Supply Chain Teams Should Consider Hiring Industrial Engineers

I’d always thought that the best places to recruit new graduates for a career in supply chain were universities with strong supply chain and logistics programs, such as Georgia Tech, MIT, Penn State, and the University of Tennessee (to name a few). The thought of hiring industrial engineers never occurred to me. But after a recent conversation with Andres Carrano from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where he is an Associate Professor in the Industrial Engineering department and the Director of the Toyota Production Systems Laboratory, I realized how truly ignorant I was about industrial engineering—and I’m a guy with an academic background!

I thought of Industrial Engineers (IEs) as guys running around with stop watches setting work standards for factories and warehouses. While there is a need for those folks, it is a very small niche. It turns out that only a few industrial engineers do that type of work after graduation. Many IEs are actually well grounded in core supply chain concepts. But they are engineers and the IE department reports up through the engineering school, so it’s not surprising that IEs approach operational productivity from a mathematical perspective. In contrast, supply chain management programs typically report up through the business school, which gives students a better understanding how operations interacts with the finance and marketing functions.

Traditionally, a major aspect of industrial engineering was planning factory layouts, conducting time and motion studies, and designing assembly lines. Now that “lean” has become a prominent continuous improvement methodology, industrial engineers work to eliminate not just sources of time waste, but also money, materials, energy, and other resources. 

This standardization of tasks also encompasses both ergonomics and human factors. The focus of ergonomics is “neck down” – making sure that a person can work productively in a safe manner that does not cause injuries. With the aging of our workforce, companies need to pay much more attention to Baby Boom Logistics.    

Human factors design is “neck up” – it is focused on the non-ambiguous cues the mind needs to do a task consistently and productively. In lean, Kanban is an example of a cue that signals more just-in-time inventory is needed at a worker’s station. 

In addition to ergonomics and human factors, there are three other areas that RIT’s industrial engineering students must take core courses in:  Production Systems, Manufacturing, and Modeling. 

This is how RIT defines Industrial Engineering on its website:

“Industrial engineers design, optimize, and manage the process by which products are made and distributed across the world (i.e., global supply chain) or the way services are delivered in industries such as banking, health care, or entertainment. Industrial engineers ensure that high-quality products and services are delivered in a cost-effective manner.”

I’m a big believer in math. At times I’ve found myself talking glibly about some supply chain technology only to discover later, after conducting ROI research, that I was often overstating the case (although, in some instances, I was actually understating it). 

In conclusion, if you are looking to hire graduates for your supply chain organization, don’t just limit yourself to schools with supply chain programs; also look at graduates from industrial engineering programs.


  1. Steve,

    I agree with you: industrial engineers make for great hires within supply chain groups.

    But, I wanted to point out something since I am a professor of industrial engineering at Georgia Tech. Much of Georgia Tech’s well-regarded supply chain program resides within our department of Industrial and Systems Engineering! I’ve been teaching supply chain and logistics courses to these engineers, and the focus is on using quantitative models to understand logistics performance and improve logistics decision-making. Next year, we are starting a new Masters degree in something we call “supply chain engineering”, which I think is right along the lines you describe in your post.

    Best regards,
    Alan Erera

  2. Thank you for writing this article. I finally feel like I belong!

    I am an Industrial Engineer from Georgia Tech and had struggled with the fact that I did not join my “stop watch” palette counting colleagues. After an early career in I.T. I now am the Managing Director of Asia for a leading EDI/SaaS company who daily solves problems for third-party logistics providers, carriers, retailers, etc.. around the globe.

    Industrial Engineers are taught to look at “good” and make it “great.” In the logistics world this is what allows companies to stand ahead of the competition and I am more than happy to help them get there.

    Thanks again,

  3. Steve, nice to read about another facet of the academics of logistics.

    Alan and Chris, you’ll be happy to hear that industrial engineering programs at Georgia Tech (and RIT and others) have a place on CTSI-Global’s new Supply Chain Scholars page on Facebook. 😉

    Kind regards,

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