Guest Commentary: Industrial Engineers Fulfill Supply Chain Requirements

I came across a recent article in Logistics Viewpoints by Steve Banker recommending the hiring Industrial Engineers (IEs) for Supply Chain Teams. Transportation and third party logistics organizations have utilized IE skills for decades. As an IE myself, and having trained and managed Industrial Engineers for supply chain design functions for more than a decade, I want to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on the relevant skills that strengthen supply chain professionals and how IEs are well positioned to help meet these requirements. 

In the last 20 years, Industrial Engineering curriculums have diversified their focus from manufacturing to other functions, such as supply chain, logistics, information systems design, healthcare, and many other areas that require strong analytical and modeling skills. In other words, IEs have honed in on areas where applying their traditional engineering skills could produce a high level of improvement resulting in tremendous business value. I give kudos to those innovative and entrepreneurial leaders among the IE community for identifying and realizing this opportunity to contribute, and for providing a wider employment base for their fellow IEs.

From my experience, you can break down the supply chain skill set into two parts; fundamentals and domain knowledge. I believe Industrial Engineering schools do a very good job on the fundamentals. However, their counterparts in the business school do a better job in providing domain understanding.

In terms of fundamentals, IEs are educated and trained in the following:

  • Process and lean thinking
  • Structured approach to solving problems
  • Theoretical background in probability, statistics, simulation, and optimization
  • Data mining and analysis
  • Financial concepts such as time value of money, ROI, breakeven analysis, cost accounting
  • Management and communication skills

Having graduated from two different IE schools, and from my experience with other IE schools through collaborative learning with professional organizations, I can vouch for the fact that these fundamentals are covered more than adequately. These skills are a perfect match with many entry level and early career supply chain jobs. Later, IEs often take part in Six Sigma training that perfectly complements the strong analytical foundation they learned in their IE education.

On the other hand, domain knowledge transfer is an area for significant improvement in many IE schools. I have yet to find a comprehensive and convincing reason for this shortcoming. I believe IE schools can do much more to narrow the gap in supply chain domain knowledge and help their graduates shorten the learning curve when they start their supply chain professional career. I would like to encourage IE school administrators to provide incentives for faculty involvement in the supply chain practitioner community.  Some schools are beginning to embrace this partnership but it is still not a standard outreach for most IE programs.

Dr. Iyoob has held significant roles at Transplace in his decade of service to the company. He currently leads all engineering related activities and is responsible for the delivery, talent, innovation and quality of all engineering related activities. Prior to Transplace,  Dr. Iyoob was a logistics engineer at J. B. Hunt with responsibilities in transportation optimization studies and held an engineering role at Freightliner Specialty Vehicles. Dr. Iyoob holds a bachelor’s and master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from Oklahoma State University. His doctorate in Industrial Engineering was earned from the University of Arkansas.

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