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Ask the Expert: Career

Upward mobility

A: Since you have a degree in IE, I believe your decision can be based on what you really are interested in doing for the first five to 10 years of your career.

The OR degree will expand your education and provide you additional tools for the analysis and evaluation of problems. The IE degree can do essentially the same thing in some schools that offer larger programs, but it can have a focus more in areas such as human factors and ergonomics, manufacturing, or logistics.

If you really like operations research and you want to work in that area for some segment of your career, then I would advise getting a graduate degree in that area because the B.S. does not provide the adequate depth to be an OR specialist. In the long run, both options are equivalent in terms of upward mobility into management.

Marlin U.Thomas, Ph.D. 


A: The likelihood of getting a good job is important to students, but I hope that is not your first priority. The most important step in your career path is to find something you like to do and that you are good at.

That being said, there are many areas of IE that look promising in the near future. It is much harder to predict the long-term future because of how fast things change in the current environment.

One way to decide is to look at sectors that are growing. The area that jumps out at me here is medical systems and health care. With the aging population in the United States and around the world, there will be more demand for hospitals, alternative health care such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, drug manufacturing, and medical product development. From the IE perspective, you could specialize in hospital systems from almost any subdiscipline. IEs use simulation to design and schedule emergency rooms and operating room schedules. IEs use ergonomics to design medical tools and patient care practices. Human factors is used to design complex medical devices and multifunction tools that combine many systems into one interface.

Enterprise systems is another growing area.Companies are starting to combine all kinds of previously separate systems such as supply chain, customer service, demand chain, logistics, and others,managing them all using one flexible information system. This can be addressed by IEs using operations research, information systems modeling, supply chain management, usability engineering, and decision making.

For any of these, the best thing to do as a student is focus your thesis, internships, co-ops, and other practical experience in the area in which you’d like to work. Start interacting as much as you can with professionals in these areas. Opportunities include local IIE chapter meetings and IIE’s societies, divisions, and interest groups.

Marc Resnick, Ph.D. 

The Price of Consulting

A: Pricing consulting services is always interesting, especially for independent consultants. There are several methods. One way is to estimate the number of hours or days that the work will take and then set a fixed price. This assumes you can make a reasonable estimate of the time requirements. Clients often like this method in that they know ahead of time how much it will cost. (You can add on expenses as direct cost.) Another popular way to bill is by the hour.Some clients don’t like this method because they see the hours accumulate.

The more experience and the better track record (documented successes, references, and so forth) you have, the more you can charge. Some consultants also adjust their rate depending on the length of the assignment because they would rather get more hours at a lower rate in order to build their business.

Also be aware of tax implications.Make sure you know how the income will affect your personal situation. The IRS has rules about quarterly payments, for example, if your withholding won’t cover the taxes due on the extra income.

Larry Aft, P.E. 

Exam update

A: The content of the P.E. exam - but not the form or the number of the questions - will change somewhat, but not until October 2005.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying will publish the new test specifications later this year. They are scheduled to be available at www.ncees.orgaround October. Revised review materials will be available around the same time, and IIE's P.E. review seminars will reflect the new content beginning 2005.

W.J. Kennedy, Ph.D., P.E. 

OR opportunities

A: My sense is that there are lots of jobs in applied operations research or systems analysis. In fact, about a year or so ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed systems analysts, many of whom are OR people, as one of the fastest growing areas.

Traditional jobs for OR people include management, production scheduling, vehicle routing, and airline operations, to name just a few.

Two emerging areas of application are financial engineering and health care. Many finance companies - banks and investment firms, for example - are now using sophisticated OR tools to price their products and design new ones. In health care, there are many exciting applications, including some that deal with DNA sequencing, equitable allocation of donor organs, and cancer treatment.

Mark S. Daskin 

Looking ahead

A: The future for industrial engineers, industrial and systems engineers, manufacturing engineers, operations researchers, and human factors engineers in the aerospace industry is exceptional. I base this opinion on 35 years of leadership experience in the aerospace industry and my current year and a half of leadership in homeland security issues related to aviation and transportation.

Aerospace manufacturers and suppliers are focused on differentiating their products with high customer satisfaction through quality, cost, or technology. Further, to achieve profitability, they pursue continuous product, process, or cost improvements. And they apply design improvements and materials technology exchanges, lean enterprise applications, and knowledge management to achieve breakthroughs.

In the forefront of these initiatives you will find industrial engineers developing the strategies with executive leaders, developing the operational and economic plans with line and staff leaders, integrating the effectiveness of teams, and measuring progress.

This is also true for aviation and homeland security changes since the horrific terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. aviation and transportation industries changed forever after that.

Who other than industrial engineers - with their focused concern for design, improvement, and installation of integrated systems of people, material, information, equipment, and energy - possess the skill training and applied solutions for today's challenges facing the aerospace industry? Only industrial engineers have the specialized skills in the mathematical, physical and social sciences, coupled with the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design to specify, predict, and evaluate the results to be obtained from such systems.

Is there a future in the aerospace industry for industrial and systems engineers? You bet there is! The horizon is limitless.

Rich Hansen 

Recruitment frustration

A: I share your frustration in that many companies do not know what industrial engineering is all about. In the end they often convert MEs or EEs into IEs, so why not hire an IE at the outset?

Having said that, I think there are a few things you can do. First, discuss this problem with the faculty. It may be that the department has an advisory board from industry that can be helpful. The faculty may also have contacts with local firms. Second, working through the university's career services office is a good idea. Ask that someone meet with a group of students and faculty from the department so you can explain what industrial engineering is all about and can encourage them to get IEs on the list of students to be recruited by various firms. Third, you should ask your department chair to contact alumni of the department who are working in industry to have them push their human resources departments to include IEs on the list of students to be recruited

IIE has a new video that explains industrial engineering. Called "Industrial Engineering: Careers for the Real World," it runs about 10 minutes. You might want to order a copy from IIE and use it with companies and your career services office.

Mark S. Daskin 

M.B.A or P.E.?

A: In my 31 years as an industrial engineering professor, what I advised my students (and what I told my son, who is a recent IE grad) is to get a master's degree first, then work on the license. In today's job market, the master's, whether it's a business or industrial engineering degree, is the ticket you'll need for advancement.

The P.E. license is a wonderful credential, but it does not open the doors that a master's degree does.

Larry Aft, P.E. 

IE or IET?

A: A B.S. in industrial engineering technology is not the same as a B.S. in industrial engineering. The IE degree requires a math and science background that the IET does not. But that means you probably will need to take a year or more of math and science that were not required in your business degree. For the IET degree, you probably have the math and science already done.

Unfortunately, many companies will hire an IET to do an IE's job, not knowing the difference. The difference is in the skill set. An IET is a technician who is assigned the data collection and some analysis work (in other words, time studies). The IE does the design and decision making. The IE can easily move up into technical management, but the IET cannot. The companies in the know will pay a differential to get an IE. Obviously, to be licensed, you need to have an IE degree.

Timothy J. Greene, Ph.D. 

An IE abroad

A: The biggest obstacle to working overseas is that most countries have immigration restrictions like the United States has that prevent a foreigner from taking a job without the appropriate work visa. Those visas are hard to get. The best and easiest way to make it happen is to get an international job through a U.S. company that has operations overseas. They can sponsor your husband to get the appropriate work permits. Many times they like to have U.S. people working for several years overseas before coming home.

Foreign companies will not want to hire your husband and sponsor his visa if they think he is not permanently in their country. It costs money and time to sponsor an international resident.

So you need to approach this job search like you would a search in the United States. Decide where you want to go, find out which companies have operations there, and approach companies through the university's placement service or its human resources department. Knowing the language of the work site is a must. Having been there or lived there before is a plus. Make sure they know how long you want to be there. Consulting companies are the best approach because they move people around often and understand mobility.

International experience is always a plus, but permanency is important, too.

Timothy J. Greene, Ph.D. 

Building an IE career

A: An IE degree is excellent preparation because IEs are trained to think analytically and have several tools available to improve the performance of any type of organization. IEs also have the advantage of good communication skills and an ability to promote teamwork and get everyone working toward the same goal - the project - without the animosity that characterizes most construction (and reduces project success and, ultimately, stakeholder satisfaction).

An IE would need to take several courses in construction-related topics in order to hit the ground running: legal aspects of construction, construction materials and equipment, construction project management, blueprint reading and estimating, construction safety, specifications and building codes, and economic and financial planning for construction, for example.

Of course one could start work for a construction company if one had knowledge of materials, equipment, specifications, building codes, and construction management and then take continuing education courses to fill the gaps. Another route is to earn an M.S. in construction management after obtaining a B.S.I.E.

A number of construction companies are beginning to intitute quality improvement programs, and that is a natural for IEs. Increasingly, forward-thinking companies need IE expertise to apply advanced concepts such as automation and lean methods.

Lincoln Forbes, Ph.D., P.E. 

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