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Chemistry Careers in South Africa: An In-depth look.

Updated on July 5, 2015


Career guidance is vital, before choosing a field of study remember to read widely. Students who come from disadvantaged background usually lack this vital component. They find themselves at university studying in a field they are clueless about. The career opportunities in the field, what’s needed in the field and the opportunities still available to them are all unknowns. Of course this is not confined to students from poor communities only, some middle class and even upper class students are not acquitted with available opportunities.

Finding a good source of information is important, most sources are shallow and they give you a list of possible job opportunities and a single line of description. That’s never enough, a detailed exposé is needed. In this article we are going to cover the top ten careers in chemistry.

Chemical Analyst

Chemical analysts are in high demand. Most chemical, pharmaceutical and FMCG companies require analyst who analyse raw materials and finished products. The job titles vary from one company to another and depend on whether the analysis required is for raw material or finished products. Quality Assurance is associated with testing the final product to verify if the quality meets the required standards.

You can become an analyst by completing a diploma in analytical chemistry, a BSc degree majoring in chemistry or apprentice after matric. Postgraduates with Honours and Masters Degrees can also become Chemical Analyst. Most companies employ people with diplomas as their training focuses more on analytical techniques and required remunerations are smaller. For postgraduate degrees preference is given to graduates whose research focus is Analytical Chemistry.

Salary range is from R5 000-R20 000 depending on qualification and experience.

Sales Consultant

The sales industry is blossoming in South Africa. Any business is dependent on sales and those who make it happen are usually uncelebrated foot soldiers. Scientific instruments are in high demand in South Africa and its neighbouring countries. A number of companies in South Africa sell locally and abroad. In the chemical, pharmaceutical and FMCG industry analytical instruments are required. HPLC, GC, XRF and Spectroscopy instruments are in high demand. Sales consultants are not only required by companies selling scientific instruments but also for selling lab equipment and medical equipment.

Sales consultants are employed from those with matric to those with master’s degrees depending on company preference and the instruments sophistication. Complex instruments require a more learned person to fully grasp its functions and potential usefulness to different clients. You must be prepared to travel locally and regionally. A driver’s licence is a must.

Being bilingual is an added advantage. English, Afrikaans and/or one African language is preferable.

Salary range from R7 500-R25 000 basic and other companies will have a commission option on top of basic. Medical benefits are common.

Research and Development

This is the holy grail of all scientists, the privilege to research new way of manufacturing, product improvement and sometimes developing new products from scratch is a dream. Researchers are employed by universities, private companies, government institutions and research centres. The huge players in the field include Mintek, CSIR, iThemba labs. Private companies include Nestle, Unilever and AECI. Most medium to large FMCG companies have research and development departments. However some of the international companies have research and development done abroad. The research can be categorised into scientific research which leads into publications or product development which is done by private companies.

The minimum requirement for research is an Honours degree, usually a masters or PhD degree is a must. You need to be an expert in your field and for scientific research previous publications will be an advantage.

Salary ranges from R15 000 to R150 000 depending on company and qualification

Supply Chain and Business Management

Chemist can be employed in supply chain and management positions. The supply chain jobs are plenty but there is serious competition from graduates with supply chain management qualifications and engineers. FMCG companies employ chemist for supply chain management and other management positions through graduate programs. Unilever, Nestle, SAB millers, Diageo, Reckitt & Beckiser and Tiger Brands are the leading companies that employ Chemist as part of their graduate program.

The selection process for most of the companies is quit tough. Reckitt & Beckiser has a simpler selection process as compared to the rest. Minimum requirement is a BSc degree. Students contemplating joining graduate programs should focus on mastering psychometric tests. These are readily found on the internet and the earlier you start the better.

Salary ranges from R15 000-R60 000.


South Africa has a shortage of science teachers and this has been worsened by a number of teachers retiring early. The government is the largest employer for teachers followed by private schools. SACE registration is required for you to become a teacher. The employing school can help you apply. TEACH SA offers graduates from science field an opportunity to become teachers.

A BSc degree or an Honours degree is required.

Salary ranges from R10 000-R40 000 depending on experience and qualifications.




Universities and colleges are many and scattered all around the country. If you have a passion for sharing knowledge and impacting the lives of others and then this is the field for you. Most lecturers are required to conduct research. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of lecturing with trips to conferences locally and abroad a possibility. Papers you publish are part of the legacy you leave behind. Working hours are usually from Monday to Friday and school holiday provide more flexibility.

Masters is a minimum requirement for many colleges and Universities require PhDs. Previously published papers will save you well.

Salary ranges from R20000-R50000.

University of Witwatersrand

Institute of Learning
Institute of Learning

Forensic Science

Investigating crime can involve analysing biological and/or chemical material. Determining the alcohol content in blood or presence of chemical poisons used in murder cases is all crucial in cases involving poisons. Chemist can work in a forensics laboratory as chemical analyst or material analysis if your speciality is material science. The biggest employer is the police department. Private forensics companies are also possible employers. Starting at a police department will provide with much needed experience.

A BSc degree is essential. Masters and PhD graduates can venture into more complex forms of forensics.

Salary ranges from R12 000-R100 000.

Polymer Science

Polymer scientists study the polymer manufacturing process and the properties of the polymer. The polymer industry in South Africa is small but competitive. Imports from China hurt the industry but in spite of the stiff competition the industry strives. Sasol Polymers is one of the major suppliers of polymers and there is quite a number of convertors. Polymer chemists are employed by polymer producing companies, tyre manufactures and convertors.

A BSc degree, Polymer Science degree or Btech degrees are a good starting point.

Salary ranges from R10 000- R30 000.

Regulation Affairs Chemist

Pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturing companies are required to comply with certain manufacturing legislation. A Regulation Affairs chemist is required to compile documentation which is submitted to authorities and to moderate internal procedure and protocols. The job title may vary as well as the function. Other related jobs and title include Validation Scientist and Compliance Scientist.

A BSc degree is a minimum requirement and knowledge of GMP is essential. The knowledge of GMP is usually obtained as part of work experience and from professional courses.

Salary ranges from R10 000-R60 000 depending on experience and company.


Like most other degrees chemistry presents an opportunity to become an entrepreneur. The opportunities are there depending on your level of skill and experience. An Honours degree is a good starting point and opportunities turn to increase depending on level of education. Chances of success also depend on the experience you have in the field. Fine chemicals are needed by pharmaceutical industries. Animal medicinal drugs have less compliance issues. Other chemicals such as lubricants can be easily manufactured. Research the field you intent to invest in and opportunities will be available.


The list above is not exhaustive but presence the major fields of potential employment. Different companies have been used as examples but other major employing fields have been left. The mining industry for example employs a large number of chemists in various capacities from research and development to analyst. The petroleum companies such as Sasol and PetroSA employ chemist as analyst and catalyst scientist. The route to become one maybe obscure and difficult to map but continues checking of job adverts will reveal further opportunities.

Electron Microscope

Complex Scientific Instruments
Complex Scientific Instruments

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© 2015 Pearson


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