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Industrial Engineer Career Guide

What is an industrial engineer?

An industrial engineer is a professional who works to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service. Their goal is not just to increase productivity but also to improve the product’s quality and the process’s efficiency. They play a crucial role in many industries, from manufacturing to healthcare, using their unique skill set to solve complex problems and streamline operations for better performance.

Duties and responsibilities

The main duties of an industrial engineer encompass analyzing and optimizing workflows, inspecting production schedules, and ensuring general process efficiency. They apply principles of engineering, mass production, and technology to analyze workflow. These professionals are responsible for designing the most efficient way to use the factors of production, such as people, machines, materials, information, and energy. They perform quality control checks, explore production problems, and set productivity and quality standards, further optimizing processes to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Work environment

The work environment of an industrial engineer largely depends on the sector they’re serving. While some can be found in an office setting, creating plans and strategies to optimize workflow, others can be found in factories, warehouses, or production sites, monitoring operations, identifying bottlenecks, and implementing their designed systems. Their role often involves working in teams, interacting with multiple departments and individuals throughout an organization to drive process improvements.

Typical work hours

Industrial engineers typically work full-time during regular office hours, usually around 40 hours a week from Monday to Friday. However, depending on the organization’s specific project or operational timelines, they might need to work overtime or on weekends to meet deadlines or tackle production issues. In industries running around-the-clock operations like manufacturing, healthcare, or logistics, they may also be required to be on call outside of normal hours.

How to become an industrial engineer

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming an industrial engineer. The journey involves obtaining the right education, gaining experience, and earning the necessary certifications.

Step 1: Complete high school

First and foremost, aspiring engineers need to complete their high school education, focusing on math and science classes – gaining foundational knowledge that will be useful in advanced studies and the actual job environment.

Step 2: Earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering

The next step is to enroll in a bachelor of science program in industrial engineering or a closely related field. These programs typically cover operations research, engineering statistics, and manufacturing systems design. These programs last approximately four years on a full-time basis.

Step 3: Complete internships or co-op programs

Practical experience is integral to understanding the full scope of this career. Internships and co-op programs allow students to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world situations, thereby gaining a first-hand understanding of the job and its requirements. Many universities offer these opportunities as part of their curriculum.

Step 4: Gain professional experience

After graduation, the next course of action is to gain relevant work experience in the field, which increases job competence and attractiveness to potential employers. Typically, you should seek entry-level industrial engineering positions that will help hone your skills.

Step 5: Obtain a Professional Engineer (PE) license

While not a requirement for every position, obtaining a PE license can elevate your career prospects. To earn this license, engineers must complete a four-year college degree, have worked under a Professional Engineer for at least four years, and pass two intensive competency exams. The license can be obtained from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Step 6: Consider a master’s degree

For those looking to specialize or advance to higher levels in their career, pursuing a master’s degree in industrial engineering or a related field may be beneficial. Doing so can provide you with advanced knowledge and skills and open up opportunities for roles with more responsibility.

How much do industrial engineers make?

Industrial engineer salaries can vary by various factors, including experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Specialized expertise in areas like lean manufacturing or industrial automation will also enhance earning potential.

Highest paying industries

  • Oil and Gas Extraction – $107,200
  • Scientific Research and Development Services – $103,850
  • Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing – $102,860
  • Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing – $102,300
  • Office Administrative Services – $98,770

Highest paying states

  • California – $107,060
  • Washington – $105,460
  • Texas – $103,390
  • Minnesota – $100,780
  • New Mexico – $99,620

Browse industrial engineer salary data by market

Types of industrial engineers

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for industrial engineers. This section explains the range of opportunities and roles within this field.

Quality control engineer

Assuring the quality of manufactured goods falls under this role’s area of responsibility. Their duties include designing systems for quality testing at each production phase, predicting potential quality issues, and implementing solutions to maintain the standard of products. A career in this field often involves statistical analysis and the creation of detailed quality control protocols.

Operations analyst

Also referred to as a management analyst, individuals in this field focus primarily on an organization’s operating procedures. The core responsibilities of an operations analyst involve assessing current operations, identifying inefficiencies, and recommending practical solutions to enhance performance. This role requires a strong understanding of data analysis, problem-solving skills, and process optimization methods.


Ergonomics is a critical aspect of industrial engineering aimed at designing workplaces to enhance efficiency by minimizing worker discomfort and the risk of injuries. Ergonomists play a pivotal role in studying work conditions, understanding human capabilities/limitations, and suggesting necessary changes. They design or modify workstations, optimize sequences, and develop equipment to increase productivity and reduce occupational health risks.

Supply chain engineer

This role focuses on the smooth management of an organization’s supply chain, encompassing everything from sourcing raw materials to delivering finished products. The key responsibility of a supply chain engineer involves creating effective supply chain strategies, enhancing efficiency, reducing costs, and ensuring timely delivery. Proficiency in logistics, planning, and coordinating with multiple stakeholders is vital in this role.

Manufacturing engineer

A manufacturing engineer oversees the process of converting raw materials into finished products. They design, implement, and monitor the manufacturing process, striving to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure the quality of products. With an understanding of product design, factory layout, and operational process, they facilitate a productive and economical manufacturing environment.

Systems engineer

Responsible for designing and managing complex systems over their life cycles, a systems engineer ensures that different subsystems work together seamlessly. They maintain a big-picture view while resolving technical and management issues. This role deals with work processes, optimization methods, system performance, reliability, and system validation.

Top skills for industrial engineers

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as an industrial engineer.

Technical knowledge

Industrial engineers need a deep understanding of production processes, materials, and systems. They must know how to utilize modern engineering tools, from computer-aided design (CAD) software to project management applications. Also, knowledge of lean manufacturing principles and methodologies such as Six Sigma is a big plus.

Analytical skills

Analyzing data, understanding trends, and identifying patterns are pivotal. They must assess production data and use statistical analysis to make efficient and cost-effective design decisions. These professionals also need to analyze the effect of production changes on workers and the work environment. By identifying inefficiencies and recommending optimizations, they add value to an enterprise.

Communication skills

Solving complex production problems and implementing new systems requires strong communication skills. These engineers must articulate their ideas and findings to various stakeholders, from coworkers to executives. Whether written or oral, effective communication can make a significant difference in job performance.

Problem-solving skills

Working in this role, one often faces production complications and system inefficiencies. The knack of identifying, analyzing, and quickly resolving these issues is vital. Skillful problem-solving leads to improved systems, better operational efficiency, and increased company productivity.

Project management skills

They often lead teams or projects, making it vital to master key project management skills. From planning and organizing to monitoring progress and assessing outputs, a holistic understanding of project management principles can contribute to successful project execution.

Industrial engineer career path options

Starting your career as an industrial engineer, you have many avenues open for professional advancement. After some years of hands-on experience, you may move into a role such as a manufacturing engineer focused on large-scale production systems to improve efficiency. Gaining experience in system analysis, throughput, and design layout would be a strong foundation for career progression.

Alternatively, you may ascend to a project engineer role. Here, you would lead a team of engineers, taking ownership of specific projects and using your organizational and leadership skills to ensure successful completion. This role usually involves a broader spectrum of responsibilities, overseeing all aspects of the project from inception to completion.

As your career evolves, you will also have opportunities to progress into management roles. A position like a plant manager or production manager could be suitable. In these positions, you would oversee all operations within a specific plant or production department, which requires a broad understanding of the manufacturing process, excellent people management skills, and the ability to solve complex problems.

You may also consider moving into consulting roles, where your system optimization experience is highly sought after. As a consultant, you could advise other businesses on how to streamline their processes and increase productivity. This role would leverage your experience with data analysis, process improvement, and strategic decision-making.

If you have a passion for academia and research, pursuing a teaching or industrial research career could be a suitable choice. Many universities and research institutes seek experts with industrial experience to join their ranks. These roles usually require advanced degrees but can offer meaningful work in shaping the future of industrial engineering.

Industrial engineering is known for its multidisciplinary nature, covering areas like operations, systems, and processes. In recent years, industries have largely leaned on technology for increased efficiency and output, creating a vital place for industrial engineers. This, in turn, has channeled trends such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, which directly affect how professionals in this field carry out their work.

While technology is taking center stage, sustainability is also a growing point of interest in this industry. The rise of green initiatives and environmental regulations has impacted how these engineers approach their responsibilities, including system design and process management. This can be seen in the increased emphasis on the development of sustainable technologies and processes.

Moving to digital platforms has allowed for a rise in virtual and remote work, making streaming real-time data and cloud computing integral aspects of this field. They must adapt to these changes to remain relevant and competitive in the transformation to a digital-intensive industry.

Employment projections

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for industrial engineers is projected to grow 10 percent through 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is due to an increasing dependency on engineers in a wide range of industries to improve efficiency and productivity. Hence, candidates with a degree in industrial engineering or related fields, along with hands-on experience in improving systems, solving problems, and reducing waste, should find their skills in high demand.

Industrial engineer career tips

Understand the industry

Understanding the industry you’re in or targeting is paramount. You should be well-versed in key concepts, industry lingo, and the latest trends. To stand out, focus on a specific industry such as manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, or technology. Also, make the time to read industry reports, attend relevant workshops, and study successful companies in your chosen industry.

Build a professional network

Networking plays a significant role in your professional growth. Connecting with other engineers and professionals in your field can present opportunities for collaboration, skill development, and potential job offers. Here are a few professional organizations relevant to industrial engineers:

  • American Society for Quality (ASQ)
  • Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME)
  • Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE)
  • The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)

Stay up-to-date with technology

It’s pivotal to stay current with the latest advancements. Depending on your industry, this may include understanding CAD software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, or automation technologies like robotics. Subscribing to relevant tech reports, attending industry-specific tech seminars, and pursuing technology-focused coursework can help you stay ahead.

Emphasize continuous learning

Industries change, and as an industrial engineer, you need to adapt. The more versatile you are in terms of skills and knowledge, the more valuable you become to employers. These might be some areas for continuous learning:

  • Gaining expertise in project management methodologies such as agile or waterfall
  • Learning new software/tools that are popular in your industry
  • Studying regulatory standards that directly impact your field
  • Obtaining certifications like Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM) or Lean Six Sigma Certifications

Focus on gaining hands-on experience

Academic learning is important, but hands-on experience is what truly consolidates your understanding. Real-time problem-solving, process improvement, and project management challenges provide valuable lessons. Internships, voluntary work, or shadowing experienced professionals can provide this experience.

Where the industrial engineer jobs are

Top employers

  • General Motors
  • Boeing
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Ford Motor Company
  • General Electric

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • Michigan
  • Ohio
  • Indiana

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster.com
  • EngineerJobs.com


What skills should an industrial engineer have?

An industrial engineer needs problem-solving and critical thinking skills to address efficiency issues, as well as design and implement solutions in an industrial setting. They should be mathematically inclined, have knowledge of production and manufacturing processes, and know how to use relevant software tools. Excellent communication skills are also essential for working with team members and presenting results to stakeholders.

Is industrial engineering in high demand?

Yes, because efficiency and process optimization are vital in many industries, the demand for industrial engineers is quite high. Many companies seek to reduce waste, improve workflow, and increase productivity, making individuals in this profession particularly valuable.

What kind of work environment can industrial engineers expect?

Industrial engineers work in various environments depending on their industry. Some work on the factory floor, assessing workflow, while others could be in an office setting, analyzing data. The profession can involve some physicality, including walking, stooping, and standing, as well as paperwork and computer work.

Do I need certification to be an industrial engineer?

While not necessarily required, professional certification can offer proof of competency. Organizations like the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers offer certifications that can enhance a resume.

What are the typical duties for industrial engineers?

A typical day might involve reviewing production schedules, process flows, and engineering specifications; identifying and analyzing inefficiencies in production; developing management control systems; conferring with clients about product specifications; and designing production planning and control systems to coordinate activities for quality control. The nature of work can vary greatly from day to day, as it heavily relies on the company’s current needs or projects at hand.

What are some challenges industrial engineers face?

One of the main challenges might be dealing with complex systems and the need to solve unpredictable issues. Also, industrial engineers often juggle multiple tasks and projects, requiring excellent time management skills. As they typically work with a variety of individuals from different departments, strong communication and negotiation skills are a must. Keeping up with the latest industrial engineering and general manufacturing trends is another potential challenge.

What type of education is required for industrial engineers?

Generally, a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering or a similar field is required. Some roles may require a master’s degree or a certain level of work experience in addition to a four-year degree. Topics studied usually include statistics, production systems planning, and manufacturing systems design, among others.

Can industrial engineers work remotely?

Some aspects of industrial engineering can be done remotely, especially those related to data analysis and process planning. However, given the hands-on nature of many industrial engineering duties, such as working directly with equipment or physical processes, many roles will require some level of in-person work. The balance of remote and in-person work will depend on the specific job and company policies.

What industries typically hire industrial engineers?

A wide range, including manufacturing industries, such as automotive, aerospace, and electronics, where they focus on the efficiency of production lines. They also work in service industries such as healthcare, logistics, and retail. Some industrial engineers work for government agencies or consulting firms.