"I've been in this business for 25 years now and I would say the job prospects for industrial engineering graduates are as good as I've ever seen them," proclaims Dr. Jasper Shealy, professor and department head, industrial and manufacturing engineering, at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York.
And Shealy isn't the only academician raving about employment opportunities for new industrial engineers (IEs). Professors and engineering department chairs at both Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, are equally enthusiastic.
"The employment outlook is excellent," notes the University of Michigan's Dr. John Birge, who is professor and department chair, industrial and operations engineering. "Major manufacturers, consulting firms and big accounting firms nationwide are recruiting heavily," he says, noting that systems integration work, "Year 2000" problems and the financial service sector are driving much of the demand for quality engineers right now.
"Manufacturing, service, healthcare, transportation, communications...these are all areas where jobs exist," he adds. "And there's a lot of work coming out of consulting firms. Price Waterhouse is just one example of a large company grabbing as many people as they can."
At Northwestern, Dr. Mark Daskin, professor and department chair, industrial engineering and management services, notes that the positive employment outlook is evidenced by the sheer number of students receiving and accepting solid job offers. "I haven't heard of any students having problems," Daskin reports. "A lot of students have at least one offer, many have accepted positions and some even have multiple offers."
Daskin attributes the upbeat job climate to an overall healthy American economy. Add to that the aggressive recruiting being conducted by many consulting firms, where roughly half of Northwestern's industrial engineering grads go to work, and the news is good, to say the least.
Like Birge at the University of Michigan, Daskin also notes the growing number of financial services businesses seeking to hire engineering grads as more firms turn their focus to information systems. "This kind of work includes things such as helping industry identify the information technologies that are going to be needed and setting up both the technical and organizational systems that are going to use high-tech information processing," Daskin explains.
Along those lines, Birge comments that systems integration is an ever-increasing focus for a lot of firms today. "People are looking at trying to get systems to do more things for them," he says. "They're trying to build intelligence into the systems they already have. IEs are well-prepared for that because they are trained to take a systems view."
Technological advancements in the logistics field are also driving a lot of employment, according to Birge. "Managing and structuring global satellite systems has been a particularly strong area for industrial engineers," he says.
A slight variation on the hiring trend comes from Shaly at RIT. "It appears that more medium-sized companies, as opposed to the very large or very small companies out there, are recruiting our students," he says.
Crucial Co-op Connections
Thanks to a strong cooperative education program at RIT, graduates there rarely have difficulty finding industry positions, particularly in a climate so positively fueled by a healthy economy. "Our co-op based program gives RIT students a major advantage," Shealy says. "Roughly half of the job offers that come through are from co-op employers. As a result of five quarters of co-op experience, our students have a wealth of practical experience to draw from. When they join a company they are already contributing members."
Louise Carrese is the co-op coordinator for industrial engineering at RIT and she couldn't agree more. "Our co-op program provides a pipeline for job opportunities," Carrese says. "In the area of industrial manufacturing, right now the demand far exceeds our supply. We've had an absolutely outstanding fall and winter recruiting period. We've had a record number of companies coming to campus."
Carrese cites big names like Eastman Kodak, General Motors and Corning as heavy recruiters at RIT. Additionally, smaller companies and service industries are seeking experienced graduates.
"The truth is," Carrese notes, "most of our students start their careers as industrial and manufacturing engineers and then go into business for themselves as consultants. That seems to be the general progression."
Although reputable universities like RIT draw recruiters from across the country, Shealy believes the strongest pull for his students comes from employers in the Northeast. "Our reach is nationwide, but we're more regionally driven," he says.
As for graduates of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Birge says there's no limit to the kinds of offers likely to come in. "Our students get hired in virtually every sector of the economy," he reports. "It's hard to think of places that wouldn't be hiring. Companies are competing in the areas of responsiveness and customization. Responsiveness is something that requires the development of efficient procedures and efficient systems. That's the kind of thing IEs do."
Birge sites Intel as one company hiring a particularly large number of grads from the University of Michigan. "Even chip manufacturers, such as Intel, and semiconductor manufacturers are becoming more efficiency-based rather than just product-based," he comments.
The Skills They Seek
In keeping with all of the economic and business trends affecting employment in the industrial engineering sector, good problem-solving skills seem to be at or near the top of every recruiter's wish list when seeking new-hires. "Employers want someone to be able to take a systems view of things, to look from a broad perspective and be able to isolate the essential parts of any system," Birge says.
"Computing skills are another important emphasis in our program," he adds. "We want our students to be familiar with systems, but also in terms of diagnosis, to be able to lay out a system, define procedures and processes. We also try to give students a good sense of the bottom line, which is what employers want to see."
Daskin of Northwestern notes that in addition to a strong technical background, employers like to see experience in team projects, as well as a solid grip on written and communication skills. "About 30 percent of our graduates have been through a co-op program, so they have a lot of exposure to the business world already," he says.
Lastly, according to Carrese of RIT, companies want new-hires who can hit the ground running. "They want to see a good sense of inner logic. And they want people who can work as part of a team," she says. "Most of the time you're not designing or reviewing projects in a vacuum. You're sitting around the table with a whole team of people who at some point will design, touch or use the product being developed."