Careers in industrial engineering
Industrial engineers are found wherever large-scale processes and systems exist. Their work could include shortening the wait times at a major amusement park, justifying a $3 billion expenditure in the oil and gas industry, or redesigning patient flow and staffing models to reduce nurse burnout and improve patient safety.
These professionals may be called industrial engineers, systems engineers, or industrial and systems engineers. In other cases, they earn a degree in ISE and take on roles such as project manager, quality manager, management analysts, and business process design manager.
What is industrial engineering?
Industrial engineers improve complex processes and systems by applying advanced analytical and decision-making tools.
They might do this by:
- helping an organization produce a product or service at a lower cost
- making work more comfortable or safer for employees
- developing a management control system to assist financial planning
- increasing the quality, safety, or life of a product
- automating a production line in a factory
- designing a goods delivery system for a supplier
Career outlook for industrial engineers
While job growth for all occupations over the next 10 years averages 8%, the field of ISE is projected to grow by around 14%, or almost double the average. Part of the reason that job outlook is so positive for industrial engineers is that their expertise translates well to nearly every industry. They are hired in energy, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, production, telecommunication, and many other industries.
While a graduate with a generic bachelor’s degree earns an average of $46,471 2 years after graduation, this number rises to $69,925 for industrial engineering graduates, meaning this career path offers a high return on investment.
The director of costuming and cosmetology at Walt Disney World is an industrial and systems engineer.
How hard is it to become an industrial engineer?
The general consensus among engineering students is that it is slightly easier to earn a degree in industrial and systems engineering than in most other engineering fields. This is because the STEM focus is usually less intense, with a greater emphasis on practical skills.
Many industrial engineering programs require a mathematics entry exam along with some prerequisite courses that can be completed through dual credit during high school or in your first 2 years of college. Some engineers earn a master’s degree in industrial engineering to increase their professional growth and earning potential. Becoming a licensed professional engineer involves completing 2 challenging exams, the FE and PE, discussed in more detail below.
How long does it take to become an industrial engineer?
Industrial and systems engineers usually need a 4-year college degree, meaning it takes about 4 years to become an industrial engineer. Most programs accept students right out of high school as long as they have the required prerequisites.
Where do industrial engineers work?
Industrial and systems engineers can work in nearly any industry. The industries employing the greatest numbers of industrial and systems engineers are listed below.
|Transportation equipment manufacturing||18%|
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing||13%|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||12%|
|Fabricated metal product manufacturing||6%|
While industrial engineering can be an office job, certain parts of the job may be completed in other environments. For example, if your role is to reduce worker injuries in a manufacturing plant, you may spend time observing the way people work within that plant to better understand and analyze current practices.
A few well-known organizations that employ ISEs are:
- Mayo Clinic
- Estée Lauder
- Toys “R” Us
- Kennedy Space Center
- Walt Disney World
What’s the difference between industrial and systems engineering?
Industrial and systems engineering are not one and the same, but most colleges treat them as a single discipline until the master’s level. So, what’s the difference between the 2?
an emerging engineering discipline
involves designing and improving complex systems in collaboration with other tech professionals
these systems are often abstract or digital
can also refer to any application of systems thinking within engineering
systems engineers generally earn a higher salary than industrial engineers
a well-established engineering discipline
involves optimizing processes and operations in manufacturing, including machines, materials, people, and information
tends to deal in more concrete matters than systems engineering
industrial generally earn a lower salary than systems engineers
What types of industrial engineering jobs are there?
Industrial engineers analyze existing processes and identify areas for improvement. They specialize in coordinating machines, information, workers, materials, and energy for optimal outcomes.
Some of the specific tasks industrial engineers perform on a routine basis include:
- reviewing engineering specification and process flows to understand how a plant operates and produces a product
- developing more efficient ways to coordinate machines, information, workers, materials, and energy to produce an outcome
- developing and implementing quality control measures to identify, resolve, or prevent quality issues
- communicating with clients, vendors, management, and staff to better understand current states and drive future change
How to become
Industrial engineers usually need a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, although some hold degrees in electrical, mechanical, or manufacturing engineering. Professional engineering (PE) licensure or a master’s degree typically are not required for entry-level positions, but may qualify you for growth into leadership positions.
Industrial engineering technicians
Industrial engineering technologists and technicians assist engineers in solving manufacturing problems. They undertake time and motion studies and analyze maintenance operations.
Industrial engineering technologists and technicians might perform the following tasks on a regular basis:
- recommend changes to existing methods, layout, or handling
- interpret complicated diagrams, drawings, and formulas
- collect data to drive process improvement
- prepare visual charts and graphs to illustrate how work is being done
- collaborate with staff and leaders to develop or carry out quality control
How to become
An associate degree or certificate is required to work as an industrial engineering technologist or technician. Common programs include industrial technology, applied science, and industrial engineering technology.
Industrial production managers
Industrial production managers oversee day-to-day plant operations and are often called plant managers. Whereas engineers design processes, industrial production managers carry them out.
Some of the daily responsibilities of industrial production managers include:
- hiring, training, scheduling, and evaluating the performance of workers
- overseeing production, ensuring it stays both on schedule and within budget
- evaluating production data and sharing it with key stakeholders
- predicting, identifying, and correcting issues
- streamlining processes for maximum efficiency
How to become
Most industrial production managers have a bachelor’s degree in a field like business administration, industrial engineering, or industrial management. Employees usually act as supervisors before working their way into managerial roles.
Manufacturing engineerMedian salary: $72K
Manufacturing engineers work in plants or consultant roles, helping solve production issues by using software and data analysis.
Process engineerMedian salary: $76K
Process engineers are behind the transformation of raw goods into usable products. They design, implement, control, and improve manufacturing processes.
Control systems engineerMedian salary: $81K
Control systems engineers specialize in stabilizing dynamic systems, that is, systems that are constantly changing, often in the manufacturing industry.
7 steps to becoming an industrial engineer
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering
The first step in becoming an industrial and systems engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree in the field. Most schools combine the 2 disciplines into a single program. Some programs offer specialization in areas like total quality management, human factors and ergonomics, facilities planning, and inventory control.
Step 2: Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (optional)
Students who are nearing graduation or have recently graduated can sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The FE is not a requirement, but many organizations prefer employing engineers who have completed it and are working towards licensure.
Step 3: Earn work experience as an industrial engineer
Once you finish school, you can join the workforce in your first engineering role. Organizations categorize engineers based on their qualifications and years of experience, but these levels are not standardized. As a result, you might see different engineering classifications or nomenclature.
Some organizations use numerical nomenclature, where new engineers are referred to as level 1 and progress through 6 levels as they gain experience and qualifications. Other organizations might use terminology like graduate, junior, intermediate, senior, or staff engineer to reflect experience and qualification.
Step 4: Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam (optional)
Once you have 4 years of experience in industrial and systems engineering and have passed the FE, you can sit for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. The exam tests minimum competency in the field. You are allotted 9.5 hours to complete 85 questions. The pass rate for the industrial and systems exam is 66%. Passing the PE is required to become a licensed professional engineer.
Step 5: Become a licensed professional engineer (optional)
Once you pass the PE exam, you can apply for licensure with your state licensing board. Having a license is not required, but may open additional doors for you.
Step 6: Complete a master’s degree in industrial engineering (optional)
Some engineers choose to pursue a master’s degree in ISE or a related field to advance to higher levels within their organization. A master’s degree can lead to management roles or the opportunity to specialize in a particular subdiscipline.
Step 7: Complete a doctorate in industrial and systems engineering (optional)
Engineers interested in advanced teaching roles at the college or university level can pursue a Ph.D. Mid-career engineers who want to start their own companies or enter the highest leadership roles usually opt for a doctor of engineering (DEng).
Frequently asked questions
How hard is an industrial engineering degree?
Earning a degree in industrial engineering may be somewhat less difficult than more STEM-focused engineering degrees, but nevertheless requires strong math and science skills.
Can I get an industrial engineering degree online?
As 97.5% of programs are fully in person with no online components, earning this degree online would be challenging. Even if you do find a program, it is unlikely to be ABET-accredited.
Do I need a PE license to be an industrial engineer?
No, a PE license is not required, but it can facilitate career growth and increase earning potential.
Do industrial engineers travel a lot?
It depends on the role and organization. Many industrial engineers don’t have to travel at all. Instead, they analyze and improve processes within a company. Others work as consultants and travel nationally or globally as a part of their work.
The IISE is the world’s largest professional membership organization for industrial and systems engineers. They have local chapters in many parts of the world, as well as various initiatives to support engineering students and young professionals, including online courses.
The Institute of Industrial Engineers is a membership organization supporting industrial engineers with current news, training, publications, and more.
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is a leading professional society dedicated to advancing knowledge in manufacturing.