Becoming an Industrial Engineer: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an industrial engineer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a industrial engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Industrial Engineer

Industrial engineers help companies become more efficient and improve the quality of their products. If you think that you may want to become an industrial engineer, read on to learn more about the pros and cons of this career.

Pros of Becoming an Industrial Engineer
The mean annual wage for industrial engineers is around $85,000 (as of May 2014)*
Work in a variety of settings (motor vehicle, aerospace, architectural, navigational and electronic industries)*
It's common for industrial engineers to be promoted to management positions*
Can work in different areas (supply chain management, quality assurance, project management)*

Cons of Becoming an Industrial Engineer
Slower than average job outlook (5% between 2012 and 2022)*
Must have a bachelor's degree*
Licensure may be required*
Must consider many dynamic factors at once in order to solve larger manufacturing problems*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Industrial engineers specialize in maximizing the efficiency of production processes by determining the most economical use of workers, materials, machines, time, capital, energy and information. They review engineering specifications, production schedules, process flows and other data in order to understand manufacturing activities and implement new ways of producing products or providing services. They make financial planning and cost analysis more efficient through the development of management control systems and minimize costs through the enactment of quality control procedures. Industrial engineers may work in a number of different contexts and industries such as manufacturing and business administration. They may design systems for paying and evaluating workers, transporting goods, locating the most cost-effective manufacturing locations and moving heavy components within manufacturing plants.

Job Growth and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May 2014 the mean annual wage for an industrial engineer was about $85,000 and the mean hourly wage was about $41.00. Between 2012 and 2022 employment in this field is expected to grow by 5%; this is slower than average among all occupations. As of May 2014, there were over 236,990 workers in this field nationwide with the BLS predicting the addition of another 10,100 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Education and Skill Requirements

Industrial engineers typically hold a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering. Some have a master's degree in industrial engineering that complements a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as mechanical engineering. Industrial engineering programs are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, an organization formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. In addition to their formal education requirements, industrial engineers must have the following qualities, skills and talents:

  • The ability to maximize the efficiency of various resources such as time, workers and energy
  • The ability to solve a range of production problems
  • A sound background in mathematics including calculus and trigonometry
  • The ability to communicate with a range of professionals and work as a member of a team
  • The ability to write reports and create documents that are lucid and informative

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers highly value industrial engineers who hold bachelor's degrees in industrial engineering or a related field. Furthermore, they're looking for those who can remain organized, write detailed reports and improve manufacturing efficiency to help cut costs. In order to get a better sense of the kinds of jobs available to industrial engineers, see the following examples of job postings open during April 2012:

  • A management corporation in Texas was seeking an industrial engineer. This employer required candidates to hold bachelor's degrees in industrial engineering, to have excellent computer skills and the ability to travel often. Job duties included developing ways of enhancing the work methods and processes of various distribution centers, evaluating costs and writing reports.
  • An airplane manufacturing company in California was hiring an industrial engineer. This employer preferred candidates with degrees in industrial engineering but was willing to hire an individual with a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics or chemistry. Job duties included researching and implementing processes that enhance production, improve quality and lower costs.
  • A company within the hospitality industry in Missouri was seeking an industrial engineer. This employer required candidates to have a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering or a related field, 3-5 years of relevant work experience and proficiency in using computer software. Job duties included interfacing with corporate planning and management groups in order to design and implement improvements to operational systems, procedures and methods, increasing revenues and decreasing operating expenses.

How to Stand Out in the Field

While having a bachelor's degree is standard in this field, you can stand out by earning a graduate degree in industrial engineering. In a graduate program, you can take more advanced courses in industrial engineering and may be able to specialize in a field of study such as information systems, operations research, engineering management and distribution systems. According to the BLS, a graduate degree may qualify you for a job as a professor in a university or to work in research and development.

Get Licensed

Another way to stand out is by earning voluntary licensure. An Industrial engineer who holds licensure is designated as a professional engineer (PE). In order to earn licensure, you may have to earn a degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET. After earning your degree, you must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination; individuals who pass this examination are commonly referred to as engineer interns (EIs) or engineers in training (EITs). After getting sufficient work experience, EITs or EIs can take the Professional Engineering (PE) examination. Some states require industrial engineers to take continuing education courses in order to keep their licenses. The BLS reports that licensure may be especially important for individuals who work in companies with government contracts.

Alternative Career Paths

Mechanical Engineer

If you are interested in engineering but don't want to specialize in maximizing the production of business and manufacturing operations, then you may want to become a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineers design and assess the effectiveness of mechanical devices. They may develop prototypes, analyze test results and oversee manufacturing processes. In order to become a mechanical engineer, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. According to the BLS, in May 2011 the mean annual wage for a mechanical engineer was around $83,500 and the mean hourly wage was just over $40.00. Between 2010 and 2020, employment is expected to rise by six percent, which is slower than average.

Cost Estimator

If you enjoy increasing the efficiency of businesses but want a career with a much stronger employment growth outlook, then you may enjoy a career as a cost estimator. Cost estimators quantify and identify cost factors, such as labor expenses, equipment, production time and raw material. They gather data on these factors and consult with industry experts in order to resolve issues and discuss estimates. Cost estimators are typically employed by various firms involved in construction processes or companies that manufacture products. Cost estimators typically have bachelor's degrees in an industry-related field, such as building science or construction management, and strong backgrounds in mathematics. According to the BLS, in May 2011, the mean annual wage for a cost estimator was around $63,000 and the mean hourly wage was around $30.00. Between 2010 and 2020, employment in this field is expected to grow by 36%; much faster than average among all occupations.

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