How to Become an Industrial Engineer
Industrial engineers must be able to work with other professionals.
Industrial engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. Employers also value experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are also valuable.
Entry-level industrial engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Students interested in studying industrial engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; computer science; and sciences such as chemistry and physics.
Bachelor’s degree programs typically are 4-year programs and include lectures in classrooms and practice in laboratories. Courses include statistics, production systems planning, and manufacturing systems design, among others. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.
Some colleges and universities offer 5-year degree programs that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion. A graduate degree will allow an engineer to work as a professor at a university or to engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with practical work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.
Programs in industrial engineering are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).
Critical-thinking skills. Industrial engineers create new systems to solve problems related to waste and inefficiency. Solving these problems requires logic and reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to the problems.
Listening skills. These engineers often operate in teams, but they must also solicit feedback from customers, vendors, and production staff. They must listen to customers and clients to fully grasp ideas and problems the first time.
Math skills. Industrial engineers use the principals of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. In designing facilities for manufacturing and processes for providing services, these engineers deal with several issues at once, from workers’ safety to quality assurance.
Speaking skills. Industrial engineers sometimes have to explain their instructions to production staff or technicians before they can make written instructions available. Being able to explain concepts clearly and quickly is crucial to preventing costly mistakes and loss of time.
Teamwork. Industrial engineers must be able to work with other professionals to serve as a bridge between the technical and business sides of an organization. This requires being able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Writing skills. Industrial engineers must create documentation for other professionals or for future reference. The documentation must be coherent and explain their thinking clearly so that others can understand the information.
Licensure for industrial engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, but it is encouraged for those working in companies that have government contracts. Industrial engineers who become licensed carry the designation of professional engineer (PE). Licensure generally requires the following:
- A degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial FE exam can be taken right after graduating. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After getting suitable work experience, EITs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.
Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licenses from other states, as long as that the other state’s licensing requirements meet or exceed their own licensing requirements.
Beginning industrial engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classes or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, industrial engineers may advance to become technical specialists, such as quality engineers or facility planners. In that role, they supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Many industrial engineers move into management positions because the work they do is closely related to the work of managers. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.