STEM Career Spotlight: Industrial Engineer

Ever stop and think about who’s behind the scenes making companies run smoother? It might seem as if the higher-up bosses and leaders in the companies work to lead the employees smoothly and efficiently. This is not the case—in fact, this is where industrial engineers come into play.

Industrial engineers are key figures from the engineering bubble who work to enhance the operational aspects of companies to maximize productivity and efficiency. It might seem as if they only work for manufacturing companies—this might have been the case twenty years ago. Yet, industrial engineers now collaborate with fast food chains, hospitals, and a variety of other industries. In this aspect, industrial engineers are a very versatile group of individuals. They meticulously optimize inefficiencies and bottlenecks within the operations of companies and streamline workflows cohesively. Industrial engineers utilize skills from data analysis, statistics, and data interpretation tools. Industrial engineers may focus on workforce planning, training initiatives, and assessing the impact of process changes on employees. They are exceptionally skilled at weighing the costs and benefits associated with different systems, processes, and machinery to make informed decisions on company operations.  

To become an industrial engineer, prospective students must obtain a bachelor’s degree qualification in industrial engineering—this entails four years of studying systems design, operations research, and product quality alongside supplementary learning through psychology, statistics, and general sciences. From here, based on the specific industry that an industrial engineer seeks to specialize in, prospective industrial engineers may take additional classes, such as ergonomics. A license should also be obtained from the state engineering board through an accredited program. After engineer shadowing opportunities and two exams, students can become certified Professional Engineers (PE). 

Some skills that Xello attaches to this career include being a Builder, a Persuader, and an Organizer. Students who are well fit to create things, work well with others, and utilize their project management skills are the perfect candidates to consider industrial engineering. 

This career—in the United States—is classified as a high-demand career. Essentially, the growing demand for this career is much higher than the national average for all occupations. In addition, this career employs many more people in comparison to many other careers. According to current industry conditions, industrial engineers may earn from $61,000 to $130,000, with the median annual income being $95,000 (Xello). Industrial engineer salaries are often very resilient to depressions and changes in the economic landscape; this career offers stability. A sample career path that can be taken for this career may follow: engineer-in-training, industrial engineer, to manager.

Industrial engineers often work indoors in offices and factories—but they can work for a variety of industries, ranging from engineering consulting firms and manufacturing companies to government agencies. People skills are very important, as their core tasks include discussing with employees from the likes of factory workers to CEOs about the effects and implications of the optimized processes. Working in factories, industrial engineers may be exposed to the risks of heavy machinery—as they don’t operate it, however, the risk level is low as long as they follow expected safety protocol.  

James and Lorraine are certified industrial engineers who shared their opinions on Xello about their experiences as industrial engineers. James remarks on how “having the freedom to define most of my own work” has kept him in love with this deep-rooted passion of his. He describes throughout the interview that it’s important to network and develop connections as an industrial engineer to stay resilient through changing times—“[d]on’t bind yourself to decisions made early in your career”, he says. However, he confides that there is much “difficult[y] to form teams” since many colleagues simply do not agree with his vision of “collaboration to the extent that they should” and would rather focus “within their area of expertise”. Lorraine shares similar thoughts on working with others, as even if they come up with an efficient solution, the “people involved [must] agree with you” or the solution must be disregarded. Despite these cons, she describes her love for the “variety in this job” and the truly scientific process of “identifying problems, analyzing them, [and] finding solutions just to make things work”. According to Lorraine, industrial engineering is just as much asking questions as answering those posed by your colleagues, clients, and higher-ups—“if you don’t like asking questions[,] then industrial engineering is not for you”, she claims. 

Industrial engineering is a career that provides true bliss for those who seek to find some familiarity every day in their work environment but face new and challenging problems every day. As we enter an age of information, the role of industrial engineers is morphing into something new— “those who take a broader, more holistic approach to … efficiency will thrive”, says Lorraine. Overall, industrial engineering is a growing career showing a lot of promise for individuals who like to think outside of the box and face new and changing challenges every day. 

Works Cited

“Industrial Engineer.” Xello, a1. Accessed 12 Nov. 2023.