Industrial engineers serve as a bridge between managements goals and operational performance. They examine the basic factors of production – people, machines, materials, information, and energy – and design the most effective and efficient ways to use these factors to make products and provide services. They differ from other engineers in that they work with the management and productivity of people, the organizational structure of businesses, and the integration of new technology. Industrial engineers study products and their requirements, use mathematics to meet those requirements, and design manufacturing and information systems. They design management control systems, improve the design of distribution systems, and use computers to simulate and control activities and devices, such as assembly lines and robots.
Health and safety engineers are very similar to industrial engineers because they deal with the production process. However, health and safety engineers promote safety in the workplace, as well as product safety, by applying their knowledge of industrial processes. They are responsible for recognizing hazardous conditions and creating hazard control methods.
Industrial engineers must have both mathematical and mechanical aptitudes. Their work often requires high degrees of patience and precision. They need to be able to work effectively as part of a team, and they should have the ability to communicate in writing and orally. These communication skills are vital in the field of industrial engineering because industrial engineers interact so often with many non-engineering specialists in a wide variety of fields. Industrial engineers should be analytical, creative, detail-oriented, and inquisitive.
In 2002, industrial engineers earned a median annual salary of $62,150. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $40,380, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $87,250. According to a 2003 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in petroleum engineering received starting offers averaging $47,051, and master’s degree candidates averaged $54,565. The following are the median annual earnings for the industries employing the highest numbers of petroleum engineers:
- Semiconductor and other electronic manufacturing — $67,460
- Navigational, measuring, and control instruments manufacturing — $65,470
- Architectural, engineering, and related services — $64,020
- Aerospace products and parts manufacturing – $63,630
- Motor vehicle parts manufacturing — $62,610
Training and Education
A bachelor’s degree is required for all entry-level industrial engineering positions. Most programs include study in the industrial specialty, as well as courses in mathematics and science. Many programs include a design course, along with a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges offer students the option of earning a 2- or 4-year degree in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratory courses that prepare students for practical design and production work, as opposed to more theory-based jobs. While graduates of these programs may obtain the same kinds of jobs as graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, they are not qualified to register as professional engineers.
Faculty positions and many research and development programs in industrial engineering require graduate training. Some engineers earn degrees in business administration to enhance their education and give themselves more career options. In fact, many high-level executives in government and business started their careers as engineers. Engineers in the United States are required to be licensed if they offer their services directly to the public. When engineers become licensed, they are designated Professional Engineers (PE). PE requirements include a degree from an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers, and may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff of engineers and technicians.
In 2002, industrial engineers held about 194,000 jobs.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of industrial engineers is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Companies will need to continue reducing costs and increasing productivity, which will create demand for industrial engineers.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Computer Training and Technology Education directory.