Engineering is a field full of professional problem solvers. Engineers use their creative abilities and extensive knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Additionally, they continuously strive to enhance existing technologies by making them safer, more reliable, and efficient. If you think you might like to become an engineer, you should take a closer look at the many specializations within the field and choose one that best fits your interests.
One of these many subfields is industrial engineering. Industrial engineering is a discipline that is uniquely organized to solve problems and optimize processes to attain the best possible outcomes. What is industrial engineering and what do industrial engineers do? This career guide explores these questions and the typical career pathway.
In This Article:
- What Is Industrial Engineering?
- What Do Industrial Engineers Do?
- How To Become an Industrial Engineer
- Essential Skills and Characteristics for Industrial Engineering Careers
- Are Industrial Engineers in High Demand?
What Is Industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineering is a highly versatile and interdisciplinary branch of engineering that encompasses the design, development, analysis, and optimization of complex processes and systems. This field is primarily concerned with the implementation and improvement of integrated systems of equipment, information, and workers in order to solve a wide range of problems in production and service management and control.
An industrial engineer’s goal is to create or improve upon products, systems and designs to make them safer and more efficient. For example, industrial engineers can examine manufacturing processes to identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption, streamline production times, and minimize the use of resources while ensuring compliance with safety regulations. They can also develop innovative solutions to optimize supply chain logistics, such as finding the most efficient way to deliver packages to your doorstep. Furthermore, they can apply their skills to optimize hospital surgery schedules and doctors' appointments, enabling fast and safe healthcare services.
What Do Industrial Engineers Do?
The day-to-day activities of an industrial engineer may vary depending on the industry they work in and the specific requirements of their employer. In general, however, industrial engineering includes any of the following responsibilities:
- Analyzing production schedules, process flows, methodologies, and engineering specifications to identify opportunities for efficiency improvements.
- Creating management control systems to streamline cost analysis and optimize performance.
- Developing quality control procedures to identify production problems and ensure compliance with safety regulations and quality standards.
- Staying up-to-date with changing regulations and industry standards, and adjusting processes accordingly.
- Coordinating projects with all stakeholders, including clients, vendors, staff, and management personnel.
Industrial engineers use principles and skills in the engineering analytics and design approaches to analyze and evaluate the outcomes obtained from systems and processes. They implement and integrate the physical, economic and human components and various production and service systems in diverse fields. They are also working on tasks like production planning, quality control, equipment and inventory management, plant layout and workstation design.
How To Become an Industrial Engineer
If you’re passionate about pursuing a career in STEM and you think that industrial engineering is the right fit for you, talk to your high school guidance counselor about your career ambitions. If possible, take advanced courses in mathematics, computer coding and the sciences. Look for relevant extracurricular activities, such as a science club or computer coding club, and pursue internships and job shadowing opportunities in your area.
To become an industrial engineer, you'll need a bachelor's degree in engineering. While a master's degree is not typically required, you may choose to pursue it later on in your career. After college, you’ll need to earn your initial engineering certification and gain professional work experience before you’ll be qualified to pursue your professional engineering certification and state licensure.
Earn Your Industrial Engineering Degree
After high school, the first step toward becoming an industrial engineering professional is to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Some aspiring industrial engineers choose a general engineering degree, while others may choose a concentration in mechanical or electrical engineering. However, the best choice is an industrial engineering degree.
If you enroll in an industrial engineering degree program, you’ll gain a diverse spectrum of STEM competencies that are immediately applicable across a range of industries. The specific curriculum will vary from one school to the next. Major topics and competency in the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering are:
- Probabilistic and Statistical Techniques — Simulation, Six Sigma, etc.
- Optimization and Scheduling
- Work Measurement, Human Factors and Ergonomics
- Architectural Design and Analysis
- Business and Engineering Analysis and Models
During your time as an undergrad, you may be required to complete one or more capstone projects. A capstone project is typically a research- and writing-intensive project that is intended to be the culmination of the competencies you’ve acquired during your time in school. If possible, choose a topic that reflects your professional interests, as you might discuss your capstone project during interviews with potential employers after graduation.
Earn Your FE Certification
Even after earning your industrial engineering degree, you won’t be qualified to officially call yourself an engineer just yet. You’ll be an apprentice for a while until you can earn your Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) certification and state licensure. But first, you’ll need to earn your Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) certification.
You can sit for the FE examination after graduation or while still a student close to graduation. The test is administered year-round at approved testing centers. You’ll have six hours to answer 110 questions.1
You should plan on setting aside plenty of time to prepare for the exam. Review your class notes and study exam prep materials offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the professional organization that certifies engineers. On the industrial engineering FE exam, you can expect to answer questions related to the following:
- Modeling and quantitative analysis
- Probability and statistics
- Engineering economics
- Engineering sciences
- Ethics and professional practice
- Work design
- Human factors, ergonomics and safety
Acquire Entry-Level Experience to Build Your Knowledge and Skills
Once you earn your FE certification, you can pursue entry-level work in the industrial engineering field. At this point in your career, you’ll officially be known as an engineer in training (EIT) or engineering intern (EI). State requirements for licensure vary, but many require EITs to have several years of professional experience before pursuing state licensure. You’ll also need to meet work requirements to be eligible to sit for the PE exam.
Earn Your PE Certification
Once you do meet the eligibility requirements, including professional work experience, you can sit for the PE exam. Unlike the FE test, the PE test is only administered once per year. This means you’ll need to plan well in advance to be ready to take the test once you meet the work requirements. This 9.5-hour exam features 85 questions,2 and it covers a wide range of topics related to the industrial engineering field. It's crucial to prepare thoroughly for this exam, as passing it is essential to becoming a licensed professional engineer.
Essential Skills and Characteristics for Industrial Engineering Careers
As you prepare to pursue a career in industrial engineering, you’ll find that the following skills and characteristics will be particularly helpful:
- Creative problem-solving
- Critical thinking
- Analytical reasoning
- Math skills
- Communication skills
Are Industrial Engineers in High Demand?
The robust job outlook for this profession is due in part to the versatility of this particular subfield of engineering. There is a strong demand for industrial engineers across a range of industries, including manufacturing, consulting, scientific services and healthcare.
You can blend your passion for STEM with purpose when you enroll in a degree in industrial engineering at Grand Canyon University (GCU). The Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering degree prepares you to develop innovative new processes and systems thanks to a strong foundation in competencies such as human work design, lean management and computer-aided design. Learn more about our engineering degree programs from GCU's College of Science, Engineering and Technology.
1 National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. FE Exam. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
2 National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. PE Industrial and Systems Exam. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
Approved by faculty for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on April 14, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.