Industrial engineers design, develop, test and evaluate systems for managing industrial production processes. With a mandate to improve quality, save money and increase productivity, this is the engineering discipline that places the most emphasis on the human factor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of these professionals eventually move into management positions. Education is a requirement for entry into industrial engineering.
Degrees and specializations in industrial engineering
A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for entry-level industrial engineers; 49.2 percent of these engineers have bachelor's degrees, and 16.6 percent have master's degrees, according to the Department of Labor. Industrial engineering students in online engineering degree programs need to be able to communicate the "big idea" clearly and persuasively, think critically, ask difficult questions and analyze responses, and understand the impact of factors such as the environment in their designs. Computer expertise is also essential for aspiring industrial engineers.
Degrees are available from associate through doctoral levels, with specializations that may include different aspects of the following:
- Human factors engineering
- Operations research and systems engineering
- Manufacturing systems engineering
- Production and management systems engineering
An associate degree in engineering technology provides the education necessary for a position as an industrial engineering technician under the supervision of engineering staff or further education at the bachelor's degree level.
Bachelor's degree programs allow students to work in labs and/or in cooperative or internship programs, which are useful learning components of an industrial engineering degree. Some schools encourage undergraduate research programs, design competitions, and opportunities for student entrepreneurship and innovation.
Industrial engineering master's degrees typically take 18 months to two years to complete. Geared toward engineers who seek professional advancement, master's degree programs offer specializations such as quality engineering, cost engineering and ergonomics.
A Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., program helps candidates develop leadership skills for academic, industry and government research in topics such as health care engineering, energy systems, service engineering, global systems and service engineering.
Benefits of online degrees in industrial engineering
The Department of Labor lists interacting with computers as one of the key activities of industrial engineers, and digital experience in distance learning studies may provide opportunities to work with industry applications, such as industrial control and inventory management software. For example, industrial engineers need to perform technology-related tasks like these:
- Analyze statistical data and product specifications
- Estimate production costs and cost saving methods
- Regulate and adjust workflow schedules
Industrial engineers who are already working can complete advanced degrees online, bringing workplace experience to online study and classroom theory to the workplace. The digital expertise that online engineering students gain could be essential as more companies go global and the Internet becomes the office of the future.
Salaries and employment trends for industrial engineering grads
Industrial engineers earned mean annual salaries of $78,450 in 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The largest group of industrial engineers--16,090 of 202,990--are employed in aerospace product and parts manufacturing. The states with the highest levels of employment in 2010 were Michigan, California and Texas. Employment for industrial engineers is expected to grow 14 percent nationwide between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for U.S. occupations.
Industrial engineering at a glance
- Highest wages: Southeast Arizona paid mean annual wages in 2010 of $136,310, according to the BLS.
- Most jobs: Michigan employed the most industrial engineers of any state in 2010: 19,680.
- Fastest growth: The DOL projects a 39 percent employment increase for industrial engineers in Virginia from 2008 to 2018.