Careers and Job Ideas: Industrial Engineers

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  • School Subjects: Computer science, Mathematics
  • Personal Skills: Leadership/management, Technical/scientific
  • Work Environment: Primarily indoors, Primarily one location
  • Minimum Education Level: Bachelor’s degree
  • Salary Range: $44,790 to $68,620 to $100,980+
  • Certification or Licensing: Required by certain states
  • Outlook: About as fast as the average
  • DOT: 012
  • GOE: 020702
  • NOC: 2141
  • O*NET-SOC: 17-2112.00


Industrial engineers use their knowledge of various disciplines—including systems engineering, management science, operations research, and fields such as ergonomics—to determine the most efficient and cost-effective methods for industrial production.They are responsible for designing systems that integrate materials, equipment, information, and people in the over all production process. Approximately 177,000 industrial engineers are employed in the United States.


In today’s industries, manufacturers increasingly depend on industrial engineers to determine the most efficient production techniques and processes. The roots of industrial engineering, however, can be traced to ancient Greece, where records indicate that manufacturing labor was divided among people having specialized skills.

The most significant milestones in industrial engineering, before the field even had an official name, occurred in the 18th century, when a number of inventions were introduced in the textile industry. The first was the flying shuttle that opened the door to the highly automatic weaving we now take for granted. This shuttle allowed one person, rather than two, to weave fabrics wider than ever before. Other innovative devices, such as the power loom and the spinning jenny that increased weaving speed and improved quality, soon followed. By the late 18th century, the industrial revolution was in full swing. Innovations in manufacturing were made, standardization of interchangeable parts was implemented, and specialization of labor was increasingly put into practice.

Industrial engineering as a science is said to have originated with the work of Frederick Taylor. In 1881, he began to study the way production workers used their time. At the Midvale Steel Company where he was employed, he introduced the concept of time study, whereby workers were timed with a stopwatch and their production was evaluated. He used the studies to design methods and equipment that allowed tasks to be done more efficiently.

In the early 1900s, the field was known as scientific management. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were influential with their motion studies of workers performing various tasks. Then, around 1913, automaker Henry Ford implemented a conveyor belt assembly line in his factory, which led to increasingly integrated production lines in more and more companies. Industrial engineers nowadays are called upon to solve ever more complex operating problems and to design systems involving large numbers of workers, complicated equipment, and vast amounts of information. They meet this challenge by utilizing advanced computers and software to design complex mathematical models and other simulations.


Industrial engineers are involved with the development and implementation of the systems and procedures that are utilized by many industries and businesses. In general, they figure out the most effective ways to use the three basic elements of any company: people, facilities, and equipment.

Although industrial engineers work in a variety of businesses, the main focus of the discipline is in manufacturing, also called industrial production. Primarily, industrial engineers are concerned with process technology, which includes the design and layout of machinery and the organization of workers who implement the required tasks, Industrial engineers have many responsibilities. With regard to facilities and equipment, engineers are involved in selecting machinery and other equipment and then in setting them up in the most efficient production layout. They also develop methods to accomplish production tasks, such as the organization of an assembly line. In addition, they devise systems for quality control, distribution, and inventory.

Industrial engineers are also responsible for some organizational issues. For instance, they might study an organization chart and other information about a project and then determine the functions and responsibilities of workers. They devise and implement job evaluation procedures as well as articulate labor-utilization standards for workers. Engineers often meet with managers to discuss cost analysis, financial planning, job evaluation, and salary administration. Not only do they recommend methods for improving employee efficiency, but they may also devise wage and incentive programs.

Industrial engineers also evaluate ergonomic issues—the relationship between human capabilities and the physical environment in which they work. For example, they might evaluate whether machines are causing physical harm or discomfort to workers or whether the machines could be designed differently to enable workers to be more productive.

Earnings by Specialty, 2008


ISPs and Web search portals

Magnetic media manufacturing and reproducing

Oil and gas extraction

Specialized design services

Electronic instrument manufacturing

Semiconductor and electronic component manufacturing

Commercial equipment merchant wholesalers

Architectural and engineering services

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing

Motor vehicle parts manufacturing


Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Mean Annual Earnings












High School

To prepare for a college engineering program, concentrate on mathematics (algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus), physical sciences (physics, chemistry), social sciences (economics, sociology), and English. Engineers often have to convey ideas graphically and may need to visualize processes in three dimensions, so courses in graphics, drafting, or design are also helpful. In addition, round out your education with computer science, history, and foreign language classes. If honor-level courses are available to you, be sure to take them.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution is usually the minimum requirement for all professional positions. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits schools offering engineering programs, including industrial engineering.

A listing of accredited colleges and universities is available on the ABET Web site (, and a visit here should be one of your first stops when you are deciding on a school to attend.

Colleges and universities offer either four- or five-year engineering programs. Because of the intensity of the curricula, many students take heavy course loads and attend summer sessions in order to finish in four years. During your junior and senior years of college, you should consider your specific career goals, such as in which industry to work.

Third- and fourth-year courses focus on such subjects as facility planning and design, work measurement standards, process design, engineering economics, manufacturing and automation, and incentive plans. Many industrial engineers go on to earn a graduate degree. These programs tend to involve more research and independent study. Graduate degrees are usually required for teaching positions.

Certification or Licensing

Licensure as a professional engineer is recommended since an increasing number of employers require it. Even those employers who do not require licensing will view it favorably when considering new hires or when reviewing workers for promotion. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. In general, however, they involve having graduated from an accredited school, having four years of work experience, and having passed the eight-hour Fundamentals of Engineering exam and the eight-hour Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Depending on your state of residence, you can take the Fundamentals exam shortly before your graduation from college or after you have received your bachelor’s degree. At that point you will be an engineer-in-training. Once you have fulfilled all the licensure requirements, you receive the designation professional engineer.

Other Requirements

Industrial engineers enjoy problem solving and analyzing things as well as being a team member. The ability to communicate is vital since engineers interact with all levels of management and workers. Being organized and detail-minded is important because industrial engineers often handle large projects and must bring them in on time and on budget. Since process design is the cornerstone of the field, an engineer should be creative and inventive.


Try joining a science or engineering club, such as the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS). JETS offers academic competitions in subjects such as computer fundamentals, mathematics, physics, and English. It also conducts design contests in which students learn and apply science and engineering principles. JETS also offers the Pre-Engineering Times, a publication that will be useful if you are interested in engineering. It contains information on engineering specialties, competitions, schools, scholarships, and other resources. Visit to read the publication. You also might read some engineering books for background on the field or magazines such as Industrial Engineer, a magazine published by the Institute of Industrial Engineers (TIE). Selected articles from Industrial Engineer can be viewed on the IIE’s Web site,


Approximately 177,000 industrial engineers are employed in the United States. Although a majority of industrial engineers are employed in the manufacturing industry, related jobs are found in almost all businesses, including aviation; aerospace; transportation; communications; electric, gas, and sanitary services; government; finance; insurance; real estate; wholesale and retail trade; construction; mining; agriculture; forestry; and fishing. Also, many work as independent consultants.


The main qualification for an entry-level job is a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Accredited college programs generally have job openings listed in their career services offices. Entry-level industrial engineers find jobs in various departments, such as computer operations, warehousing, and quality control. As engineers gain on-the-job experience and familiarity with departments, they may decide on a specialty. Some may want to continue to work as process designers or methods engineers, while others may move on to administrative positions.

Some further examples of specialties include work measurement standards, shipping and receiving, cost control, engineering economics, materials handling, management information systems, mathematical models, and operations. Many who choose industrial engineering as a career find its appeal in the diversity of sectors that are available to explore.


After having worked at least three years in the same job, an industrial engineer may have the basic credentials needed for advancement to a higher position. In general, positions in operations and administration are considered high-level jobs, although this varies from company to company. Engineers who work in these areas tend to earn larger salaries than those who work in warehousing or cost control, for example. If one is interested in moving to a different company, it is considered easier to do so within the same industry. Industrial engineering jobs are often considered stepping-stones to management positions, even in other fields. Engineers with many years’ experience frequently are promoted to higher level jobs with greater responsibilities. Because of the field’s broad exposure, industrial engineering employees are generally considered better prepared for executive roles than are other types of engineers.


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage for industrial engineers in 2006 was $68,620. The lowest paid 10 percent of all industrial engineers earned less than $44,790 annually. However, as with most occupations, salaries rise as more experience is gained. Very experienced engineers can earn more than $100,980. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for industrial engineers with a bachelor’s degree was $49,567 in 2005, while those with a master’s degree earned $56,561 a year; and those with a Ph.D. earned $85,000.


Industrial engineers usually work in offices at desks and computers, designing and evaluating plans, statistics, and other documents. Overall, industrial engineering is ranked above other engineering disciplines for factors such as employment outlook, salary, and physical environment. However, industrial engineering jobs are considered stressful because they often entail tight deadlines and demanding quotas, and jobs are moderately competitive. Engineers work an average of 46 hours per week.

Industrial engineers generally collaborate with other employees, conferring on designs and procedures, as well as with business managers and consultants. Although they spend most of their time in their offices, they frequently must evaluate conditions at factories and plants, where noise levels, are often high.


The U.S. Department of Labor anticipates that employment for industrial engineers will grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. The demand for industrial engineers will continue as manufacturing and other companies strive to make their production processes more effective and competitive. Engineers who transfer or retire will create the highest percentage of openings in this field.


For a list of ABET-accredited engineering schools, contact:

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)

111 Market Place, Suite 1050

Baltimore, MD 21202-7116

Tel: 410-347-7700

For comprehensive information about careers in industrial engineering contact:

Institute of Industrial Engineers

3577 Parkway Lane, Suite 200

Norcross, GA 30092-2833

Tel: 800-494-0460

Visit the JETS Web site for membership information and to read the online brochure Industrial Engineering.

Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS)

1420 King Street, Suite 405

Alexandria, VA 22314-2794

Tel: 703-548-5387


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