Industrial engineering is a thriving industry in the modern American economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for industrial engineers will increase by 10% between 2016 and 2026, faster than the average rate of growth for the rest of the economy. Certain related occupations should experience even more rapid expansion. For example, the BLS projects that demand for management analysts, a career path that requires similar skills in production and systems analysis, will increase by 14% during that same period.
In addition to strong job prospects, this field offers exceptional salaries. In 2018, industrial engineers earned a median salary of $87,040, roughly $48,000 more than the median salary for all other jobs. Even industrial engineering technicians, in a role that requires only an associate degree, earned significantly more than the national average.
This page provides an overview of industrial engineering careers, including information on educational and licensing requirements, earning potential across industries, and advice on finding a job after graduation.
Skills Gained in an Industrial Engineering Program
Industrial engineers need a diverse skill set, including a unique combination of theoretical and practical knowledge, to improve efficiency in production processes. For example, they must analyze supply chains and other process flows, confer with clients and customers to learn more about their needs and specifications, and educate workers on new policies or technologies. In addition to requiring extensive coursework in mathematics and business administration, industrial engineering programs often encourage their students to participate in internships or other work-based learning opportunities to develop practical skills.
- Critical Thinking
- Industrial engineers solve problems related to waste and inefficiency. For instance, they may redesign the layout of an assembly line to allow for faster or safer production. To do so, they need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of various systems and processes, as well as predict how a change in one program might affect others. They must generate alternative solutions, evaluate those new approaches, and refine their work through an iterative process.
- To analyze and design industrial systems, engineers need a firm understanding of calculus, trigonometry, statistics, and other advanced mathematical subjects. While industrial engineering programs often include coursework in areas like quantitative and qualitative analysis, aspiring engineers should strongly consider taking several math and physics courses during high school.
- Interpersonal Skills
- Industrial engineers must collaborate closely with customers, workers, management, colleagues, and fellow experts. Building and maintaining these kind of working relationships requires strong interpersonal skills, which engineering students may hone by participating in discussions and group work with their classmates, internships with manufacturing companies or consulting firms, and informational interviews with professional engineers and scientists.
- After developing a new system or approach, engineers must know how to clearly and concisely explain their instructions to the laborers or industrial engineering technicians directly responsible for production. They must also be able to develop written documentation of their work that other engineers can reference in the future.
- Research and Analysis
- Engineers use analytical skills to determine how to best allocate resources like time, money, and raw materials. They must also know how to identify and consume research to stay updated on new trends and developments in their field. Many industrial engineering programs, especially those at the graduate level, require multiple classes in research design and data analysis.
Why Pursue a Career in Industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineering career paths offer the chance to solve problems and improve the efficiency of organizations in various settings. Industrial engineers working for pharmaceutical companies, for example, may help those firms provide cheaper medication to individuals struggling with chronic disease. Students who major in industrial engineering also work to ensure the health and safety of individuals working in manufacturing and other potentially dangerous environments.
In addition to satisfying work, jobs in this field offer exceptional compensation. For example, health and safety engineers earned a median salary of $89,130 in 2018, roughly $50,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations. Industrial production managers, the professionals who oversee the day-to-day operations of manufacturing plants, earned a median salary of $103,380 that same year.
Finally, the field of industrial engineering provides ample opportunity for advancement. After working for several years, many engineers pursue state licensure, allowing them to supervise others, sign off on projects, and provide engineering services directly to the public as an independent contractor. Other engineers take on managerial roles at larger firms. According to the BLS, engineering managers earned a median salary of $140,760 in 2018. The highest 10% of earners, typically those with an advanced degree and multiple years of professional experience, commanded salaries in excess of $208,000.
How Much Do Industrial Engineering Graduates Make?
While the field of industrial engineering can be quite lucrative, your earning potential depends on a variety of factors. For example, engineers working in large cities typically make more than those working in rural areas. Careers in the for-profit sector also generally provide better compensation those that within nonprofit organizations or government agencies.
Education and experience play a key role in shaping your compensation as well. Although most industrial engineering jobs require only a bachelor's, you may qualify for a promotion or be able to negotiate higher pay with a master's or doctoral degree. The information below illustrates how average salaries for industrial engineering majors tend to increase as they advance in their careers.
How to Become an Industrial Engineer
Earn Your Degree
While an associate degree may qualify you for some entry-level roles, such as industrial engineering technician, most jobs in this field require at least a bachelor's degree.
For example, you typically must earn a four-year degree to qualify for positions like industrial engineer, health and safety engineer, and industrial production manager. As preparation for these careers, undergraduate programs in industrial engineering often feature coursework in statistics, manufacturing systems design, and production systems planning. They also often include laboratory practice and the opportunity to participate in cooperative or field-based education programs.
Although a master's degree is usually not specifically required for supervisory positions, some firms may prefer to hire engineering managers with this credential. Graduate programs usually offer more advanced instruction in engineering research and practice, along with classes in business administration topics like project management and financial analysis. They may also require students to complete a capstone or research-based thesis.
Finally, if you hope to teach or conduct research at a college or university, you generally must earn a doctorate. Most doctoral programs in engineering require students to write a dissertation, though some practice-oriented programs may give students the option to complete a field-based doctoral project instead.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become an Industrial Engineer?
Most bachelor's programs in industrial engineering consist of 120 credits, and full-time students typically earn their degree in four years. Part-time students may need up to eight years to meet all of their program's graduation requirements.
You can earn your bachelor's faster in one of several ways. For instance, if you already hold an associate degree, you may be able to transfer up to 60 credits into an undergraduate program at a four-year college or university. Some online programs may also feature accelerated tracks that allow learners to advance through their coursework at their own pace. Finally, some schools award credit for prior military, work, or volunteer experience, though you may need to take an exam or produce a portfolio of work to qualify.
Becoming a licensed engineer requires a bachelor's from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Licensure candidates must also have at least four years of relevant work experience, generally.
Concentrations Available for Industrial Engineering Majors
- Analytics and Data Science
- As preparation for careers in business, healthcare, and other disciplines, students who major in analytics and data science often take coursework in areas like data input and manipulation, multivariable calculus, and machine learning. Many data science students also elect to continue their education at the master's or doctoral level.
- Economics and Financial Systems
- This concentration provides in-depth instruction in the allocation of financial and economic resources, making it an ideal choice for aspiring engineers who hope to focus on business administration rather than industrial processes. Students explore topics such as coordination and competition, the use of pricing to influence demand, and break-even analysis.
- Operations Research
- Operations research refers to the use of analytic methods to make better business decisions. This concentration features extensive coursework in statistics, stochastic modeling, and optimization. Upon graduation, students may work as engineers, logisticians, or management analysts. They may also pursue an advanced degree to qualify for research and teaching roles at colleges and universities.
- Quality and Statistics
- Rather than focusing on operations, this research-intensive concentration primarily trains learners to use statistical analysis to ensure quality control. For example, a student who specializes in this area may serve as a patient safety analyst for a network of hospitals. Classes cover subjects like forecasting, regression, and inferential statistics.
- Supply Chain Engineering
- Supply chain engineers support the efficient delivery of goods from suppliers to consumers. Students who hope to work in this field often study subjects like planning and scheduling, facility layout, inventory control, and system dynamics. Most learners in this concentration also complete an internship to develop practical experience overseeing the product development life cycle.
What Can You Do With an Industrial Engineering Degree?
Your career opportunities in industrial engineering largely depend on the type of degree you earn. For example, you may qualify for entry-level jobs in manufacturing, such as quality control inspector, with just a high school diploma, associate degree, or postsecondary certificate. Advancement to supervisory and specialized roles, however, almost always requires a bachelor's.
A bachelor's degree in industrial engineering unlocks a variety of career paths. You may, for instance, serve as a health and safety engineer, developing policies and systems to protect workers from illness and injury. You may instead work as a manufacturing engineer, creating the computer networks and assembly robots used in automated production facilities.
For managerial positions, many companies prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree in either engineering management or business administration. Finally, earning either a Ph.D. in industrial engineering or a doctor of engineering science (Eng.Sc.D.) allows you to take on senior leadership posts and jobs in academia and research.
Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Engineering
Most bachelor's programs in industrial engineering consist of 120 credits, and full-time students usually earn their degree in four years. Part-time learners may need up to eight years to meet all of their program's graduation requirements.
In addition to general education coursework in English and the social sciences, undergraduate students usually explore subjects like engineering economics, production and inventory control, and industrial and product safety. It's becoming increasingly common for programs to require or strongly encourage their students to participate in a cooperative learning experience, giving them the opportunity to apply their classroom learning to real-world challenges in the engineering sector.
- Process Engineer
Process engineers design, optimize, and oversee the systems used to transform raw materials into finished products. For example, they may develop the equipment and production flows used to create fertilizer out of various chemical ingredients. Most process engineers hold at least a bachelor's degree and multiple years of professional experience.
- Industrial Engineer
In support of the production of goods or services, industrial engineers devise efficient and integrated systems of labor, materials, machines, and information. They may also use their analytical skills to reduce wastefulness in existing systems. Jobs in industrial engineering typically require a bachelor's, though some larger firms may prefer to hire individuals with a master's degree.
Master's Degree in Industrial Engineering
A master's degree in industrial engineering equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to take on specialized or managerial jobs. For example, after earning an advanced degree, you may lead a project team in charge of quality control at a manufacturing site. You may also choose to work independently, providing advice on improving production efficiency as a consultant.
Most master's programs consist of 30-60 credits, and full-time students typically graduate in just one or two years. Along with advanced instruction in subjects like operational research, human factors engineering, and optimization models, most graduate engineering students must either complete a research-based thesis or a practice-based capstone project.
- Manufacturing Engineer
Manufacturing engineers optimize the production of goods in industrial settings. They may, for instance, redesign an automotive assembly line to speed the fabrication of new cars and reduce the cost of the finished product. Manufacturing engineers may work in a variety of fields, including healthcare, computer and electronic product manufacturing, and environmental engineering.
- Senior Industrial Engineer
Senior industrial engineers supervise the work of junior engineers and engineering technicians. They may also play a role in hiring and developing staff, creating project or departmental budgets, and collaborating with senior leadership on organizational strategy. Though not always required, an advanced degree may give you a competitive edge over other candidates when applying for these jobs.
Doctoral Degree in Industrial Engineering
To teach industrial engineering at a college or university, you must first earn a doctoral degree. You may also need a doctorate to take on senior research roles in government or the for-profit sector.
The length of doctoral programs can vary considerably, though most students graduate in 4-7 years. Doctoral programs typically begin with three years of full-time coursework followed by a comprehensive examination that assesses the entire scope of a student's classroom learning. After passing this exam, learners may formally start the dissertation process.
In close collaboration with their faculty advisor, doctoral candidates first submit a dissertation proposal. Once approved, candidates must then conduct original research, organize their methodology and findings in a written document, and successfully defend their dissertation before a faculty committee.
- Senior Systems Engineer
Systems engineering requires interdisciplinary expertise, as senior systems engineers must deal with issues related to logistics, evaluation, requirements engineering, reliability, and project and team management. As a result, some firms may prefer to hire candidates who have demonstrated they possess the requisite knowledge and skills by earning a doctoral degree.
- Research Engineer
Research engineers develop new technologies and process or discover innovative new uses of existing technologies and processes. Many work for government agencies, institutions of higher education, or in corporate research and development departments. Owing to the specialized nature of the work, some roles may require a doctorate in industrial engineering or a closely related field.
Where Can I Work as an Industrial Engineering Graduate?
Industrial engineering graduates should generally enjoy excellent job prospects in the coming years. The exact nature of your professional opportunity, however, will be shaped by factors like where you live, the industry in which you choose to work, and your education and experience. For example, industrial engineers who have studied or worked in healthcare may experience a greater demand for their services than those who specialize in manufacturing.
Job outlook and earning potential can vary considerably from state to state. For example, roughly 31,000 industrial engineers worked in Michigan in 2018, while only 140 worked in Wyoming. However, industrial engineers in Wyoming earned a mean wage of $102,730 that year, while those in Michigan earned only $89,330.
While large urban centers typically offer more jobs and higher salaries than rural areas, smaller communities usually boast a lower overall cost of living. Remember to also consider factors like quality of life and educational opportunities for both you and your family when deciding where to live and work.
- Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing
The aerospace industry produces aircraft, spacecraft, and satellites for both civilian and military use. Aerospace engineers tend to work for private defense contractors, like Boeing, or government agencies, like NASA.
Average Salary: $101,520
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry encompasses firms that provide services related to civil, construction, environmental, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. It also includes engineers who provide services directly to the public as consultants.
Average Salary: $99,020
- Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing
Many industrial engineers work in the automotive industry. For example, they may work to improve the efficiency of a plant that manufactures brake pads. They may also optimize the development of the computer hardware that powers autonomous cars and trucks.
Average Salary: $84,820
- Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing
Semiconductors can be found in all manner of electronic devices, including computers, appliances, and industrial equipment. As a result, industrial engineers with a professional or educational background in semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing should enjoy strong job prospects.
Average Salary: $98,980
- Machinery Manufacturing
Machinery manufacturers produce agricultural and mining equipment, heating and cooling devices, engines and turbines, and various commercial and service industry machines. The BLS projects that growth in this industry will decline due to outsourcing.
Average Salary: $86,490
How Do You Find a Job in Industrial Engineering?
When looking for a job in industrial engineering, start by updating your resume, list of references, and any professional social media profiles, like your page on LinkedIn. You may also consider restricting access to your personal social media profiles and creating a spreadsheet to track job opportunities and important contact information.
You can find job openings on national job search engines, like Indeed and ZipRecruiter. For more industry-specific opportunities, check the job boards hosted by the industrial engineering professional associations listed below. Remember to customize your cover letter, resume, and any supporting materials for each application.
As you submit applications, work on growing your professional network. Let your family and friends know that you are looking for a new job. Attend events organized by your college's alumni or career services office. Contact engineers and managers to arrange informational interviews.
Finally, earning a professional certification can help you demonstrate specialized expertise to future employers. If you plan to apply for managerial roles, you may also explore pursuing a master's degree or graduate certificate in business administration.
Professional Resources for Industrial Engineering Majors
IISE supports industrial engineering professionals working in aerospace, defense, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and a variety of other industries. The association provides scholarships to engineering students, publishes case studies and white papers, and organizes multiple conferences around topics like applied ergonomics and healthcare systems process improvement. It also maintains a jobs board.
SME aims to support the manufacturing industry through the promotion of new technologies and the development of a highly skilled workforce. In addition to regional and national events, the society offers multiple forms of certification for entry- and mid-level engineering professionals. Members can also access free training modules and an online resource library.
Founded in 1911, ASSP now represents the interests of more than 100,000 occupational safety and health professionals. The association administers certification programs in safety management and risk assessment, establishes standards for practitioners, and publishes two scholarly journals. ASSP also awards scholarships and provides a listing of ABET-accredited programs for students.
NSPE specifically serves licensed professional engineers working in the United States. The association offers detailed guides on how to apply for and maintain licensure, free and online exam preparation courses, and a listing of state licensing boards. NSPE also provides a host of student resources, including scholarships, career roadmaps, and a mentoring program.
ASEE strives to advance innovation, excellence, and access within engineering education, disseminating research through multiple journals, magazines, policy statements, and data reports. The association also offers free webinars on subjects such as building more inclusive engineering classrooms and creating a pipeline of female leaders in engineering. Finally, ASEE hosts a jobs board, which primarily features opportunities in academia.