The impact of engineering solutions on today’s society is vast. While the increased access to artificial intelligence has provided immense opportunities for engineers in the manufacturing industry, the role of mechanical and industrial engineering continues to touch most business sectors. For example, industrial engineers have contributed to system improvements in healthcare, transportation, and emergency management. Industries are constantly striving to innovate, enhance, and refine mechanical systems, processes, and machinery used in everyday production.
One of the ways to create efficiency in this field is to employ skilled mechanical and industrial engineers. Typically, these professionals are highly creative, always thinking about new and improved ways to solve challenges. For those considering an industrial or mechanical engineering degree to advance their career, it’s essential to understand the educational requirements and determine if they fit into your personal and professional life.
Here’s an in-depth overview of mechanical and industrial engineering, what you can expect from a master’s degree program in these fields, and how to choose a degree that’s right for you.
What Is Mechanical Engineering?
Mechanical engineering is a well-known discipline in engineering that focuses on machines or things that move. While broad in scope, engineers in this field are responsible for the entire lifecycle of creating machinery. They initiate product design and develop prototypes for products and machine components. Then, mechanical engineers build and test these products before giving the green light to mass manufacturing or production. Mechanical engineers can also work closely in materials science and engineering. This specialization combines engineering, physics, and chemistry to solve problems in industries such as nano-, bio-, and information technology.
According to Northeastern University’s Employer Engagement and Career Design department, mechanical engineers “work on power-producing machines such as refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, machine tools, material handling systems, elevators and escalators, industrial production equipment, and robots used in manufacturing.” These professionals play key roles in a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, biotechnology, computers, electronics, microelectromechanical systems, energy conversion, robotics and automation, and manufacturing.
What Is Industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineering is concerned with the design, analysis, and control of production and service operations. Industrial engineers are responsible for improving, managing, and designing systems of operation. These exceptionally skilled professionals work in various industries, such as manufacturing, distribution, transportation, healthcare, and mercantile services.
Due to the supervisory role many industrial engineers take on, many also consider pursuing additional education in engineering management. For professionals more interested in the analytical side of industrial engineering, a master’s in data analytics in engineering is incredibly valuable as well.
The same department at Northeastern notes that industrial engineers “determine the most effective ways for an organization to use the basic factors of operations: people, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service. They are the bridge between management goals and effective performance.”
4 Things to Expect From a Master’s Degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Advancing your career through a master’s degree can pay off quickly—often before graduation. From adding professional network connections and opening doors to higher salaries to gaining extensive industry knowledge, a master’s degree offers plenty of opportunities for a return on your investment.
Here is some of what can be expected when you choose an innovative mechanical and industrial engineering master’s program.
1. More Employment Opportunities
There are always employment opportunities in the workplace for mechanical and industrial engineers. Many well-trained professionals with this degree are finding jobs at companies such as Amazon, Wayfair, and Tesla.
According to a government report, there has been a recent uptick in job openings in the field. Industrial engineering job openings increased by 4.7 percent between 2020 and 2022. Open positions for mechanical engineering also saw slight growth of 1 percent during the same period, proving there is no shortage of employment opportunities.
Northeastern University graduates Jake and Jared Covell are proof that earning a master’s degree in mechanical and industrial engineering can lead to dream jobs. Jake finished his co-op with SpaceX which led to a full-time position. Jared completed his co-op at Tesla and continued in a permanent capacity at the company.
2. Higher Earning Potential
Earning a master’s degree in this field can also positively affect your paycheck. Data from a government report analyzing engineer professional profiles shows the median annual salary for mechanical engineers with a bachelor’s degree is $95,600. Those with a master’s degree, however, experience an increase of up to 11.7 percent in earnings, equating to a median annual salary of $106,800.
On the other hand, industrial engineers experience an 8.8 percent increase in their median annual earnings by attaining a master’s education—going from $92,000 for bachelor’s degree holders to $100,100 for those with a master’s. However, the increases don’t stop there. Graduate-level degrees also provide new opportunities for promotions and higher-level positions. Both of these scenarios typically increase earning potential as well.
3. Boost in Real-World Experience
While learning basic engineering concepts, mechanical systems, manufacturing processes, and service systems through coursework is a major benefit of an engineering education, lectures alone don’t make engineers competitive in today’s job market. Master’s programs often add much-needed hands-on experience to help students put engineering principles into practice.
Graduate programs that take an experiential learning approach to education prepare students for common challenges they will face in the engineering industry outside of the classroom. Northeastern University is one of the most well-known institutions that focuses on students converting engineering knowledge and methodologies into practice. For example, industrial engineering majors are given multiple opportunities to participate in various co-op experiences.
In addition to the practical benefits of real-world experience, it also helps make engineers more marketable to prospective employers. According to a government report analyzing a large database of engineering job postings, almost half of mechanical engineer job postings require a minimum of three to six years of experience. Industrial engineering professionals face similar requirements, with 34 percent of job postings listing a requisite four to six years of experience.
4. Well-Developed Skill Sets
While there are numerous skills that can help mechanical or industrial engineers be successful, sought-after professionals have mastered specific in-demand capabilities. Engineering professionals with a developed combination of these hard and soft skills are often master’s degree holders. As a result, it’s critical to find a program that prioritizes the skills you need to achieve your personal and professional goals.
According to a government report analyzing professional profiles of engineers in the field, the top mechanical engineering skills include:
- New product development
- Mechanical design
According to that same report, the most in-demand skills industrial engineering professionals should develop are:
- Lean manufacturing
- Process improvements and modeling
- Product development
- Data analysis
- Supply chain management
Choose the Engineering Degree That’s Right for You
As you conduct your research to determine which graduate degree program is the best fit, consider what’s most important to you. Do you want to graduate with a strong network of high-level, professional mechanical and industrial engineers? Do you want real-world experience in the field? Does an interdisciplinary, innovative, and experiential learning program closely align with your personal and professional interests?
While many currently debate whether a master’s degree is worth it in today’s current job market, there is no disputing the invaluable benefit of learning an industry in the real world rather than inside a classroom. Experiential learning opportunities such as real-world research and co-ops can help you evaluate your career interests and forge a path forward. Northeastern’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering offers a number of programs that focus on all of the above with a unique, holistic approach.