Career: Industrial Engineer
Industrial engineers analyze and evaluate methods of production and point out ways to improve them. They decide how a company should allocate its limited tangible resources (equipment and labor) within the framework of existing physical constraints (physical plant). Each company that hires an industrial engineer, either as a consultant or as an internal manager, has its own specific limitations. An industrial engineer must quickly become an expert not only in the manufacturing and production processes of the industry, but also in the specific culture, problems, and challenges that the company faces. This may mean face-to-face meetings with executives, extensive stays on manufacturing floors, and review of historical production data.
Industrial engineers receive information from others about what goes on in the day-to-day work environment, but they must also make their own observations of these activities. Many employees are uncomfortable being “watched” by industrial engineers, and industrial engineers often walk a thin line between being an analyst and being a detective. An industrial engineer’s most difficult task is communicating his observations and suggestions to company executives, many of whom are emotionally invested in their traditional way of doing business. Industrial engineers must be tactful in what they say and in how they say it. In addition to tact, being a successful industrial engineer requires charm and the willingness to stand by one’s recommendations even in the face of unresponsive management.
The large majority of industrial engineers—around 70 percent—works at manufacturing companies, and many have specific areas of specialization, such as assembly, raw-product processing, or administrative (paperwork) practices. Most industrial engineers have good working conditions, intellectually challenging work, and a high level of satisfaction. Hours can be long, but this tends to be outweighed by the satisfaction derived from the education that each different project brings.
To become an industrial engineer, you must have a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Recommended coursework includes statistics, computer skills, ergonomics, management science, quality control, sociology, psychology, organizational behavior, economics, finance, labor relations, and mathematics. Those who plan to specialize in manufacturing areas find it useful to study shipping, billing, and automated systems, along with computer science. Graduate programs in industrial engineering are primarily for those who wish to enter academia. Employers consider production or manufacturing experience extremely useful; they also favorably view administrative experience in large-paperwork industries (such as insurance, health care, or brokerage). Many find joining a professional organization supportive of their careers (some join while still in school) because it helps them to keep them abreast of important topics and trends in industrial engineering.
Most industrial engineers are consultants in the manufacturing and administrative industries. The expertise they gain as consultants or internal managers leads many of them to accept management positions in these industries. Since the core of an industrial engineer’s job is the proper allocation of resources, industrial engineers are valuable to any organization with limited resources and large responsibilities.