Industrial Engineering Careers
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Industrial engineering focuses on improving how companies implement work processes and manufacture products. Because their technical knowledge and skills can be applied across multiple industries, industrial engineers can find entry-level jobs and switch occupations with relative ease.
This guide discusses many of the careers you can pursue with an industrial engineering degree. You can also learn about professional advancement resources like certification options, fellowship programs, and massive open online courses (MOOCs).
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Why Pursue a Career in Industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineers are problem-solvers who use their critical thinking skills and knowledge of manufacturing technology to strengthen organizational efficiency. Since their job usually requires them to oversee a company's entire production apparatus, industrial engineers must have a broad systems perspective and an in-depth understanding of individual steps within the project lifecycle.
To advance their careers in industrial engineering, professionals must master interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills so they can recruit, coordinate, and motivate their teams and coworkers to meet project goals. The ability to cultivate productive professional relationships also comes into play when engineering managers need to negotiate with external parties like suppliers and transporters.
Industrial Engineering Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that architecture and engineering occupations will grow by 3% between 2019 and 2029. However, within this sector, the BLS projects that industrial engineers will see 10% job growth during the same period.
A worker's salary potential depends on factors like their geographic location, employer, and individual qualifications. The table below provides salaries for a few industrial engineering careers based on experience level.
|Supply Chain Analyst||$56,480||$59,590||$65,970||$66,950|
Skills Gained With a Industrial Engineering Degree
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.
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In addition to requiring extensive coursework in mathematics and business administration, industrial engineering programs often provide internships or other work-based learning opportunities to develop practical skills.
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.
Industrial engineers must collaborate closely with customers, workers, management, colleagues, and fellow experts. Building these working relationships requires strong interpersonal skills, which engineering students can 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 workers 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 read relevant research to stay updated on new trends and developments in their field. Many graduate industrial engineering programs require multiple classes in research design and data analysis.
Industrial Engineering Career Paths
Many industrial engineering programs offer concentrations that can lead to specific career paths. The following section covers five common concentrations and the jobs that graduates can pursue.
Analytics and Data Science
To prepare 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 continue their education at the master's or doctoral level.
Economics and Financial Systems
Some engineers focus on business administration rather than industrial processes. Students preparing for these careers explore topics like coordination and competition, the use of pricing to influence demand, and break-even analysis.
Operations research refers to the use of analytic methods to make better business decisions. Upon graduation, operations research students can work as engineers, logisticians, and management analysts.
Quality and Statistics
Students who specialize in this area can serve as patient safety analysts for a network of hospitals. Common 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. Learners who hope to work in this field often study subjects like planning and scheduling, facility layout, inventory control, and system dynamics.
How to Start Your Career in Industrial Engineering
Due to the mathematics knowledge and technological skills needed to pursue an industrial engineering career, you usually need at least a bachelor's degree to qualify for entry-level employment. The following sections can help you understand the three primary engineering degree levels: bachelor's, master's, and doctoral.
In addition to program structure and requirements, each section covers a few potential jobs available to graduates.
Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Engineering
Bachelor's programs in industrial engineering synthesize concepts and skills in mathematics, business, and the physical sciences. Students learn how to apply multidisciplinary principles to improve integrated systems of materials, people, energy, and information.
These programs require approximately 120 credits, and full-time students can graduate in about four years. Major coursework often covers topics like probability with applications, the engineering economy, mechanics and thermal physics, and simulation analysis and design. Depending on the school, students may be able to pursue a concentration in an area like operations research, quality engineering, or economic and financial systems.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Industrial Engineering?
These professionals reduce costs and optimize efficiency in the production processes for manufacturing, national defense, and healthcare companies. After reviewing production data, industrial engineers develop integrated systems of materials, machines, energy, information, and people to maximize the quality of a product or service. They also create financial management programs that make budgeting and cost analysis less time-consuming.
These engineers oversee industrial processes involving continuous machinery that use chemical and biochemical reactions to turn raw materials into an end product. They design new technologies and update existing machines and manufacturing methods. Process engineers can pursue careers in the pharmaceutical, biotechnological, petrochemical, and mineral processing industries.
Logistics coordinators work with suppliers, production, sales, and distribution to ensure that the scheduling and communication aspects of the supply chain run smoothly. They make sure that purchase and shipping orders are accurate, fixing errors and making special delivery arrangements as necessary. Depending on their specific role, logistics coordinators also respond to customer and client inquiries. A bachelor's degree can help these workers stand out from their peers.
Master's Degree in Industrial Engineering
Master's programs in industrial engineering build upon undergraduate education and work experience to help students advance into management and advising roles within their industry. The typical master's program takes about two years to complete, although working professionals can enroll part time to accommodate busy work schedules and graduate in 3-5 years.
Alternatively, learners can enroll in intensive online master's in industrial engineering programs to earn their degrees within one year.
Master's programs typically require at least 30 credits and cover topics like production planning and scheduling, target costing, and inventory systems. Students also learn how to apply optimization analytics to create modern designs for manufacturability. Depending on the program, learners may complete a research project or final exam.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Industrial Engineering?
Industrial Engineering Manager
These organizational leaders oversee multiple engineering projects, ensuring each team meets expectations and requirements. They collaborate with performance and quality analysts to reduce material waste and labor inefficiencies. Industrial engineering managers also design business plans, hire and train employees, and assess the integrity of every step of production.
Process Engineering Manager
Like industrial engineering managers, process engineering managers oversee teams of engineers and other workers. These professionals design industrial processes and equipment to improve production. These managers may need to pursue specialized certification, in addition to a master's degree.
Doctoral Degree in Industrial Engineering
Doctoral programs in industrial engineering require students to complete 60-90 credits of classes and dissertation work, which typically takes 4-6 years. To enroll in these research-focused programs, applicants often need a master's in industrial engineering or a closely related field.
Doctoral candidates usually take required classes in experiment design and statistical analysis. They then work with faculty advisors to pick specialized courses that align with their academic interests and career objectives, often selecting from areas like nanomanufacturing, intelligent transportation systems, and cyber-physical security. Ph.D. programs in industrial engineering culminate with a dissertation defense.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Industrial Engineering?
These postsecondary educators deliver classroom instruction and laboratory training that cover core engineering topics and their particular area of specialization. They also provide support outside the classroom, helping students apply for internships and graduate school. Engineering professors also pursue their own projects, conducting research and presenting their findings in scholarly journals and academic conferences.
Supply Chain Consultant
Supply chain consultants work with clients to develop strategies that improve the effectiveness of their production and delivery processes. They analyze every step of the supply chain for errors and inefficiencies. These specialists can take on a variety of projects, implementing solutions for logistics network design, sourcing software development, and global supply chain optimization. A doctorate helps indicate expertise in the field to potential clients.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Industrial Engineering
After getting your first job, advancing your industrial engineering career requires strengthening your skills by working with colleagues and learning from supervisors. However, there are other actions a professional can take to boost their prospects and demonstrate value to their employer. This section provides information on how to advance your career by taking advantage of certifications, MOOCs, graduate fellowships, and professional organizations.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Industrial engineers who want to work for government agencies at the local, state, or federal level may need to obtain licensure if they want to access high-ranking positions.
For example, the professional engineer license demonstrates to potential employers that an applicant can handle difficult, multifaceted responsibilities. Engineers apply for this credential through their state's licensing board after completing a bachelor's program, accumulating four years of work experience under the guidance of a professional engineer, and passing two competency exams.
In addition to governmental licensure, industrial engineers can bolster their employability by earning industry-based or skill-specific certifications. The Institute for Supply Management and the Association for Supply Chain Management offer credentialing programs for professionals working in production and distribution.
Engineers who want to specialize in quality management, Six Sigma process improvement, or reliability engineering should consider the certifications offered by the American Society for Quality. Alternatively, professional engineers interested in the psychological and human factors that affect organizational efficiency can earn credentials from the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics.
To qualify for the most lucrative careers in industrial engineering, professionals must earn a master's or doctoral degree. However, before investing the time and money needed to earn a graduate degree, you can take advantage of free online courses through platforms like edX, Coursera, and FutureLearn to make sure a postbaccalaureate education is right for you. These platforms offer individual classes at every knowledge and experience level, as well as specializations and certificate programs leading to college credit.
Fellowships are another way for industrial engineering students to develop specialized skills and meet potential employers. Most universities maintain fellowship programs for graduate students. New engineers can also find opportunities with organizations like the American Society for Engineering Education.
The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration offers a Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship for learners with interests in hydrodynamics and high-energy-density physics. Additionally, master's students can find a variety of fellowships through the National GEM Consortium.
Professional engineers who want to maintain their license must continually strengthen and update their skill sets by pursuing continuing education, as mandated by their state's licensing board.
For example, professional engineers in Alabama need to accumulate at least 15 professional development hours each year. Qualifying activities include completing college classes, attending or presenting at conferences, engaging with a professional organization, and publishing articles and books.
Becoming a member of an engineering association allows professionals to access up-to-date news, research funding, and job postings. These organizations also provide regional, national, and international networking events, where members can learn from peers and meet future employers. Popular gatherings include the annual conference hosted by the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers and the International Symposium on Process Systems Engineering.
How to Switch Your Career to Industrial Engineering
Professionals who work in the four traditional engineering branches (chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical) often switch careers to adjust to evolving technologies and the fluctuating global economy, going where employment opportunities are plentiful and lucrative.
Due to the multidisciplinary nature of engineering research and practice, job changes also occur externally. Business and IT professionals with backgrounds in statistical/data analysis, human resources, and project management may make the leap to careers in industrial engineering as performance analysts, process improvement specialists, and manufacturing production managers.
Where Can You Work as a Industrial Engineering Professional?
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: $102,350
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry includes firms that provide services related to civil, construction, environmental, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. The industry also includes engineers who provide services directly to the public as consultants.
Average Salary: $100,840
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: $84,880
Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing
Semiconductors are 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: $99,530
Machinery manufacturers produce agricultural and mining equipment, heating and cooling devices, engines and turbines, and various commercial and service industry machines. However, the BLS projects that growth in this industry will decline due to outsourcing.
Average Salary: $88,690
Michigan retains its status as a manufacturing powerhouse by employing almost 30,000 industrial engineers who work on medical devices, carbon fiber/composite materials, aerospace technology, and military defense and cybersecurity. However, professionals in this field earn the highest salaries in Washington, where industrial engineers make an annual mean wage of $109,200.
Resources for Industrial Engineering Majors
The following sections provide educational and professional resources that can help you jumpstart or advance an industrial engineering career. These resources include professional organizations, MOOCs, and publications.
Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers: IISE supports industrial engineering professionals working in aerospace, defense, healthcare, finance, and manufacturing. The institute provides scholarships to engineering students, publishes case studies and white papers, and organizes multiple conferences focusing on topics like applied ergonomics and healthcare systems process improvement. IISE also maintains a jobs board.
SME: This organization supports 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-level and mid-level engineering professionals. Members can also access free training modules and an online resource library.
American Society of Safety Professionals: Founded in 1911, ASSP now represents the interests of more than 100,000 occupational safety and health professionals. The society administers certification programs in safety management and risk assessment, establishes standards for practitioners, and publishes two scholarly journals. ASSP also awards scholarships.
National Society of Professional Engineers: NSPE serves licensed professional engineers working in the United States. The society 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 scholarships, career roadmaps, and a mentoring program.
American Society for Engineering Education: ASEE strives to advance innovation, excellence, and access within engineering education, disseminating research through journals, magazines, policy statements, and data reports. The society also offers free webinars on subjects like building more inclusive engineering classrooms and creating a pipeline of female leaders in engineering.
Advanced Manufacturing Process Analysis - University at Buffalo: This beginner course takes about 13 hours to complete and centers on controlling variability to improve product yield and quality. Students learn how to apply advanced analytical techniques to identify and correct flaws in the manufacturing process. They also examine the best methods and computer programs to collect, assess, and present vast amounts of data over time.
Engineering Project Management Specialization - Rice University: By completing this three-course specialization, students gain the skills needed to lead an interdisciplinary team toward successful project completion. The first two classes cover initiating and planning, project scope, time, and cost management. In the final course, candidates learn how to manage the risks associated with employee performance and external procurement.
Supply Chain Management Specialization - Rutgers University: Recent college graduates and career changers should consider earning this specialized certificate to help start their industrial engineering career. Throughout five classes, students learn about the three building blocks of a logistics network (transportation, warehousing, and inventory) and essential tools to improve the operations process. Additional topics include supply chain planning, sourcing, and management strategies.
The Science and Business of Biotechnology - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: In this intermediate class, students explore how early-stage biotechnology companies help more patients access life-saving therapies through innovative drug discovery and clinical development strategies. Covered topics include capital budgeting, healthcare analytics and machine learning, and biomedical megafunds. The course also highlights the emerging science and technologies that lead to new disease-to-target discoveries.
ISE Magazine: As the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers' member magazine, this publication serves a diverse readership as the leading voice of the profession. Sections include case studies, research, and tools and technologies. The magazine also publishes opinion pieces called "perspectives" that highlight the voices of professionals in the management, manufacturing, and systems engineering industries.
Journal of Applied Research on Industrial Engineering: This open-access journal offers a platform where industrial engineering practitioners and researchers can collaborate. Readers enjoy peer-reviewed articles on subjects like computational intelligence, manufacturing and logistics, renewable energy, and operations research.
Journal of Engineering and Technology Management: A scholarly research journal, JET-M connects science, engineering, and management. Readers learn about pertinent managerial challenges across technology organizations, including problems related to innovation process management, new product development, and technological fusion. Authors who want to submit their work to JET-M undergo a double-blind peer review process.
Journal of Engineering Education: This scholarly journal publishes articles on broad research areas in engineering education, including engineering epistemologies, learning mechanisms, systems, and modes of assessment. Readers can also learn about emerging theories and analyses on how human diversity and inclusiveness impacts products and processes.
Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management: Readers of this open-access scientific journal enjoy empirical and theoretical articles that build or challenge existing engineering ideas and develop new theories and practices. The journal's content categories include quality management, supply chain/logistics, and operations management. The journal also covers changes in production planning, scheduling, and inventory.
Manufacturing Engineering Magazine: Founded in 1935, this magazine is the official publication of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Each monthly issue focuses on a specific topic, such as machining centers, additive manufacturing, aerospace and defense, or motorized vehicles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is industrial engineering a good career?
Employers across multiple industries seek skilled industrial engineers for their ability to improve the efficiency and quality of production processes. The BLS projects that industrial engineering positions will grow by 10% between 2019 and 2029.
Where do most industrial engineers work?
Michigan, California, and Texas are the three states that house the most industrial engineers. The manufacturing industry is by far the largest employer in this field. About 18% of industrial engineers work for transportation equipment companies, while 13% of these professionals find employment with computer and electronic product manufacturers.
What kind of jobs can you get with an industrial engineering degree?
With a bachelor's degree, you can work as a part of an industrial, process, or quality engineering team. By earning a graduate degree, you qualify for management roles in demand planning and supply chain analytics, as well as postsecondary teaching and governmental research/consulting positions.
What industrial engineering jobs pay the most?
According to the BLS, architectural and engineering managers rank among the most lucrative occupations in the nation. These professionals earn a median annual wage of $144,830.