Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 8

IE Careers

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8.1 Employment

Jorgen Salo received his BS in IE from CSU-Pueblo in xxxx and his MBA from the same university in xxx. When he graduated with his BS, he went to work for DeBourgh Manufacturing in La Junta, Colorado, a manufacturer of school lockers.

Tesla Hall received her BS in IE from CSU-Pueblo in xxxx and went to work for the American Galvanizers Association as an Environmental, Heatlh, and Safety Engineer.

Joey Talbott received his BS in IE from CSU-Pueblo in xxx and now works in Pueblo as a water quality engineer for the State of Colorado.


These stories illustrate the different career paths that graduates with a BSIE degree can take. Many university students have already made important professional and personal decisions, but you will probably need to make other important decisions when you finish your degree.

All career advice always urges you to plan: ask yourself questions about your goals, think hard about the answers, and then plan your career so you can achieve your goals. Such advice is excellent (I will give you such advice in more detail in this section) and many people follow such advice - to some degree. However, many happy and successful people will readily tell you that chance and luck played a large role. I like the word "serendipity" which means a happy and unexpected find that occurs when you are looking for something else.

When I graduated with a BA in math I decided to go for my Master's degree to have a more readily marketable degree and because my professors said I should. I looked at math programs, but decided I wanted to apply my math. I was accepted into the Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at the University of California at Berkeley - and they actually offered to pay me to go to graduate school - so I accepted. I also liked to idea of moving from New Jersey to California. I got my Master's degree in one year and started my PhD program, again because my professors seemed to think I was good, but I kept telling myself I really didn't intend to finish the program. But I did finish it, and when I did, I had one made one clear career decision: I did not want to be a professor.

Because I was part of a two-career couple I ended up at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, but because I didn't want to be a professor, I took a research job at the university. After a while the Department of Industrial Engineering asked me to teach a course, so I did, and I was good at teaching and loved it. In 1980, I ended up as a professor, and I moved to Ohio State in 1986 and then to Colorado State University - Pueblo in 1998.

I love being a professor.

One lesson I would like you to get from that story is for you to be prepared for serendipity. If another path to your career goals or to your career happiness appears, be sure that you have your eyes open enough to see it and your mind open enough to consider it. Another lesson is for you to accept and seek out mentors who will offer you good opportunities. My first department chair (Ferdinand Leimkuhler at Purdue) suggested I teach a course in engineering economy and then later a course in decision analysis. I had never had a course in either but ended up making those areas my specialty areas for teaching and research

For me, the most important part of my career happiness has been to be in an organization where the professional contributions I wanted to make match the organization's mission. For example, my move in 1998 to CSU-Pueblo was motivated by my desire to be at a university where teaching is primary, research is expected, and service is valued.

My story is not unique. A former colleague of mine told me once about having been ill when in graduate school. He was told that he had not long to live, a pronouncement that turned out to be wrong. He said this experience had changed his attitude and after that he viewed every event as a wonderful bonus. His career, like mine, involved taking advantage of opportunities that arrived by serendipity.

However, taking advantage of serendipity doesn't mean you just take what comes. Consider the usual advice that I cited earlier: ask yourself questions about your goals, think hard about the answers, and then plan your career so you can achieve your goals. I add to that advice: be prepared to take advantage of the good opportunities that arrive by serendipity. As some have put it, when opportunity knocks, make sure you that answer the door.

Consider these questions:

You may want to consider these questions in a different order. For example, you may want to decide where to live first and then consider the other questions. However, deciding, for example, to work in Pueblo obviously limits your choices about for what organization you will work. Also, you may want to consider the answers of your partner to these questions. Locating two good jobs in one area is called the "two body problem" and may require sacrifices by both partners. Sometimes the members of a couple alternate the sacrifices. One may, for example, provide primary support while the other attends graduate school, and then they reverse roles.

Your answers to these questions will certainly change over time. Many people find travel exciting when they are early in their careers, but then want to travel less if they have children.

Most IEs work in manufacturing, but you should consider other fields. Until 1997, the US Government used the Standard Industry Classification (SIC) for all reporting of government statistics by industry. In that year a new classification system was adopted, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which was developed jointly with and will be used by the US, Canada, and Mexico. The NAICS system is used to classify establishments according to their primary industrial activity. Since it is not a system for classifying occupations, we can use these codes to consider how industrial engineering can be used in many fields.

At the highest level of aggregation, NAICS lists these type of establishments:

This web page from the US Census Bureau has a complete listing and I suggest you spend some time looking at that list. Did you ever think about working for an organization in Doll, Toy, and Game Manufacturing or a Limousine Service or Motion Picture and Video Industries? Think big and think broadly before you make decisions.

You also should give some thought to the type of organization you might work for.

Most IEs work for publicly traded for profit corporations. Almost all the big companies you can think of fall into this category: for example, IBM, Ford, Intel, and Dell. "Publicly traded" means anyone can buy a share of the ownership of the company on a stock exchange.

Some large companies are privately owned (or closely held); they do not have shares available for purchase by the public. Every year Forbes magazine compiles a list of the largest privately held companies. The list includes Bechtel, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Toys "R" Us, Hallmark Cards, and Mervyns.

Some companies are family owned; even if they may be publicly traded, members of one family own a great deal of the shares. Family Business Magazine publishes a list. Sam Walton's descendants own 38% of the shares of Wal-Mart. Ford family members own about 40% of the voting stock of Ford Motor Company. Other family owned businesses are not publicly traded: Cargill, Koch Industries, and Mars are examples. If you work for a family owned business, especially a small one, you must consider the question of how high you can rise in the firm if you are not a family member. The Asplundh Tree Service was founded in 1928; fifteen third-generation family members are still involved in the company, including the company CEO and the company president.

Some companies have some workers who are unionized while others do not. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005, 12.5% of wage and salary workers were members of unions, but the percent unionized varies by type of employment. In local government, 41.9 % of workers are unionized, a category that includes teachers, fire fighters, and police officers. In transportation and utilities, 24% of workers are unionized, but financial services have only 2.3 % unionized.

Some companies are big, as measured by revenues or number of employees. IBM has almost $100 billion in annual revenue and employs close to 330,000 people, Hewlett Packard has revenue of over $86 billion (about 60% of it generated outside the US) with about 150,000 employees, and Proctor and Gamble has over $50 billion in annual revenue and employs about 110,000 people.

Most businesses are small. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses (that is, businesses with fewer than 500 employees)

Source: The Impact of Federal Regulations on Small Firms, an Advocacy Funded study by W. Mark Crain, September 2005 (Research Summary #264).

A large company may have many IEs, and any one IE can probably specialize more. In a small company, the IE will be called on to do many aspects of industrial engineering; in fact, the IE may find that he or she is an engineer first and an industrial engineer as time allows.

Some establishments are subsidiaries or divisions of larger companies. The Schlage plant in Colorado Springs, which manufactures lock sets, is a subsidiary of IRCO (formerly Ingersoll Rand). IRCO also makes golf cars, refrigeration equipment, construction equipment, and other products. Trane is a division of American Standard. Rocky Mountain Steel is a division of Oregon Steel Mills.

Many businesses have international connections. For example, General Motors, with headquarters in Detroit, Michigan, manufactures cars in 33 countries, including China, where it has seven joint ventures and two wholly owned enterprises, and employs more than 20,000 people. Bosch, headquartered in Germany, employs 251,000 people in more than 50 countries. "Bosch operates roughly 260 production sites worldwide, of which nearly 200 are located outside Germany – in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia."

The CSU-Pueblo Library has a helpful list of sources for business research and many of these sources will help you determine important facts about an organization you are considering working for.

You might want to start your own business, if not now, maybe eventually. The Small Business Administration has information on starting, financing, and managing a new business. In Pueblo, the Small Business Development Center, located at Pueblo Community College, provides individual help, as well as seminars and workshops. The Division of Continuing Education at CSU-Pueblo has a number of short courses to help new businesses. The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) publishes Getting Started As an Entrepreneur -- A Guide for Students.

You should find out all that you can about the mission, vision, and values of an organization before you join it. Read the organization's written material, but also ask those who work there what values drive the company. Collins and Porras argue that visionary companies have especially strong cultures, and you better fit in with that culture:

“Only those who 'fit' extremely well with the core ideology and demanding standards of a visionary company will find it a great place to work. If you go to work at a visionary company, you will either fit and flourish – probably couldn't be happier – or you will likely be expunged like a virus. It's binary. There's no middle ground. It's almost cult-like. Visionary companies are so clear about what they stand for and what they're trying to achieve that they simply don't have room for those unwilling or unable to fit their exacting standards.”(page 8).

Explaining IE

The good news is that almost whatever your answers to these questions about where you would like to work, you, as an IE, will have knowledge and skills that can be applied in that type of job. The bad news is that you may need to sell your IE skills and knowledge and you may even need to create your own job.

Even if you want to find a job in a well established field where industrial engineering clearly applies, say in medical care in a hospital, many providers in that field may not be familiar with industrial engineering. Industrial engineering is simply less well known than other types of engineering. Everyone knows, or thinks they know what an electrical engineer does. Everyone knows that a mechanical engineer designs objects like cars, machines, and tools - designing objects is what everyone thinks all engineers do. Chemical engineering and civil engineering are also well known. Many engineering fields have names that are very descriptive of what they do; examples are environmental engineering, agricultural engineering, and aeronautical engineering.

Industrial engineering, on the other hand, isn’t very well known, and the phrase “industrial engineering” isn’t very descriptive of what we do, since IEs can work in organization that wouldn’t be called “industry.”

This lack of name recognition leads to two tasks for you.

  1. You need to be able to explain what IE is - to your family, to acquaintances, but especially to prospective employers.
  2. You need to know how to find good IE jobs that aren’t labeled IE.

You need to have a short explanation of IE that you can give quickly, easily and persuasively. That explanation may be more or less detailed and more or less technical depending on who you are talking with and how interested they actually are. Remember that most people grasp concepts better if you give an example. The example could be about your job as an IE or about how an IE might help with some household task, such as making dinner.

The Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) gives the following definition of IE:

"Industrial Engineering is concerned with the design, improvement, and installation of integrated systems of people, material, information, equipment, and energy. It draws upon specialized knowledge and skills in the mathematical, physical, and social sciences together with the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design to specify, predict, and evaluate the results to be obtained from such systems."

IIE also held a competition for the best bumper sticker explanation of IE and the winner was "Industrial Engineers make things better."

Those definitions are good but you didn’t create any of them. You probably won’t be able to deliver someone else’s definition reliably and persuasively, so you should create your own definition. Think about examples and analogies you might use and try them out on people.

For examples, some ways to start include:

Notice that each of the above definitions gets to an example very quickly. You can even turn that around and start your explanation with an example:

When I was explaining to a nursing home administrator what a graduate student and I proposed to do to help the nursing home improve its storage and inventory of supplies, she said "oh, you are like the closet organizers on the Home Channel." I thought that was a great comparison.

Selling IE

You also need to be able to explain to a company what you, as an IE, can do for them. Some companies know what IEs can do and hire industrial engineers, using that label. For example, this job ad from Jamak Fabrication was listed on

Jamak is seeking an Industrial Engineer to work with our production departments.

The Industrial Engineer works in the production departments of Jamak. In their role he/she will plan and oversee layout of equipment, conducts studies in operations to maximize work flow and spatial utilization, ensures facility efficiency and workplace safety, studies and records time, motion, methods, and speed to improve efficiency and establish a standard production rate in performance of maintenance, production, clerical and other worker operations. This position reports to the VP of Operations.

Specific Responsibilities:

Minimum Qualifications:

This job ad perfectly describes an industrial engineer, by job title, by job responsibilities, and by qualifications. After gaining some work experience, you will be qualified to apply for jobs like this one.

Other companies hire industrial engineers, but under different labels, such as:

This job, with GE, is not labeled as an Industrial Engineer, but asks for someone with an Industrial Engineering degree:

Global Supply Chain Planning Leader, with GE Healthcare, in Waukesha, WI.
A key position in the GE Healthcare Global Parts Asset Management team. Responsibilities include service parts supply chain planning with goals centered including inventory optimization and parts availability for $300M service inventory in 84 warehouses globally. Responsible for lean and efficient planning through strategic improvements in forecasting, procurement, and deployment. Must have strong problem solving and matrix management skills to lead and coordinate with regional planning leaders in other poles. Specific responsibilities include:



Flow International Corporation advertised on for a Supplier Quality Engineer:

The Supplier Quality Engineer will develop and maintain a supplier quality system to support the principles of an Advanced Lean Manufacturing system. This position will have an emphasis on external supply chain components that support internal manufacturing processes, including supplier performance, development, and monitoring. Responsibilities include establishing and managing teams for the implementation of the Advanced Lean Manufacturing system; developing the Supplier Quality program in support of Advanced Lean Manufacturing system; maintaining Quality system components for the Quality department that meets ISO 9001 requirements; ensuring that proper communication occurs within teams and among all associates, suppliers, and customers who are affected by each process; establishing key metrics and ensuring that all data preparation, collection and reporting of project progress occurs; establishing and managing schedules for project implementation; accomplish projects on time, on budget, on target (achieve expected results), and properly communicate throughout Flow.

The ideal candidate will have a Bachelor degree in Engineering or related area with a minimum of (3) three years manufacturing and supervisory experience; extensive knowledge of ISO9001 supplier quality and components of the system; highly developed level of interpersonal skills to work effectively with others, solicit input, motivate associates, and elicit work output; ability to work independently on projects and with external suppliers; excellent verbal and written communication skills; ability for innovative/creative thinking; intermediate level experience with Windows, Word, Excel and Access and the ability to quickly develop a comprehensive knowledge of FLOW products. Previous project management experience a plus.

This job is not called Industrial Engineer and does not mention the words Industrial Engineering, but the description matches the knowledge base of the industrial engineer (lean manufacturing, supply chain management, and quality). After gaining some work experience, you will be qualified to apply for jobs like this one -- and you should apply for jobs like this even if the job isn't labeled as an industrial engineering job.

Unfortunately, other companies and even some industries just don’t know what IEs can do. The chemical industry tends to hire chemical engineers to do everything. For example, this job ad, posted on by Air Products, asks for a Production Engineer, describes industrial engineering responsibilities, but requires a degree in Chemical Engineering

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE:APD), a Fortune 500 manufacturer of industrial gases and chemicals, has an immediate opening for an experienced Production Engineer at its facility in Dallas, TX.

The Production Engineer is responsible to:


While a chemical engineer might learn about SPC (Statistical Process Control), SQC (Statistical Quality Control), DOE (Design of Experiments), Root Cause Investigation, and ISO on the job, these topics would not have been covered in the education of that engineer. An Industrial Engineer would have learned about these as part of their education; I believe the company should be advertising for an Industrial Engineer. Should you apply for a job like this? I doubt it, since the job explicitly asks for a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering.

I believe a job ad like this one reflects the belief by some companies that the people who know the core function of the company (for example, chemistry at a chemical company) also know everything else about how to run the company. The industrial engineer would not know as much about the chemical processes as a chemical engineer, but would be much better prepared to take on the job described above.