Is Industrial Engineering Suffering From a Talent Gap?
October 1, 2013
If the U.S. is to undergo the hoped-for manufacturing resurgence in the coming years, the sector will need industrial engineers (IEs), the professionals trained to design and optimize factories. Many believe that education in the field is lacking and too few students show an interest in the career. Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said at the recent Wal-Mart U.S. Manufacturing Summit As IMT reported recently In the 2011 study of the talent gap Some sources suggest that the talent gap in IE is largely structural: The demand for trained professionals is high, and the supply is too low. Rich Hutchings, vice president of engineering at Manpower's Experis division Hutchings also cites a misalignment between companies' needs for expertise and the skill levels of available workers. "Industrial engineers especially face a lot of expectations in areas like quality, lean, and Six Sigma," he said. "Companies are looking for somebody with 10 or 15 years' experience. Book smarts only get you so far. Rarely can a younger candidate get done what they have to do without that previous on-the-job experience." Shahrukh Irani The Toyota Production System (TPS), precursor to lean manufacturing, revolutionized large-scale manufacturing, but Irani believes such practical approaches have too often been neglected in IE education -- to the detriment of graduating engineers. "Most faculty have no manufacturing experience, no industry experience, have not spent time working in a company," he said. Irani added that "the curricula of today have to be reimagined from the ground up. We have to have industrial engineers who understand lean and Six Sigma and beyond that. If we are going to turn around manufacturing, we have to have IEs who also know computer science, robotics, wireless, mobile computing, and flexible manufacturing. They have to know how to set up and run a factory." Douglas R. Rabeneck, an IE who works with companies through the operations workforce optimization practice at management consulting firm Accenture Rabeneck said one of the important ways engineering schools have helped prepare industrial engineering students has been through cooperative education, giving a student "the opportunity to do engineering work for a company while you're in school," he said. "I think that's been very successful. It takes longer to graduate, but when you do you already have a year or two of experience. It's a great advantage." The shortage of industrial engineers, Rabeneck added, has more to do with the lack of interest in the engineering profession at the level of secondary education than any failure in higher education to provide practical training. "I'm hearing there are not enough students coming out of secondary education who have an interest in STEM education, in gaining those skills, in going the engineering route," he said.