Industrial engineers have long played vital roles in enterprise, creating efficient systems to boost productivity, enhance manufacturing processes, and offer better products and services to clients. Outstanding industrial engineers in history include Henry Ford, who revolutionized manufacturing by creating a moving assembly line that allowed for mass production of his new automobile. More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook shook up an established company by reducing inventory, moving key suppliers near Apple plants, and reducing the amount of time required to develop a computer by half, from four months to two months.
Today’s industrial engineers enjoy high-paying jobs with plenty of room for growth. Because countless companies, governments, and organizations require their skills, they also enjoy the freedom of moving into different industries and sectors based on their interests and passions. Most entry-level roles require a bachelor’s degree, but as you’ll learn in this guide, earning a master’s degree can help open doors to even better-paying roles with opportunities for leadership and innovation.
This article discusses how to become an industrial engineer and answers the questions:
Industrial engineers work on the frontlines of manufacturing, increasing productivity while reducing waste in production. Whether working at Apple to introduce more cost-effective inventory methods, the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct safety compliance inspections, or at a university educating the next generation of industrial engineers, these professionals choose from many different roles in myriad public and private settings.
Common responsibilities for industrial engineers include:
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Industrial engineers enjoy access to nearly every field and discipline, making their skills and credentials extraordinarily versatile (unlike some other engineering disciplines). Because virtually every company relies on processes to improve production and efficiency, these professionals’ talents are in-demand across the economy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates the job market for industrial engineers expanding by 10 percent between 2021 and 2031, leading to the creation of more than 30,000 new positions.
As an added bonus, these professionals took home median salaries of $95,300 in 2021. Industrial engineers in the top 10 percent of earners commanded salaries in excess of $129,620 during the same time frame.
Employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering or a closely related engineering field (e.g., electrical, mechanical, manufacturing, or general engineering). Given that some companies want industrial engineers with prior experience, some students participate in cooperative education programs bringing together both education and work experience.
While not always required, certifications can help job seekers stand out from competition and demonstrate a commitment to continued education.
Today’s students can choose from a wide variety of industrial engineering degree programs, including those offered in-person, online, or a mix of both (i.e., hybrid program). Prospective learners take many factors into consideration, including cost, academic rigor, opportunities for practical experience, graduate hiring rates, alumni reviews, and location.
When choosing a program, look for one that holds accreditation through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accedits all types of industrial engineering bachelor’s degree programs as well as graduate degrees. Attending an accredited program ensures learners undergo the type of training employers want and receive support along the way.
Industrial engineers can work in varied roles; completing certifications helps job seekers demonstrate targeted skills development without committing to the costs or time frame associated with a full graduate degree.
Industrial engineers can select from many different certification programs based on their professional interests and desired outcomes. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying provides several options, as does the International Association for Six Sigma Certification.
Professionals interested in pursuing certification should carefully review their options and select a path that most closely aligns with their career goals. Many exist completely online, making it easy for working engineers to earn credentials without taking time away.
Curricula for four-year degree programs vary from school to school, but typically include many of the same foundational courses. It’s common to take courses in fundamentals of engineering, manufacturing engineering processes, engineering economic analysis, systems design, systems engineering, engineering technology, production planning, supply chain management, and project management. Industrial engineering programs also focus on developing such soft skills as problem solving, critical thinking, communication and listening skills, and project management.
Some schools may also provide the opportunity to focus on a particular area of the discipline. At Georgia Institute of Technology, industrial engineering students can concentrate their studies in analytics and data science, economic and financial systems, operations research, quality and statistics, supply chain engineering, or general industrial engineering.
Industrial engineering programs typically end with a capstone project. Some may also include an internship allowing learners to gain real-world work experience prior to graduating.
Graduates of industrial engineering programs can choose from numerous jobs based on their training and discipline interests. Graduates interested in OSHA requirements for manufacturing and production facilities may decide to work as an occupational health and safety manager. Those who find the manufacturing components of the field interesting can pursue jobs as manufacturing engineers, project managers, or process engineers.
After working within industrial engineering for several years, some professionals may decide they want to step into leadership roles. According to the BLS, engineering managersearned median salaries of $152,350 in 2021—significantly more than industrial engineers. Those in the top 10 percent of earners brought home more than $208,000 in 2021. Those who work in scientific research and development services tend to receive the highest salaries, with median figures reaching $187,240.
For many, earning a master’s in industrial engineering is the next step after working in an entry level job for a few years. Most of these programs,which require between one and two years of study, are tailored to the needs of working professionals.
While some students prefer to complete their coursework at a brick-and-mortar campus, others look for the flexibility afforded by online learning. Fortunately, many schools now offer distance learning options. In addition to saving time and money on a commute, online programs also allow students to cast their net wider when looking at prospective programs. Both Case Western Reserve University and Stevens Institute of Technology offer ABET-accredited master’s programs, making them worth looking into.
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