44 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Always a better way:
The staying power of an ISE career
Full impact of industrial and systems engineers often misunderstood, overlooked
By Casey R. Spansel
September 2019 | ISE Magazine 45
Industrial and systems engineering is founded on the idea
that there is always a better way, a mantra that rings true
in all aspects of life. This article demonstrates the unique-
ness of this discipline and the impact and breadth of its
applications.
What is it that makes businesses tick these days? Is it
innovation? Brutal efficiency? Unparalleled quality? Elevated
customer service? It most likely is all of these. Is it possible to
achieve all of these things without sacrificing one for the other?
Arguably. But who possesses the tools to make this a reality?
These questions, at first glance, may seem rhetorical, but
there are people who are specially trained in these areas: In-
dustrial and systems engineers.
ISE remains a misunderstood and overlooked discipline not
only in the realm of engineering but also in the business world.
Its roots date as far back as the Industrial Revolution, a time
that marked the beginning of mass production in factories. It
was then that pioneers Frederick Taylor and Frank and Lillian
Gilbreth revolutionized time and motion studies, the back-
bone of the ISE discipline. ISE is not new to the game, nor
its applications and techniques. Given this information, why
is it that, during a time when these skills are most coveted by
companies, ISEs still remain in the shadows of other engineer-
ing disciplines?
As an industrial and systems engineer, allow me to intro-
duce some facts into this argument that include the business
impact of ISEs, their staying power even with the dawn of In-
dustry 4.0 and the unique skill set that separates us from other
engineers and business majors.
ISE: Individual, salient, enduring
These three words are what I believe encompass the attributes
of an industrial and systems engineer:
Individual: having striking or unusual characteristics
Salient: most noticeable or important
Enduring: continuing or long-lasting
Individual. An exploration of these characteristics begins
at the academic level in a comparison of undergraduate studies
of industrial engineers, mechanical engineers and civil engi-
neers at Louisiana State University. Figure 1 (Page 46) displays
the contrast between these disciplines. While core classes re-
main in line with each other, industrial engineering drastically
shifts away from mechanical and civil engineering once the
student reaches the fifth semester of studies. The ISE curricu-
lum arguably constitutes more of a business case and contains
more of what businesses are moving toward in this day and
age: basic and advanced statistics, lean manufacturing, quality
control and Six Sigma and supply chain.
While ISEs share a similar skill set as other engineering dis-
ciplines, such as problem-solving and critical thinking, what
makes industrial engineering unique is where its focus lies: op-
timization. In “What It Takes To Be a World Class Engineer,
Brian Sage states that optimization is linked to a company’s
nancial strength because of resource allocation and the ability
to streamline processes and reduce costs.
It should be noted that this is not just limited to manufactur-
ing; it’s something all businesses strive to accomplish within
their organization, and thus inherently diverse in its applica-
tion. Companies can benefit from this application of knowl-
edge to one’s business, and the results from these improve-
ments are visible through a number of different performance
I
46 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Always a better way: The staying power of an ISE career
indicators, in addition to monetary gains.
Salient. ISEs are taught the skills needed to look at an or-
ganization in a broader sense and are equipped with a crucial
mix of business and technical skills. Businesses require engi-
neers to solve not only engineering problems but customer,
organizational and stakeholder problems. Adding organiza-
tional context and business context helps broaden engineers
problem-solving skills and allows them to make critical busi-
ness decisions.
This field of study also has a large impact on business be-
cause one needs to look at a much larger picture than that of
other engineering disciplines. Eliyahu Goldratt points out in
The Goal that when applying a methodology such as Theory
of Constraints, one must view how increasing throughput on
one bottleneck affects other processes involved, and what oth-
er bottlenecks may be produced as a result. He goes on to state
that one must look at the monetary implications of making
these changes; information about costs and production prog-
ress should also not only be fed back to the bottlenecks, but
also as a way to foresee and avoid problems.
In other words, to be an effective industrial engineer, one
must not only create solutions, but also view possible outcomes
of how the solutions affect the entire system.
Enduring. Manufacturing, in addition to other industries,
is moving toward high-tech automation of processes and tasks.
Where do ISEs fit into the world
of automation and how can process
improvement methods be applied
to something automated when
there are few or no people working
on tasks within a manufacturing
facility or business?
Many in manufacturing indus-
tries no doubt have indulged in
fantasies of a fully automated facil-
ity where robots of all shapes and
sizes do jobs for which they were
programmed, from manufacturing
to quality control, assembling and
shipping finished goods. While this
may be a novel concept, execution
and maintenance of such a high-
tech system proves to be a pains-
taking process. Not even Toyota
Production Systems, a company
well-known for operational excel-
lence, is immune to the problems
that arise from automating too
much too fast.
Not to condemn those who
dream of a fully automated facility,
but there is one important factor
missing from these misguided fantasies of automation: people.
This is where the enduring part comes into play for ISEs in
that people are still a critical component in automated systems.
In an August 2018 ISE article titled “Dont Count Humans
Out,” (link.iise.org/ISEAugust2018_Liker) Jeffrey K. Liker
pointed out that not only are people needed to integrate ro-
bots into operations in a way that is fiscally responsible, they
are also needed to identify and eliminate waste in the same
manner, whether it is applied to people or robots/machines.
Using industrial and systems engineering methodologies aids
in making these decisions by keeping companies from losing
flexibility and taking on high fixed costs that are too difficult
to meet.
Bridging the gap
I began my studies at Louisiana State University in mechanical
engineering, aspiring to design and create something that will
change the world, like so many others. Those dreams were
brought to a screeching halt when I reached thermodynamics
class, when I realized this discipline was not for me.
Soon afterward, a friend from mechanical engineering told
me she was switching to an industrial engineering major at
the start of next semester and convinced me to look into it.
After that encounter, and by doing due diligence and research,
I decided to switch majors that following semester and never
FIGURE 1
Undergraduate studies comparison
This table compares the undergraduate core curriculum of industrial, mechanical and civil
engineering at Louisiana State University. While there are similarities between all three
disciplines, the industrial engineering course of study differs greatly from that of both mechanical
and civil engineering.
September 2019 | ISE Magazine 47
looked back.
What I didnt know at the time was my journey started out
like many others in industrial engineering whom I have met.
For example, while conducting interviews for a summer in-
ternship position at my company, one question I ask candidates
is “How did you hear about or end up in industrial and sys-
tems engineering?” Out of the 10 students interviewed, eight
started out in a different field of study before switching majors
to industrial and systems engineering, and most had not even
heard of ISE beforehand.
There are too many instances of this for it to be coinciden-
tal, leading me to believe that outreach for industrial engineers
in Louisiana and possibly other areas is virtually nonexistent.
This can be attributed to a multitude of reasons, one of which
is due to most contributions and deliverables of ISEs being in-
tangible, unlike engines, rockets, bridges, apps or the other
things engineers build and design. This also makes the subject
matter difficult in trying to intrigue and engage a younger au-
dience. While it may be beneficial to speak to businesses about
how ISEs can improve their bottom line, that isnt necessarily
what a teenager dreams of doing. There are fewer of us than
most disciplines, making the time-consuming job of outreach
and raising awareness for the discipline more difficult.
Another issue ISEs face is being pigeonholed to manufac-
turing. Perhaps this view stems from its initial applications
during the Industrial Revolution, making it difficult to part
ways with the industry where it began. I would venture to say
most employers see the word “industrial” and believe an ISE’s
skills and knowledge are limited to traditional manufacturing.
As stated above, this is a common misconception. However,
industrial and systems engineering continues to gain attention
outside of manufacturing in fields such as healthcare and gov-
ernment agencies, showcasing the breadth of the disciplines
applications.
With all of this in mind, how do we ensure the future of
industrial and systems engineering remains intact? Start with
the age old question of “What came first, the chicken or the
egg?” Or in this case, which came first: job availability, small
enrollment numbers in universities or little to no outreach?
The root cause of the problem lies in outreach and aware-
ness of young adults, college-aged students and professionals. I
earlier discussed outreach for young adults and at the univer-
sity level, but it is also worth noting the paramount importance
of increasing awareness in the professional world. Doing so
will open new avenues, create more jobs and increase demand
for the discipline. This, in turn, will increase enrollment num-
bers in universities and pique the interest of aspiring engineers
everywhere.
There is always a better way
Somewhere along the way, I became disillusioned about the
current state of industrial and systems engineering, resigned
IISE: Helping to make
things work better
As a way to further serve the members and interests of
industrial and systems engineering, IISE’s Strategic Plan 2020
(https://link.iise.org/StrategicPlan2020) incorporates outreach
and awareness into its four pillars: Integrate the profession
worldwide; Include all for diversity, equity and cultural
prosperity; Strengthen the image, advocacy and impact of ISE
professionals; and Excel in customer experience for members,
partners and affiliates.
The Strengthen pillar, in particular, promises as its goal
“to recognize and promote our impact and broadly convey
our contributions” achieved through promotional efforts
across varied platforms that highlight the success stories
of organizations and individuals in industrial and systems
engineering and their undeniable impact. It also calls for
providing information to enhance understanding of the
profession through career and educational opportunities such
as conferences, competitions and membership incentives.
As stated, the plan seeks to set “a path with priorities to
achieve goals and measure successes. It is also a living
document that will evolve over time as the profession and
technology continues to shape and reshape the landscape of
ISEs from students to academia to industry.”
The award-winning video in the 2019 IISE Industry Advisory
Board (IAB) YouTube Video Contest sponsored by Tompkins
International, “What will you be with IE?” sums up the wide
scope of professions and applications in the profession. You
can view it and other award-winning videos at link.iise.org/
IABvideos2019 and see a sample of slideshows and other
presentations about industrial and systems engineering at link.
iise.org/WhatISEsDo.
The Board of Trustees gathered at IISE headquarters
with staff and guests to develop the new strategic plan.
48 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Always a better way: The staying power of an ISE career
to the fact that maybe this is just the way things are and al-
ways will be. When I read a piece by Kevin McManus in a
recent ISE magazine, my hope was renewed and my feelings
and observations about how the world views the profession
felt justified. He wrote: “We definitely win the award for the
least understood engineering discipline. Our challenge is get-
ting others to see that we are capable of improving more than
just’ manufacturing operations and that perhaps our greatest
contributions to the world of work can be made in nonindus-
trial arenas.”
The irony of the situation is not lost on me, and I refocused
my attention on a fundamental concept that I had lost sight of:
There is always a better way.
Focusing on what connects ISE to others is just as important
as focusing on what sets us apart, which is the tireless effort of
always finding a better way, or continuous improvement. The
concept of continuous improvement is not foreign or new and
is something most strive to execute, whether it be at a business
or personal level. It is here that the true value of ISE lies, acting
as a guide through the turbulent landscape of today’s world
and ushering in the change required to keep progressing and
marching forward.
Casey R. Spansel is a native of New Orleans and received her bach-
elor’s degree in industrial engineering from Louisiana State University
in 2012. She is currently pursuing her masters in engineering man-
agement at the University of New Orleans, is an IISE professional
member and works full time at Ruelco Inc. Her main focus is lean
manufacturing, quality assurance, QMS implementation and ISO
9001 compliance. Recently she has turned her attention to industrial
engineering outreach and awareness for the discipline, particularly in
Louisiana.
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How does an ISE
education measure up?
A study by Brian L. Yoder in the academic journal
Engineering by the Numbers reported enrollment
in undergraduate engineering programs reached
619,095 in 2017, a 3% increase over the prior year
and a 54% increase over undergraduate enrollment
in 2008. There were 124,477 degrees awarded,
the highest level in 10 years, a 10% increase over
2016 and a 68% gain since 2008.
The report found that mechanical engineering
held the top spot for the number of bachelor’s
degrees awarded in 2016-2017 with a total of
30,030, followed by computer sciences (15,305),
electrical (12,893), civil (11,920) and chemical
(10,973). Industrial engineering ranked eighth
among awarded bachelor’s degrees in 2016-2017
with a total of 6,441 and engineering management
next to last at 554.
Here are some quick facts about industrial
engineers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, link.
iise.org/BLS-ISEstats:
2018 median pay: $87,040 per year, $41.84
per hour
Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s
degree
Number of jobs, 2018: 279,500
Predicted employment change, 2016-26:
25,100