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Working as a Human Factors Engineer

What Does a Human Factors Engineer Do

Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Duties

Industrial engineers typically do the following:

  • Review production schedules, engineering specifications, process flows, and other information to understand methods that are applied and activities that take place in manufacturing and services
  • Figure out how to manufacture parts or products, or deliver services, with maximum efficiency
  • Develop management control systems to make financial planning and cost analysis more efficient
  • Enact quality control procedures to resolve production problems or minimize costs
  • Design control systems to coordinate activities and production planning in order to ensure that products meet quality standards
  • Confer with clients about product specifications, vendors about purchases, management personnel about manufacturing capabilities, and staff about the status of projects

Industrial engineers apply their skills to many different situations, from manufacturing to healthcare systems to business administration. For example, they design systems for

  • moving heavy parts within manufacturing plants
  • delivering goods from a company to customers, including finding the most profitable places to locate manufacturing or processing plants
  • evaluating job performance
  • paying workers

Industrial engineers focus on how to get the work done most efficiently, balancing many factors, such as time, number of workers needed, available technology, actions workers need to take, achieving the end product with no errors, workers’ safety, environmental concerns, and cost.

To find ways to reduce waste and improve performance, industrial engineers study product requirements carefully. Then they use mathematical methods and models to design manufacturing and information systems to meet those requirements most efficiently.

Their versatility allows industrial engineers to engage in activities that are useful to a variety of businesses, governments, and nonprofits. For example, industrial engineers engage in supply chain management to help businesses minimize inventory costs, conduct quality assurance activities to help businesses keep their customer bases satisfied, and work in the growing field of project management as industries across the economy seek to control costs and maximize efficiencies.

How To Become a Human Factors Engineer

Industrial engineers must have a bachelor’s degree. Employers also value experience, so cooperative education engineering programs at universities are also valuable.

Education

Industrial engineers need a bachelor’s degree, typically in industrial engineering. However, many industrial engineers have degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, manufacturing engineering, industrial engineering technology, or general engineering. Students interested in studying industrial engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; computer science; and sciences such as chemistry and physics.

Bachelor’s degree programs include lectures in classrooms and practice in laboratories. Courses include statistics, production systems planning, and manufacturing systems design, among others. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative education programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

A few colleges and universities offer 5-year degree programs in industrial engineering that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion, and several more offer similar programs in mechanical engineering. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as a professor at a college or university or to engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative education plans combine classroom study with practical work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Programs in industrial engineering are accredited by ABET.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Industrial engineers use creativity and ingenuity to design new production processes in many kinds of settings in order to reduce the use of material resources, time, or labor while accomplishing the same goal.

Critical-thinking skills. Industrial engineers create new systems to solve problems related to waste and inefficiency. Solving these problems requires logic and reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to the problems.

Listening skills. These engineers often operate in teams, but they also must solicit feedback from customers, vendors, and production staff. They must listen to customers and clients in order to fully grasp ideas and problems the first time.

Math skills. Industrial engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. In designing facilities for manufacturing and processes for providing services, these engineers deal with several issues at once, from workers’ safety to quality assurance.

Speaking skills. Industrial engineers sometimes have to explain their instructions to production staff or technicians before they can make written instructions available. Being able to explain concepts clearly and quickly is crucial to preventing costly mistakes and loss of time.

Writing skills. Industrial engineers must prepare documentation for other engineers or scientists, or for future reference. The documentation must be coherent and explain their thinking clearly so that the others can understand the information.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an industrial engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Several states require engineers to take continuing education in order to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licenses from other states, as long as the other state’s licensing requirements meet or exceed their own licensing requirements.

Advancement

Beginning industrial engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classes or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, industrial engineers may advance to become technical specialists, such as quality engineers or facility planners. In that role, they supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Obtaining a master’s degree facilitates such specialization and thus advancement.

Many industrial engineers move into management positions because the work they do is closely related to the work of managers. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

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Average Salary$84,663
Job Growth Rate8%

Human Factors Engineer Career Paths

Top Careers Before Human Factors Engineer

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Average Salary for a Human Factors Engineer

Human Factors Engineers in America make an average salary of $84,663 per year or $41 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $111,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $64,000 per year.
Average Salary
$84,663

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range95k - 145k$118k$118,027
Austin, TX
Salary Range80k - 127k$102k$101,744
Vancouver, WA
Salary Range80k - 111k$94k$94,419
Philadelphia, PA
Salary Range74k - 116k$93k$93,055
Memphis, TN
Salary Range74k - 113k$92k$91,934
Cambridge, MA
Salary Range75k - 109k$91k$91,027
$58k
$145k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Senior Human Factors Engineer
Senior Human Factors Engineer
Smith & Nephew
Smith & Nephew
01/26/2021
01/26/2021
$100,00001/26/2021
$100,000
Senior Human Factors Engineer
Senior Human Factors Engineer
Smith & Nephew
Smith & Nephew
01/11/2021
01/11/2021
$100,00001/11/2021
$100,000
Staff Human Factors Engineer
Staff Human Factors Engineer
Smith & Nephew
Smith & Nephew
12/17/2020
12/17/2020
$100,00012/17/2020
$100,000
Human Factors Professional I
Human Factors Professional I
Ball Corporation/Ball Aerospace
Ball Corporation/Ball Aerospace
12/14/2020
12/14/2020
$59,00012/14/2020
$59,000
Human Factor Engineer-UI
Human Factor Engineer-UI
Kelly Services
Kelly Services
08/12/2020
08/12/2020
$112,28108/12/2020
$112,281
See More Recent Salaries

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Human Factors Engineer Demographics

Gender

male

60.1 %

female

35.1 %

unknown

4.8 %

Ethnicity

White

71.4 %

Asian

12.1 %

Hispanic or Latino

9.9 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

22.2 %

German

13.9 %

Japanese

13.9 %
See More Demographics

Human Factors Engineer Education

Degrees

Masters

44.6 %

Bachelors

35.3 %

Doctorate

15.7 %

Top Colleges for Human Factors Engineers

1. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

2. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

3. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216

4. Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,740
Enrollment
5,567

5. SUNY at Binghamton

Vestal, NY • Public

In-State Tuition
$9,808
Enrollment
13,990

6. Clemson University

Clemson, SC • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,374
Enrollment
19,564

7. University of Washington

Seattle, WA • Public

In-State Tuition
$11,207
Enrollment
30,905

8. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

9. University of South Florida

Tampa, FL • Public

In-State Tuition
$6,410
Enrollment
31,321

10. San Jose State University

San Jose, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,796
Enrollment
27,125
See More Education Info
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Top Skills For a Human Factors Engineer

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 7.9% of human factors engineers listed user interface on their resume, but soft skills such as speaking skills and writing skills are important as well.

Best States For a Human Factors Engineer

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a human factors engineer. The best states for people in this position are California, Utah, Mississippi, and Colorado. Human factors engineers make the most in California with an average salary of $112,146. Whereas in Utah and Mississippi, they would average $103,169 and $102,598, respectively. While human factors engineers would only make an average of $101,168 in Colorado, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. California

Total Human Factors Engineer Jobs:
2,255
Highest 10% Earn:
$166,000
Location Quotient:
1.63
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Utah

Total Human Factors Engineer Jobs:
105
Highest 10% Earn:
$142,000
Location Quotient:
0.98
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Texas

Total Human Factors Engineer Jobs:
823
Highest 10% Earn:
$153,000
Location Quotient:
0.97
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Human Factors Engineer Employers

1. Apple
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$121,888
Human Factors Engineers Hired: 
53+
2. Lockheed Martin
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$109,799
Human Factors Engineers Hired: 
39+
3. Intel
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$99,988
Human Factors Engineers Hired: 
39+
4. Boeing
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$106,066
Human Factors Engineers Hired: 
29+
5. IBM
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$87,994
Human Factors Engineers Hired: 
25+
6. Motorola Solutions
4.7
Avg. Salary: 
$82,673
Human Factors Engineers Hired: 
17+

Human Factors Engineer Videos

Updated October 2, 2020