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How to Become an Industrial Engineer

By Lace Brunsden

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Are you intrigued by the idea of improving processes, optimizing efficiency, and making a meaningful impact on organizations? If so, a career in industrial engineering might be the perfect fit for you.

Career Summary

Industrial Engineer Salary

Industrial Engineer Salary

Your salary when working as an industrial engineer will vary greatly depending on the company that you work for and the nature of your responsibilities. Glassdoor summarizes the most likely salaries of industrial engineers as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$70k)
  • Median Salary (US$95k)
  • Executive Salary (US$140k)

Compared to the average salary in the USA across all occupations, the Industrial Engineer salary can be considered high.

What does an Industrial Engineer do?

The industrial engineer job description can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors. In general, an industrial engineer is someone who applies engineering principles and techniques to improve efficiency, productivity, and overall effectiveness in various industrial settings.

Their primary goal is to optimize complex systems and processes to maximize output, minimize waste, reduce costs, and enhance safety. Some key responsibilities include process analysis and improvement, workstation design and layout, optimization of production systems, quality control, supply chain management, and sometimes even cost analysis and financial planning.

Industrial Engineer Career Progression

Here is a typical career progression for an industrial engineer, starting from entry-level positions and advancing to executive roles:

  • Industrial Engineer/Manufacturing Engineer: In this role, you will typically work under the guidance of senior engineers and gain practical experience in analyzing processes, identifying improvement opportunities, and implementing changes to enhance efficiency.
  • Senior Industrial Engineer: With more responsibility, you will lead projects, oversee process improvement initiatives, and work closely with cross-functional teams to optimize systems, reduce costs, and enhance productivity.
  • Industrial Engineering Supervisor/Manager: In these supervisory positions, you will manage a team of industrial engineers and oversee their projects and activities. You may provide guidance, set goals, and ensure that the team is working effectively to achieve organizational objectives.
  • Industrial Engineering Director: In this position, you have a broader scope of responsibility and may oversee multiple teams or departments within an organization. You will develop and implement strategic plans, collaborate with other executives, and drive major process improvement initiatives across the organization.
  • Vice President of Operations/Chief Operations Officer: In these roles, you will have overall responsibility for the organization’s operations, including manufacturing, supply chain, quality control, and process improvement.
Industrial Engineer Career Progression

Pros:

  • Competitive Salary and Job Stability
  • Variety and Versatility
  • Impact and Tangible Results
  • Collaboration and Cross-Functional Work
  • Continuous Learning and Professional Growth

Cons:

  • High Pressure and Deadlines
  • Hazardous Work Environment
  • Continuous Monitoring and Optimization
  • Technical Complexity
  • Long Hours and Overtime

Useful Skills to Have as an Industrial Engineer

  • Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills
  • Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma Methodologies
  • Operations Research and Optimization Techniques
  • Project Management Skills
  • Communication and Collaboration Skills

Popular Industrial Engineer Specialties

  • Supply Chain and Logistics Engineering
  • Quality Engineering
  • Ergonomics and Human Factors Engineering
  • Manufacturing Systems Engineering
  • Data Analytics and Operations Research

How to become an Industrial Engineer

Industrial Engineer 5 Steps to Career

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step when considering how to become an industrial engineer is to earn a bachelor’s degree. This can be a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering or another related field.

Do I Need a Degree to Become an Industrial Engineer?

While it’s not impossible to become an industrial engineer without a formal degree, having a degree is generally the most common and recommended path for entering this profession. A degree in industrial engineering or a related field provides a comprehensive foundation of knowledge and skills necessary to work effectively as an industrial engineer.

Why is it Important to Get a Degree in Industrial Engineering?

Getting a degree in industrial engineering is important for several reasons.

Industrial engineering programs provide a structured curriculum that covers a wide range of topics, including operations research, manufacturing systems, quality control, supply chain management, and data analysis. Through coursework and hands-on projects, you acquire specialized knowledge and develop critical skills that are directly applicable to industrial engineering practice. This knowledge and skill set sets you apart from individuals without formal education in the field.

A degree in industrial engineering helps you develop a deep understanding of the fundamental principles, theories, and methodologies that underpin the field. It equips you with the ability to analyze complex systems, identify inefficiencies, and propose effective solutions. This comprehensive understanding enables you to approach industrial engineering problems with a structured and systematic mindset.

Earning a degree in industrial engineering provides a competitive edge and credibility, showcasing commitment to the field and increasing employability. It opens doors to career advancement, higher-level positions, and specialized roles that often require a degree. Additionally, a degree can serve as a stepping stone for pursuing advanced degrees, offering opportunities for further growth and expanding career prospects.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Industrial Engineering?

The duration to obtain a degree in industrial engineering can vary depending on several factors, including the educational system, the state you’re studying in, and the specific program you choose. However, in general, a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering typically takes about four years of full-time study to complete.

If you decide to pursue advanced degrees, such as a master’s or doctoral degree in industrial engineering or a related field, the duration will vary. A master’s degree usually takes an additional one to two years of full-time study, while a doctoral degree can take three to five years or more, depending on the research requirements and the time needed to complete a dissertation.

How Much Does it Cost to Study Industrial Engineering at University?

The cost of studying industrial engineering will depend on the state that you are in, the university that you choose, and a variety of other factors.

College Tuition Compare estimates that tuition for an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering averages US$ 11,173 in-state and US$ 29,509 out-of-state. Likewise, they estimate a graduate degree’s tuition to average around US$ 12,923 in-state and US$ 28,043 out-of-state.

When deciding whether or not to pursue a degree in the industrial engineering field, it is important to consider the cost of tuition, as well as the cost of textbooks, supplies, and the general cost of living while you are studying.

Can I Become an Industrial Engineer Through Online Education?

Yes, it is possible to pursue a degree in industrial engineering through online education. Many universities and educational institutions now offer online industrial engineering programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

These programs are designed to provide the same curriculum and educational outcomes as their on-campus counterparts, delivered through online platforms and learning management systems.

It’s important to make sure that the program that you choose is accredited. Also consider the fact that you will need to be far more disciplined, and will lose out on networking and practical experience opportunities that you may have had if you studied in person.

What Are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become an Industrial Engineer

There are several web resources available that can help you learn and develop skills relevant to becoming an industrial engineer. Here are a few useful web resources:

  • Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE): Provides resources, publications, and educational opportunities for industrial engineers.
  • American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE): Offers publications, conferences, and resources for engineering education, including industrial engineering.
  • IndustryWeek: Offers articles, case studies, and resources related to industrial engineering and manufacturing.

Gain Practical Experience and Develop Skills

While pursuing your degree, it’s beneficial to gain practical experience through internships, co-op programs, or part-time jobs in relevant industries. This hands-on experience allows you to apply classroom knowledge, develop skills, and gain exposure to real-world industrial engineering practices.

What Are Internship Opportunities for an Industrial Engineer?

As an industrial engineer, there are various internship opportunities available that can provide valuable hands-on experience and help you apply your skills in real-world settings. Here are some common internship opportunities for industrial engineers:

  • Manufacturing and Operations Internships: Many industrial engineering internships focus on manufacturing and operations management. In these internships, you may be optimizing production processes, analyzing data for process improvement, conducting time and motion studies, or implementing lean manufacturing principles. You may also have the opportunity to collaborate with cross-functional teams and gain insights into supply chain management.
  • Quality Control and Process Improvement Internships: Internships in quality control and process improvement allow you to work on projects related to quality assurance, statistical process control, root cause analysis, and continuous improvement. You may assist in developing and implementing quality control procedures, analyzing data to identify process inefficiencies, and suggesting improvements to enhance product or service quality.
  • Supply Chain and Logistics Internships: Industrial engineers play a critical role in optimizing supply chain and logistics operations. Internships in this area may involve working on projects related to inventory management, distribution network optimization, transportation planning, and demand forecasting. You may have the opportunity to analyze data, develop models, and collaborate with teams to improve supply chain efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Ergonomics and Workplace Design Internships: Industrial engineers with an interest in ergonomics and workplace design can seek internships focused on optimizing workstations, minimizing physical strain, and improving worker safety and comfort. In these internships, you may be involved in conducting ergonomic assessments, designing workstations or assembly lines, and implementing ergonomic solutions to enhance productivity and reduce the risk of work-related injuries.
  • Project Management Internships: Industrial engineers often work in project management roles, and internships in this area can provide exposure to project planning, scheduling, resource allocation, and risk management. You may have the opportunity to work on cross-functional projects, collaborate with team members, and gain insights into project management methodologies and tools.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Industrial Engineer?

As an industrial engineer, you will develop a diverse set of skills that enable you to analyze and optimize complex systems, improve processes, and make data-driven decisions. Here are some key skills you can expect to learn as an industrial engineer:

  • Systems Thinking: Industrial engineers learn to view organizations and processes as interconnected systems. You will develop the ability to understand and analyze the relationships and dependencies among various components of a system and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Data Analysis and Statistical Methods: Industrial engineers use data to drive decision-making and process optimization. You will learn how to collect, analyze, and interpret data using statistical techniques, probability theory, regression analysis, and other tools. This skill helps you identify patterns, detect inefficiencies, and make evidence-based recommendations.
  • Operations Research: Industrial engineers apply operations research techniques to solve complex problems and optimize processes. You will learn mathematical modeling, optimization algorithms, simulation methods, and decision analysis to improve efficiency, resource allocation, and decision-making.
  • Process Improvement and Lean Principles: Industrial engineers focus on improving processes to eliminate waste, reduce costs, and enhance productivity. You will learn methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen, Value Stream Mapping, and process mapping to identify bottlenecks, streamline workflows, and implement continuous improvement initiatives.
  • Supply Chain Management: Industrial engineers play a crucial role in optimizing supply chains. You will learn concepts related to inventory management, demand forecasting, logistics, distribution network design, and supplier relationship management. This skill helps you ensure an efficient flow of materials and information throughout the supply chain.
  • Project Management: Industrial engineers often work on projects and need project management skills to successfully execute them. You will learn project planning, scheduling, resource allocation, risk management, and coordination techniques to deliver projects on time and within budget.
  • Technical Skills: Industrial engineers are proficient in using various tools and software to support their work. These may include computer-aided design (CAD) software for layout planning, statistical analysis software (e.g., Minitab, R, or Python) for data analysis, and simulation software for modeling and analysis.
  • Business Acumen: Industrial engineers understand the business context and align their work with organizational goals. You will learn to consider economic factors, cost analysis, risk assessment, and strategic planning when making decisions and proposing improvements.

Pursue a Master’s Degree (Optional)

Although a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for many entry-level positions, pursuing a master’s degree in industrial engineering or a related field can provide you with a competitive edge and open up more advanced career opportunities.

A master’s degree can offer specialized knowledge in areas such as supply chain management, data analytics, or operations research.

Obtain Professional Certification (Optional)

While not mandatory, obtaining professional certification can demonstrate your competence and dedication to the field. Organizations like the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) offer certifications such as IE Professional Skills Certificate, which can enhance your credibility and professional standing.

Here are some other notable certifications relevant to industrial engineering:
  • Lean Six Sigma: Lean Six Sigma certifications combine lean manufacturing principles with statistical analysis and problem-solving techniques. These certifications demonstrate expertise in process improvement, waste reduction, and quality management.
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): Offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the PMP certification is widely recognized and applicable to industrial engineers involved in managing complex projects. It focuses on project planning, execution, monitoring, and control.
  • Certified Quality Engineer (CQE): Offered by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the CQE certification validates knowledge and skills related to quality control, process improvement, statistical analysis, and quality management systems.
  • Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP): Offered by the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the CSCP certification is relevant for industrial engineers involved in supply chain management. It covers topics such as demand planning, procurement, logistics, and inventory management.
  • Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE): Offered by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the CMfgE certification focuses on manufacturing processes, systems, and technologies. It demonstrates expertise in areas such as production planning, facility design, and lean manufacturing.

What’s the Career Outlook for Industrial Engineer?

Industrial engineering is a field that offers favorable career prospects in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of industrial engineers is projected to grow by 10 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Industrial Engineer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of an Industrial Engineer?

As an industrial engineer, you will have diverse job opportunities in a wide range of industries. Your skills and knowledge in optimizing processes, improving efficiency, and managing complex systems make you valuable in various roles. Here are some common job opportunities for industrial engineers:

  • Process Improvement Engineer: Industrial engineers often work as process improvement engineers, focusing on analyzing existing processes, identifying inefficiencies, and implementing improvements. You will use techniques such as Lean Six Sigma, process mapping, and data analysis to streamline workflows, reduce waste, and enhance productivity.
  • Manufacturing Engineer: You can work as a manufacturing engineer, responsible for optimizing manufacturing processes and ensuring efficient production.  You may work on improving assembly lines, equipment utilization, and quality control procedures to enhance overall manufacturing efficiency.
  • Supply Chain Analyst/Manager: Industrial engineers contribute to supply chain management by analyzing and optimizing the flow of materials, information, and resources. You may work as a supply chain analyst or manager, involved in tasks such as demand forecasting, inventory management, logistics optimization, and supplier relationship management.
  • Operations Manager: With your expertise in process optimization and efficiency improvement, you can pursue a career as an operations manager. In this role, you will oversee and manage operations within an organization, ensuring smooth functioning, resource allocation, and performance improvement.
  • Quality Engineer/Manager: Industrial engineers may work in quality engineering or quality management roles, focusing on ensuring product or service quality and adherence to standards. You will develop quality control processes, conduct inspections, implement quality assurance measures, and analyze data to identify areas for improvement.
  • Project Manager: Industrial engineers can pursue careers as project managers, leading cross-functional teams and overseeing the successful execution of projects. You will need to apply your knowledge of process optimization, resource allocation, and project management methodologies to deliver projects on time and within budget.
  • Ergonomics Engineer: Industrial engineers with expertise in ergonomics and workplace design can work as ergonomics engineers. You will focus on designing workstations, tools, and equipment to optimize worker safety, comfort, and productivity.
  • Data Analyst: With their skills in data analysis and statistical methods, industrial engineers can work as data analysts, supporting decision-making processes with data-driven insights. In this position, you need to collect and analyze data, develop models, and provide recommendations for process improvement and optimization.
  • Continuous Improvement Manager: Industrial engineers often take on roles as continuous improvement managers, responsible for driving a culture of continuous improvement within organizations. You will lead initiatives, coach teams, and implement methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma, or Kaizen to foster a culture of innovation and efficiency improvement.

What Type of Companies Hire an Industrial Engineer?

Industrial engineers are in demand across a wide range of industries. Their skills and expertise in optimizing processes, improving efficiency, and managing complex systems make them valuable in various sectors. Here are some types of companies that commonly hire industrial engineers, and where you may be able to find work:

  • Manufacturing Companies: As an industrial engineer, you’ll play a crucial role in manufacturing companies. You may help optimize production processes, improve workflow efficiency, reduce waste, and enhance overall productivity. These companies can include automotive manufacturers, consumer goods producers, electronics manufacturers, and more.
  • Logistics and Transportation Companies: Industrial engineers contribute to optimizing supply chain and logistics operations. You may work on improving inventory management, distribution network design, transportation planning, and demand forecasting. Logistics companies, shipping firms, and transportation providers often employ industrial engineers to streamline operations and reduce costs.
  • Technology Companies: Industrial engineers are valuable in the technology sector, particularly in companies that focus on process automation, data analytics, and optimization. You may contribute to improving efficiency in software development processes, enhancing manufacturing operations for tech products, and optimizing supply chain and logistics for technology companies.
  • Energy and Utilities: Industrial engineers can contribute to improving efficiency and sustainability in energy and utility companies. You may work on optimizing processes in power generation, distribution, and utilization, focusing on reducing waste, optimizing resource allocation, and improving overall efficiency.
  • Government Agencies: As an industrial engineer, you can work in government agencies at various levels, contributing to process improvement, resource management, and optimization of public services. You may work on projects related to transportation systems, emergency management, infrastructure planning, and efficiency improvement in public sector operations.
  • Consulting Firms: Industrial engineers are sought after by consulting firms that specialize in process improvement, operations management, and supply chain optimization. These firms provide services to various industries, helping clients identify inefficiencies, implement best practices, and optimize their operations.

What is the Work-Life Balance of an Industrial Engineer?

Your work-life balance as an industrial engineer can vary depending on factors such as industry, company culture, specific role, and individual preferences.

You will mostly work regular full-time hours, typically Monday to Friday, during standard business hours. This can provide a predictable schedule and allow for a better work-life balance. However, there may be instances where project deadlines or specific situations require that you work additional hours or occasional weekends.

Your role may involve travel, especially if you are working on projects at different locations or are involved in implementing process improvements across multiple sites. Travel can impact your work-life balance, as it may require time away from home and personal commitments. However, the extent of travel varies based on the industry and specific job requirements.

In general, industrial engineers typically enjoy a relatively good work-life balance compared to some other professions.

Should I become an Industrial Engineer?

The field of industrial engineering offers a wide range of opportunities if you are interested in optimizing processes, improving efficiency, and making a positive impact on organizations. As an industrial engineer, you will play a vital role in industries such as manufacturing, logistics, technology, and more. You need to possess a diverse set of skills, including systems thinking, data analysis, process improvement, and project management.

Becoming an industrial engineer can be a rewarding career choice if you enjoy problem-solving, critical thinking, and working with cross-functional teams. The field provides ample opportunities for professional growth, advancement, and the ability to make significant contributions to the success of organizations.

However, you may struggle if you do not have an analytical mind, or do not have a passion for optimization and working with other people.

Remember to assess your interests, strengths, and aspirations to determine if the field aligns with your goals and if the challenges and opportunities it presents resonate with your professional aspirations.

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Lace Brunsden

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