as "no", then get asked two generic questions, and within less than five minutes, interview done! I asked about three questions that took her about ten to fifteen minutes to answer, even though she answered as vaguely as possible because she was only part of a hiring team and barely knew about the role at all.
Another interview I got had the talent acquisition manager mis-read my resume - she thought I had worked years at each of my co-ops. When I told her that they were only four month duration co-ops, which was clearly stated on the resume she did not read (she actually paused for like 5 minutes in the middle of the interview to read my resume), and she actually slammed her clipboard down onto the desk in fury. I almost burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation, and the rest of the interview ended up turning into seeing how well they could roast me.
I've never gone to an interview after graduation where I'd be speaking with a member of the team - I've never been asked any technical questions, even in interviews they would themselves call "technical interviews".
I live in the GTA and with most of these big companies, they have locations far away and also have locations within the GTA as well. It's really sad when you live five minutes away from one of their actual plants where they could use a chem eng, and instead they want you to work at their amazing facility 300km away.
When I apply for positions in locations close to me, they will always take my personal information and say "congrats, come to an interview!" and I know well enough to quickly check my Excel records. Then I'll realize that I applied for a *different job* in that company, and that the position they're interviewing me is for a technician role in their far-away location. They really want to push the limits. I had one fellow call me for a *one month* contract position, no benefits, part time, 400 km away. Most of my offers for chem eng positions would pay about 30-35k CAD annually.
I really hate to say it, all the interviews that I received from online were fake or very poorly done. Most of the times the interviews would be exceedingly short, like 5-10 minutes. Many times they already have an internal candidate or a family member in mind and want to have paperwork that they interviewed people, and many times they simply will be testing the waters to see what kind of candidates they could get in the future if they wanted to fire the workers that were making a lot of money at their company.
Anyways, I have no family connections - everybody in my family does mostly retail or have been working as mechanics for the last 40 years at a single company. I've been going to job fairs, and those folks working there have gotten really smart as well - they know everybody wants to chat them up and become friends, and most of the people I've met in the fairs actually say to apply online.
Ontario is a really, really backwards kind of place. The whole economy just seems to be service-based, and it's crazy that I saw similar posts saying that - you folks really do know how terrible it is. This forum is extremely local and specific to Canadians. Anyways, my recommendation is to do computer science or something other than engineering. Ontario is a place where you wouldn't find innovation. It's not a crazy coincidence that so many of the previous places I've worked for have shut down their Canadian operations - nobody wants to fork the expensive costs of operating in Canada.