Given its place as one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, you might think of engineering as a close relative of the field of science. However, some branches of engineering, like industrial engineering, may have more in common with business than with the conventional image of an engineer. As the discipline of engineering that focuses on improving production processes in industries such as manufacturing, industrial engineering may be more closely related to a business and finance major called supply chain management. Either field of study has advantages and disadvantages. While industrial engineering’s STEM foundations mean that the curriculum will be rigorous, the degree also boasts a higher salary than supply chain management. For students with the qualities best suited for success in the industrial engineer occupation, the preference for an engineering background rather than a business background and creativity rather than organizational skills are appealing aspects of the degree path.
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When looking only at earnings, industrial engineers outperform business professionals in supply chain management by more than $10,000 per year. The median wage for industrial engineers is $85,880, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. The highest paying industries for industrial engineers are computer and electronic product manufacturing, with a median wage of $94,120, and professional, scientific and technical services, which pays a $93,830 median salary. Both industries account for 13 percent of employment in the occupation, and one in four industrial engineers works in these industries.
Supply chain management degrees can lead to an array of different jobs in the business and financial field. For logisticians, one career in which a supply chain management degree is valuable, the median salary is $74,590, the BLS reported. The federal government pays the highest wages, with a median salary of $84,200. Another career opportunity with a supply chain management degree, buyer or purchasing agent, has a median wage of $62,120, according to the BLS.
Buyers who work their way up to purchasing manager roles, however, make a median wage of $115,760. To rise to this position where the median salary is six figures, you typically need to work as a buyer or purchasing agent for at least five years, the BLS reported.
Engineering Over Business Background
Do you envision yourself as an engineer, a designer and developer of new technology and processes, or as a business professional, striving to raise profits in a money-spinning enterprise? The answer to this question can tell you which degree is right for you. Industrial engineers and supply chain managers do some of the same activities, including helping businesses streamline their operations as efficiently as possible, but they approach these tasks from two very different backgrounds.
Most business degree programs require only basic math courses, like business calculus, and few classes in life and physical sciences. In ABET-accredited engineering programs, at least one full year of your four years of undergraduate study will be spent on science and math coursework. While business students take foundational courses in a wide range of business subjects, from finance to marketing, the core of an engineering student’s curriculum is coursework in engineering principles and practices. Students who major in any discipline of engineering learn to apply their skills through laboratory work, design clinics and fieldwork.
It is hard to say that one approach is objectively better than the other. However, many students will find that they personally like engineering better than business or vice versa. For students who shy away from higher level math and would rather study operations management, database management, supply chain management software and system dynamics, a supply chain management program offered by a business school is likely a better choice. Students who thrive in math and science courses and are eager to take classes in manufacturing systems design and production systems planning would likely see the technical aspects of an engineering background as a major benefit of choosing the program.
Hands-on experience is important in both industrial engineering and supply chain management degree programs, and students of both majors often benefit from internships or co-op programs.
Requires Creativity Over Organization Skills
Part of finding the right career fit for you is considering your personal strengths and characteristics as well as your academic interests. The differences in the function and career preparation for industrial engineers and supply chain management professionals also extends to these personality traits. Industrial engineers need the creativity to come up with new designs and processes, according to the BLS. Dreaming up ways to get rid of wasted resources and time might not match the typical notion of creativity, but brainstorming new and better ways to accomplish a goal certainly does take creative thinking.
Business professionals working in supply chain management positions don’t have to be creative, since their goal is less about finding new solutions and more about keeping the supply chain flowing smoothly. Instead, the BLS warns that having the organizational skills to maintain written records and stay on top of numerous projects even in a hectic business setting is important for supply chain personnel such as logisticians. For creative types, the chance to use their imagination as part of their career is a big benefit of an industrial engineering degree.
Problem-solving, critical-thinking and communication skills are important for success in roles in both industrial engineering and supply chain management, the BLS reported.