Industrial Engineering Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Industrial Engineering Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Industrial engineering has one of the widest scopes among the engineering fields. Those who hold a degree in industrial engineering may find themselves finding career opportunities across many sectors. This is because they study almost all aspects of production, which drive today’s modern organizations, from people to processes to products. They are key players in designing and creating systems that, all factors considered, produce the highest quality and most number of outputs.

As of 2019, there are 295,800 professional industrial engineers in America (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). In 2029, employment in this field is projected to grow to 335,800 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This creates room in the job market for 40,000 aspiring industrial engineers. If you are one of them, this guide to industrial engineering careers will help you determine if this is indeed the right path for you. It will discuss the benefits of pursuing this career, the specific job positions that you can land with an industrial engineering degree, and the ways you can further your career and succeed in this field.

Industrial Engineering Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in industrial engineering?
  2. Industrial Engineering Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Industrial Engineers
  4. How to Start Your Career in Industrial Engineering
  5. How can I advance my career in industrial engineering?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Industrial Engineers

Why pursue a career in industrial engineering?

Industrial engineering is a challenging and fulfilling career path. Here are some reasons why one should pursue it:

  1. There is a high demand for industrial engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this demand will only grow over time. This means that a career in this field is future-proof.
  2. A degree in industrial engineering will give you a huge space for career exploration. Industrial engineers have a wide range of sectors they can choose to serve. They can explore different working environments and learn what will fit them best along the way without sacrificing career advancement.
  3. Industrial engineers gain knowledge and skills that they can apply to their own lives. They are trained to find ways to make processes more efficient and if they incorporate these in their own lives, they will have much higher self-efficacy and become more productive citizens.
  4. An industrial engineer knows not only about science and math but also about business. Knowledge in business is extremely advantageous in a capitalist world. It will allow them to make the right financial choices, learn how to negotiate, and manage risks and returns in their professional and personal lives.
  5. The field of industrial engineering is evolving and you can become part of it. As masters of innovation, industrial engineers are in an advantageous position to push the world toward the direction of their own choosing. Much of society’s progress has been, is, and will be dependent on them.
  6. Industrial engineering is a lucrative career. With a strong educational background and some years of professional experience, you can earn as much as $136,930 annually by pursuing this career (CareerOneStop.org, n.d.).

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Industrial Engineering Career Outlook

Employment for industrial engineers is projected to grow by 10% between 2019 and 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This is much faster compared to the average projected growth in employment in both all engineering occupations and all occupations in general, which is only at 4% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

In May 2020, the median annual pay for industrial engineers is $88,950 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Pipeline transportation of crude oil is the highest paying industry for this position, giving an average of $120,850 to industrial engineers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

RankUniversity NameCountry
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)United States
2Stanford UniversityUnited States
3Carnegie Mellon UniversityUnited States
4University of California, Berkeley (UCB)United States
5University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
6Harvard UniversityUnited States
7University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
8Princeton UniversityUnited States
9ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ZurichSwitzerland
10National University of Singapore (NUS)Singapore
10University of TorontoCanada

Required Skills for Industrial Engineers

Due to the large scope of tasks that fall under industrial engineering, there is a need for professionals in this field to master a number of technical and non-technical skills, which they will use on a day-to-day basis at work.

This is echoed in a 2021 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Education, Technology and Society. The research titled “A bibliometric research of industry 4.0 opportunities in industrial engineering” reviewed 3,613 publications on industrial engineering to understand the challenges that await professionals and students in the industry.

According to Roberta Assis Costa and her co-authors, there is “an extension in the use of technology in various Industrial engineering topics, featured by augmented reality, Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems and cloud computing. So, applying these technologies permits optimization of processes, greater security to employees and a bigger cost reduction. Hence, the new industrial revolution creates a need to adapt professionals and academics from the Industrial Engineering environment to new market demands” (Costa et al., 2021).

In the sections below, both technical and general skills that industrial engineers need to develop to meet the demands of the fourth industrial revolution will be discussed.

Essential Skills for Industrial Engineers

Here are the technical skills that industrial engineers must develop in the course of their studies:

  • Systems Analysis. Industrial engineers need to know every little aspect of the systems they are working on. They need to be able to identify problems, if there are any, and know how to solve them. They must also know how to change these systems for the better.
  • Production and Processing. This position requires extensive knowledge of the materials and equipment in every step of the production process. Moreover, industrial engineers must have ideas on how to improve the processes to produce optimal results.
  • Computers and Electronics. Most, if not all, industries are going digital. Industrial engineers must be tech-savvy and have technical knowledge on operating tools and equipment related to their position in order to remain relevant in the job market.
  • Automation. This trend makes company processes more efficient and can provide industrial engineers with many opportunities to advance their companies technologically.

Source: Santiteerakul, Sopadang, & Sekhari, 2020

General Skills for Industrial Engineers

Gain competitive advantage by developing the following soft skills when pursuing industrial engineering careers:

  • Communication. During workdays, industrial engineers often deal with emails (93%), face-to-face discussions (73%), and telephone calls (73%) (O*NET Online, n.d.). In order to perform well in the position, they must be good listeners and effective communicators.
  • Critical Thinking. A survey of industrial engineering professionals revealed that the majority agree that critical thinking is a very important skill in their profession (Santiteerakul, et al. 2020). Specifically, 89% said that problem-solving, decision-making, and systematic thinking are essential to industrial engineers. Moreover, 86% agree that industrial engineers need data analytic skills. Seventy percent also said they need reasoning skills (Santiteerakul, et al. 2020).
  • Creativity. What sets great industrial engineers from others is this skill. With creativity, individuals in this profession will be able to easily come up with new ideas to solve existing problems. They will have more opportunities to contribute to their organizations because they can think outside the box. In this way, they will also be more valued compared to others.
  • Decision-making. There is a lot at stake with every decision an industrial engineer will make. They can change the way organization members function, they can change the dynamics between their organization and its suppliers, and they can make changes toward a safer, healthier work environment or otherwise. They must weigh each decision carefully and be ready for its consequences.
  • Organization. Industrial engineers may have to deal with multitasking at times. They are actively involved in many areas of the production and they are expected to perform well in all these areas. And so, it is important that they remain organized, have things scheduled ahead, stick to the plan when possible, and be ready to adjust when needed.
  • Management and Leadership. Because industrial engineers are bound to take on leadership roles as they progress in their careers, they must know how to interact well with other employees, exude charisma, and lead with integrity.

Source: Payscale

How to Start Your Career in Industrial Engineering

Students have the option to take either an associate or bachelor’s degree to qualify for entry-level jobs for industrial engineers. The former will take around two years to complete, and the latter, four years.

There are higher education institutions that now offer an online degree program for industrial engineering, which makes it more convenient for students to attend classes. It also lessens the cost of their studies and gives them flexibility in terms of study time and location.

An associate degree in industrial engineering is perfect for those who want and need to immediately start working. However, the pay-off of a career given this level of education is also less compared with that of a bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree paves a straight path to continuing higher education, should one decide to take that. It also opens certification opportunities, which are very useful since employers look for these during application processes.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Industrial Engineering?

Industrial engineering is one of the highest-paying jobs one can pursue after acquiring an associate degree. Below are some positions that they may land after two years of study:

Quality Control Inspectors

All manufactured products must be approved by quality control inspectors. They are the ones who monitor production processes and recommend procedures to improve them. They must know product specifications, testing procedures, and inspection tool operation.

There are several types of quality control inspectors: (1) Inspectors, (2) Samplers, (3) Sorters, (4) Testers, and (5) Weighers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Median Annual Salary: $40,460

Industrial Engineering Technologists and Technicians

Technologists and technicians in this field assist engineers during the planning and production stage of the manufacturing process. They must know how to read and interpret data, schematic diagrams, floor layouts, and workflows, among others. They must also be familiar with using tools such as calipers, microcontrollers, signal generators, and tension testers.

Workers in this position must be capable of deductive and inductive reasoning, which they will use often for helping solve operational problems. They must also be cooperative and dependable because they will work closely with other employees in most of their tasks.

Median Annual Salary: $57,320

Manufacturing Engineers

The main job of manufacturing engineers is to optimize the processes and systems involved in company production. They are tasked with product design, research, manufacturing, and evaluation. They are expected to have extensive technical knowledge about operational processes and troubleshooting.

It is important for someone in this position to have problem-solving skills, mathematical skills, and decision-making skills, to name a few. They must also be detail-oriented, analytical, and innovative.

Medial Annual Salary: $71,031

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering?

Industrial engineers typically acquire a bachelor’s degree. They need this to be eligible for licensure examinations. Here are three of the most common positions that someone with an undergraduate degree in industrial engineering may seek:

Plant Engineers

Plant engineers are in charge of establishing and overseeing the maintenance procedures in industrial plants. They supervise both the financial and technical aspects of the plant and ensure that all processes therein run smoothly. They also see to the productivity of the plant workers.

Average Median Salary: $85,414

Health and Safety Engineers

Majority of the health and safety engineers (27%) work in the manufacturing sector (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). They cover the following areas of work: (1) fire prevention, (2) product safety, and (3) systems safety (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Should there be accidents in the workplace, they will be responsible for managing the situation, investigating the causes, and preventing it from happening again. They must be well acquainted with the laws and regulations related to workplace health and safety. They must also know how to apply this knowledge in their work environment.

Median Annual Salary: $94,420

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers are responsible for presenting the technical information of products to clients. They also collect feedback from clients in order to improve existing products or develop new ones. People with this job must have high confidence, and interpersonal and communication skills.

Annual Median Salary: $108,830

Can you get an industrial engineering job with just a certificate?

In order to be eligible for certification programs in industrial engineering, one must have at least an associate’s degree. Certificates from online courses may help with the application process for an undergraduate degree, but it will not get you a job in industrial engineering. Individuals who are serious about pursuing a career in this field are advised to pursue higher education.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

How can I advance my career in industrial engineering?

A master’s or doctorate degree can help an industrial engineering professional attain a leadership position in a company earlier on in their careers compared to those who relied on their level of experience for career advancement.

When pursuing continuing higher education, industrial engineers must already know what field they want to specialize in. Completion of these degrees takes about two to seven years. Compared with those who only finished an associate or bachelor’s degree, the mean annual industrial engineering salary of someone with a master’s or doctoral degree is much higher.

What can I do with a Master’s in Industrial Engineering?

A master’s degree in industrial engineering can help you land a managerial or consultancy position. Here are some of the jobs that would fit someone with this level of education in industrial engineering:

Corporate Real Estate Manager

People in this position review cost distribution in operational processes. They conduct a cost-benefit analysis, come up with strategies for better operations, and lead the company toward its financial goals. Part of their job is to represent and negotiate for the company in matters related to its purchasing and leasing decisions.

Average Median Salary: $106,435

Senior Process Engineers

Senior process engineers are experts in the fields of science, math, and business. They ensure efficiency across processes in factories and plants. Part of their work is to collaborate with other experts in designing company regulations and procedures. Success in their job is measured in terms of productivity and cost; the higher the output and the lower the expenditure, the better.

Due to the complexity of tasks involved in this position, graduate studies would be extremely advantageous for someone wanting to pursue it.

Annual Median Salary: $115,569

Agile Project Managers

This job involves managing projects, people, products, and processes in the industrial field. To be qualified for this role, one must have a strong background in project management and an advanced degree. A master’s in industrial engineering is among the best options for pursuing a career path toward this high-paying and challenging role.

Annual Median Salary: $136,840

industrial engineering masters degrees

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Industrial Engineering?

People who pursue a doctorate degree in industrial engineering are well suited to leadership positions in large companies. Below are some examples:

Director of Facilities Management

A facilities management director oversees the entirety of a company’s physical workspace, including bathrooms, elevators, parking, and ICT infrastructure. Also included in the scope of their work are the electrical and mechanical systems, fire safety, and waste management. They ensure that the work environment is safe and optimal for employee productivity.

Annual Median Salary: $109,665

Director of Quality Assurance

Companies heavily rely on quality assurance directors for maintaining product quality and thereby company image. They see to it that the materials, equipment, and procedures used by their companies are up to industry standards. They also ensure that company employees are all qualified for their positions.

Average Median Salary: $130,000

Director of Operations

An operations director leads the company’s efforts to improve all its operational aspects, from materials to processes to budgets. They are also partly responsible for employee engagement and training, customer experience, and supply chain partnerships.

Average Median Salary: $134,400

Industrial Engineering doctorate degrees

Which certification is best for Industrial Engineering?

In addition to Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) licensure examinations, industrial engineers are advised to take the certification exams listed below to help with their career advancements.

The following certifications are essential components of a career development plan in industrial engineering. It will help professionals make their case to employers about their expertise in work areas where they specialize.

  • Certified Quality Engineer. This certification program is offered by the American Society for Quality and is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Examinees are given 5 hours and 18 minutes to answer 175 questions about quality control systems. If they pass, they will earn an internationally recognized certificate.
  • Certified Technician-Supply Chain Automation. This certification program is offered by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council. It consists of three separate certifications which can serve as prestigious credentials for industrial engineers who want to specialize in logistics: (1) Certification in Equipment Maintenance; (2) Certification in Equipment Repair; and (3) Certification in Network Repair
  • Certified Technical Professional. This certification program, offered by the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE), is open to associate degree graduates in industrial engineering. The examination is open-book. ATMAE also provides a free CTP and CSTP study guide with sample questions on their website.
  • Certified in Engineering Graphics. This certification program is also offered by ATMAE and is open to those who completed an associate or bachelor’s degree. The examination is also open book and is made easier with a free CEG and CSEG study guide.
  • Certified Industrial Energy Professional. This certification program, offered by the Associate of Energy Engineers, is for industrial engineers who specialize in energy management. To be eligible for this, you need a combination of an associate and bachelor’s degree and years of experience as detailed on their website.

Alternative Career Options for Industrial Engineers

One of the advantages of having a degree in industrial engineering is that you can never run out of career options. However, you must be clear on what your career goals in industrial engineering are in order to succeed in anything.

There are traditional routes that you can take and then there are alternative careers for industrial engineers that you can also explore because an industrial engineering background instilled in you transferable skills and knowledge.

What else can an industrial engineer do?

Here are some of your employment options should you decide to take a non-traditional industrial engineering career path:

  • Logisticians. Like logisticians, industrial engineers have a strong background in supply chain management and product life cycle. It is entirely possible for someone with a degree in industrial engineering to shift into a career as a logistician.
  • Cost estimators. Another closely related job to industrial engineers is this one. Cost estimators focus on the financial aspect of the production. Industrial engineers also gain knowledge about this during their associate or undergraduate studies. If you are more inclined in the business aspect of industrial engineering, shifting to a career as a cost estimator will be easy.
  • Innovation Engineers. This field of engineering is fairly new. Creative industrial engineers may find themselves attracted to this field. With a degree and experience in industrial engineering, they would have certainly developed skills transferable to this position.

Explore Your Opportunities in Industrial Engineering

In the chapter “The Purpose and Evolution of Industrial Engineering” of “Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook,” Martin-Vega notes that “much of the attractiveness of industrial engineering lies in the fact that it is an engineering field that provides its members with a broad spectrum of career options… Standing at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with slightly over 100 years of history under its belt, there is no reason to doubt that this dynamic field will continue to mature in its role as a global leader of societal change and provide its members with a wealth of new and challenging opportunities” (Zandin, 2001).

Indeed, as discussed in this article, both the present and future are on the side of industrial engineering professionals. The world is at a turning point; the next normal will require new systems of production. If there is anything that can help us navigate from here to after-crisis, it is the breadth of skills of industrial engineers.

These said, pursuing a career in industrial engineering is a worthwhile endeavor now more than ever. Plus, with the growing demand in the industry, graduates can look forward to plenty of job opportunities that offer competitive compensation.

In case you have not yet made up your mind about industrial engineering, perhaps you would like to learn more about other branches of the field. To help you explore similar occupations, you can also take a look at these engineering majors.

 

References:

  1. CareerOneStop (n.d.). Occupational Profile for Industrial Engineers. Retrieved from https://www.careeronestop.org/Toolkit/Careers/Occupations/occupation-profile
  2. Costa R.A. et al., (2021). A bibliometric research of industry 4.0 opportunities in industrial engineering. Brazilian Journal of Education, Technology and Society 12(4), 299-310. Retrieved from https://dx.doi.org/10.14571/brajets.v12.n4.299-310
  3. Payscale (n.d.) Average Industrial Engineer Salary. Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Industrial_Engineer/Salary
  4. Santiteerakul, S., Sopadang, A. & Sekhari, A. (2020). Skill Development for Industrial Engineers in Industry 4.0. Retrieved from http://shyfte.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CEISEE
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Occupational Employment and Wages. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/
  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Occupational Handbook Outlook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/
  7. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), “Degrees and Other Formal Awards Conferred” surveys, 1970-71 through 1985-86; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), “Completions Survey” (IPEDS-C:91-99); and IPEDS Fall 2000 through Fall 2019, Completions component. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_323.10.asp
  8. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), “Degrees and Other Formal Awards Conferred” surveys, 1970-71 through 1985-86; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), “Completions Survey” (IPEDS-C:91 and 96); and IPEDS Fall 2001 through Fall 2019, Completions component. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_324.10.asp
  9. O*NET Online (2021). Industrial Engineers. Retrieved from https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-2112.00
  10. Zandin, KB. (ed) (2001). Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook (5th ed.). The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.accessengineeringlibrary.com/content/book/9780070411029

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