People Innovation Excellence

Don’t Fear the ‘I’ Word


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My job as an Industrial Engineer requires me into introduce myself to people on an almost every week, yet I seem to struggle internally when introducing my profession with others. I am hesitant to use the “I” word as an industrial. I have used other words in my introductions, such as imagination, innovation, and imaginary.

For some reason, I feel like admitting that I am an industrial engineer somehow sells short my engineering skills and abilities but many people don’t like Industrial Engineers, because in fact IEs have affected their lives negatively in the past.

At one time, the term industrial connected quite closely with our work environment. But as time has progressed, IEs are finding themselves working in more nonindustrial settings, like hospital, retail outlets and logistics.

We have attempted to change the name ourselves, with systems engineer. It explains directly to the essence of our work – make work systems are effective.

If you ask the average person on the street what an industrial engineer is, they might not understand what it is. But sometimes you might get an adverse reaction from people if those “evil IEs” played a role in negatively affecting their daily life at work.

Many people don’t understand engineering discipline at all. The question is, “Should this lack of knowledge bother us that much?”

The world needs many more Industrial Engineers. Much of our IE work is covert, as the nature of our work creates some anonymity and speaks to the breadth of work systems we can improve. Our challenge is getting 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 nonindustrial arenas.

Maybe I find a certain solace in calling myself an industrial engineer. Sure, it requires me to explain myself more to others, but it also represents an artifact from the past that still has relevance in the 21st century.

It may be too idealistic to envision a time when IEs are sought out for their help and held in revered status by the mainstream, but I am confident that we can make many inroads that cannot happen if we hesitate to use the “I” word.

It’s not just OK to say that we are industrial engineers. It is a good, and necessary, thing to do.

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