Industrial engineers are multidisciplinary professionals seated at the intersection of business and engineering. Their focus is efficiency. These professionals find ways to eliminate processing waste, including needless time, materials, energy, and money. In other words, they’re the overseers of production processes and design optimal systems for all facets of a business such as manufacturing parts, deliveries and plant placements, job performance evaluations, and employee pay. While the term “industrial” may conjure images of factories and other manufacturing, industrial engineers work in many different fields and employment sectors such as healthcare, finance, and risk management.
Read on to learn how to become an industrial engineer, including the typical education, experience, and professional credentialing.
Must-Have Skills & Knowledge: According to the National Center for O*NET Development, successful industrial engineers must understand:
Industrial engineers also rely upon specialized knowledge in the industries in which they work. An industrial engineer who works to reduce manufacturing waste, for instance, must understand manufacturing processes, materials, and equipment.
Typical Duties – Industrial Engineering: Industrial engineers’ duties depend on their respective roles and employers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), typical responsibilities in this field include:
Personal Qualities: Industrial engineers are problem-solvers at their cores, but they also must be able to discern client needs and communicate their ideas. According to the BLS, the following qualities are important in industrial engineering:
Despite their titles, many industrial engineers do not work in manufacturing. While some professionals are experts in certain industries or products, others specialize in areas like finance or human productivity—skills applicable to a myriad of fields. Industrial engineers sometimes opt to earn degrees or certifications that allow them to specialize in areas including:
Industrial engineering is one of the few engineering disciplines in which students can enter and advance in the field with bachelor’s degrees alone. Because professionals’ roles are so diverse, however, industrial engineering curricula incorporates training in mechanical, electrical, and general engineering principles, in addition to other core and major coursework. In fact, according to the BLS, some industrial engineers enter the field with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical, electrical, and other engineering disciplines. Other majors one might find include:
Regardless the focus, prospective industrial engineers are strongly advised to seek out programs which are ABET-accredited, as this may impact one’s ability to seek professional credentialing.
The BLS reports that most industrial engineers can enter the workforce with bachelor’s degrees, but earnings and employment prospects tend to improve with more education. Many employers prefer to hire and promote industrial engineers with master’s degrees, especially when paired with a relevant specialization. Master’s degrees also can open doors to careers in postsecondary education and research.
While it naturally follows that one would enter the field after earning a degree, employers may also prefer (or require) professional experience, even for entry-level positions. Furthermore, practical experience is a prerequisite to seek the Professional Engineer (PE) license, which is discussed below. Fortunately, industrial engineering programs often adapt their curricula to meet this demand. Internships and cooperative education plans offer a balance of classroom study and practical training. Students attending online industrial engineering programs can typically complete internships near their homes. Above all, prospective engineers are encouraged to seek programs with opportunities to garner hands-on experience through internships, externships, and research projects.
In fields such as civil and mechanical engineering, professional licensure can be critical for long-term advancement; in fact, professionals may need it to qualify for certain projects, particularly those receiving government funds. This isn’t necessarily the case with industrial engineers. While some companies may require employees to become licensed, they are more the exception than the rule. That said, professional licenses can demonstrate a commitment to one’s field and career that employers value.
The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) license is a voluntary credential that serves primarily as a prerequisite for the more advanced Professional Engineering (PE) license. Some employers may require or prefer FE licensure before engineers assume certain duties or training opportunities, but the FE and FE-to-PE pathway is less critical in industrial and systems engineering than it is in other disciplines. Candidates must hold an ABET- or EAC-accredited bachelor’s degree before they can sit for the six-hour FE exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
Though voluntary, some industrial engineers earn Professional Engineer (PE) licenses, which are also granted by the NCEES. Professional Engineers may earn more, advance faster, and take on more responsibilities than their unlicensed peers. According to the NCEES, most states require candidates to meet the following requirements before they can sit for the 8-hour exam:
Professional certifications are voluntary credentials that validate certain skills and expertise. Industrial engineering certifications can be a means of specialization and advancement, as well as a demonstration of a commitment to one’s work. There are a myriad of organizations that offer certifications. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these industrial engineering certifications are in highest demand:
|Certified Professional in Supply Management||Institute for Supply Management|
|Certified Supply Chain Professional||American Production and Inventory Control Society|
|American Society for Quality|
|Certified Energy Manager||Association of Energy Engineers|
|Certified Maintenance & Reliability Professional||Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals|
|Society for Manufacturing Engineers|
From education and experience to geography, many factors influence industrial and manufacturing engineers’ job prospects. One can, however, discern broader trends from data surrounding this subfield of the discipline.
Because industrial engineers work in so many fields and industries, their job prospects correlate with economic shifts. The BLS (Dec. 2015) projected that positions in industrial engineering would grow only one percent between 2014 and 2024, which is slower than the 7 percent average expected across all U.S. occupations. While a decline in manufacturing will temper growth, prospects are positive for engineers working in healthcare and professional, scientific, and consulting services. Education, experience, and certifications may also give candidates an edge in the job market.
Lastly, as with their career prospects, industrial engineers’ salary potential varies dramatically. The BLS (May 2016) reported that the 256,550 industrial engineers in the U.S. earned an average salary of $88,530 (May 2016) with the following percentiles: