Industrial technology programs prepare people to help industrial engineers. Students learn to study a business operation scientifically. They learn how to improve policies and procedures. They help make the business more productive.
Are you good with science, but have a hankering for the business world? One place where these two worlds come together is industrial engineering technology. In this field you apply the scientific method to business problems. You treat a business organization as if it were a big machine. You study its inputs and outputs and how the various parts mesh. You do experiments and gather data. You tinker with simulations. And from what you learn, you make everything run more smoothly.
As a technologist, your role is not to come up with the grand designs that make the business more productive. That's the engineer's job. Your job is to translate the design into something that works on the factory floor. (It may also be a service business, such as a hospital, an accounting firm, or a university.) For example, the design may include a suggestion for manufacturing goods just in time - that is, when the buyers need them, no sooner. The design might specify using palmtop computers and e-mail to link the sales force to the production schedulers. Your job could be selecting and programming the palmtops. You might measure the difference in the speed at which orders are placed. Or an engineer might devise a plan for improving industrial safety. Your role might be to maintain a database of industrial accidents to gauge whether the plan is working.
You prepare for this role by earning a bachelor's degree. This requires four years of full-time study beyond high school. Well over 100 colleges offer a degree in a more or less related field. But only a fraction of these have an engineering orientation. And the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) recognizes fewer than 10.
You start this program by studying chemistry and physics. You also study the math required to do the work in these sciences. Your knowledge may come in handy if your business is manufacturing or if it deals with processing that has a chemical ingredient (for example, food). But your main reason for studying these is to become good at using the scientific method. Then you study how to measure scientifically what goes on in a business. You learn effective ways of organizing that information to improve processes. And you study some of the social sciences (economics, psychology) that shed light on business functions.
Another route into this field is to complete a two-year program, which earns you an associate degree. A large number of colleges offer two-year programs related to industrial management, but few of them are based on engineering principles. An associate degree program typically covers many of the same topics as the four-year program, but the science and math are less demanding. You also are less likely to study social sciences. You will, however, learn many of the same methods of analyzing a business scientifically. You can find work as a technician. In this job, you may gather data for industrial engineering research studies. You may work out the details of production schedules. Or you may use computer-aided drafting (CAD) to represent a planned layout for a department in the industrial plant.