Industrial Engineers Overview

Industrial engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering or industrial engineering to start work, though some research positions require a masters degree. Throughout the career, continuing education is a must to keep up with ever-changing technology. The job outlook for industrial engineers is good as employment in the field is expected to grow at an average rate. Industrial engineers enjoy some of the highest starting salaries of all college graduates.

Nature of the Work for Industrial Engineers

Industrial Engineers

Using math and science industrial engineers develop economical solutions to technical problems. They use the latest scientific advancements to create commercial applications to meet consumer needs.

Often industrial engineers develop new products. They consider several factors in the process. They determine precise functional requirements, design and test components, create a final design, and evaluate the design’s overall effectiveness, cost, safety and reliability.

Beyond development and design many industrial engineers work in production, testing or maintenance. They may supervise factory production, test product quality or determine the cause of product malfunctions. Supervisors usually take on entire projects or major components.

Industrial engineers use computers extensively in their work. They simulate system operations, generate specifications for parts, produce and analyze designs, monitor quality and control efficiency. In addition, nanotechnology is introducing new principles to the design process.

Industrial engineers make a product or provide a service by determining the most effect ways to use the five basic factors of production: Machines, materials, energy, information and people. They focus on increasing productivity through the management of technology, people and methods of business organization. Often, industrial engineers study product requirements and then use mathematical methods and models to design the most effective manufacturing and information systems to meet the requirements. To aid in cost analysis and financial planning industrial engineers develop management control systems. They also design production control and planning systems to ensure quality. Some industrial engineers improve or design new systems for distributing goods and services as well as determining the most efficient locations for plants. Job evaluation programs and wage and salary administration systems also fall under industrial engineers workload. Because the work is often very managerial, many industrial engineers move into management positions.

Most industrial engineers work in factories, offices or labs. Some may spend time outdoors at production sites, or travelling to plants or worksites here or abroad.

Usually a 40-hour workweek is standard for industrial engineers, however deadlines sometimes lead to longer hours.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Industrial Engineers

Usually industrial engineers must possess a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering for entry-level positions. However, sometimes a degree in natural science or mathematics can qualify graduates for positions. Usually, industrial engineers earn a degree in mechanical engineering, civil engineering or electrical and electronics engineering. With training in one branch, they can work in many others as employment prospects or interests change.

Engineering programs typically include courses in math, science, general engineering, computer, design, laboratory, social sciences and humanities.

Many industrial engineers seek a standard engineering degree, however engineering technology degrees are offered in 2 or 4-year programs as well. These programs focus more on hands-on work and the most current engineering principles to prepare students for production and practical design work rather than jobs requiring theoretical or scientific knowledge. These graduates typically have skill levels somewhere between an engineer and a technician and may get jobs similar to bachelor’s degree grads.

For faculty positions, research and development programs and high-level executive positions, graduate training is often required. Some industrial engineers seek a masters degree in engineering or a masters degree in business administration to broaden their education or learn new technology.

Some schools have special programs that allow students to attend 2-year colleges for their first two years and the engineering school for the last two. Others offer 5-year masters degree programs. And still others have 5- or 6-year programs that incorporate practical experience along with classroom instruction to provide real world experience and a chance to finance part of the schooling.

In all 50 states industrial engineers must be licensed to offer services to the public directly. Requirements for licensure require graduating from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience and passing of an exam. Recent grads can start the process upon graduation by taking one part of the exam to become an engineer intern. After 4 years of work experience they can take the second part of the exam.

Industrial engineers should also be creative, detail oriented, inquisitive and analytical. They should work on a team and communicate well both orally and in writing.

When working for the Federal Government, industrial engineers must be US citizens and often hold a security clearance.

At the entry level, industrial engineers work alongside more experienced engineers and may take courses or seminars to learn on the job. Later with experience and new knowledge they can take on more responsibility, independence and bigger challenges. Later industrial engineers may become supervisors, managers, or technical specialists. Other industrial engineers work in sales since they can explain the technical aspects of a product as well as help to plan, install and use the product.

Professional certifications are available for industrial engineers and can be beneficial to those looking to advance to managerial or senior technical positions.

Top 10 Most Popular Industrial Engineering Schools

1. Georgia Institute of Technology, Main Campus (Atlanta, Georgia)
2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
3. Purdue University, Main Campus (West Lafayette, Indiana)
4. Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus (University Park, Pennsylvania)
5. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
6. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)
7. Ohio State University, Columbus (Columbus, Ohio)
8. Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla, Missouri)
9. Columbia University in the City of New York (New York, New York)
10. University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, Wisconsin)

See All Industrial Engineering Schools

Online School: Arizona State University - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Industrial Engineers

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Overall, engineers held about 1.6 million jobs last year and 214,000 of them were industrial engineers. Most industrial engineers work in manufacturing or professional, scientific and technical service industries including engineering, architectural and related services. Many also work in wholesale trade, telecommunications and construction. Government agencies employ 12 percent of engineers and 3 percent are self-employed.

While most engineering occupations will only see average growth, industrial engineers are expected to see growth around 14 percent, which is faster than average compared to all occupations. Firms increasingly will look to industrial engineers to develop more efficient processes and reduce costs, delays and waste in order to raise overall productivity. So this industry focus should cause a growth in jobs for industrial engineers, even as some manufacturing industries are declining overall. Many industrial engineers later leave the occupation for managerial positions because their work is similar to what is done in many management jobs. In turn, many jobs will be created by the need to replace those industrial engineers transferring out of the occupation of work force.

Continuing education is key for industrial engineers. Employers rely on them to be up to speed with the latest technologies in order to provide the best solutions and thus the greatest value. Industrial engineers who fail to keep current in the field will be at a disadvantage when it comes to promotions and seeking new jobs.

Earnings and Salary for Industrial Engineers

The median annual salary of industrial engineers is $75,110. The highest 10 percent earn $109,220, the lowest 10 percent earn $48,840 and the middle 50 percent earn between $60,350 and $92,080. Industrial engineers earn some of the highest starting salaries, $58,358 on average among college graduates with bachelor’s degrees.

Annual Salary for Industrial Engineers

On average, Industrial Engineers earn $75,110 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $48,840/yr $60,350/yr $92,080/yr $109,220/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook