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The Online MBA in Industrial Management Explained

Industrial Management

Manufacturing was once the stalwart of corporate America. While lots of manufacturing jobs have moved overseas, there's still plenty of vibrancy in the U.S. of A. And there are even more job listings for positions abroad.

Many people interested in mid- to senior-level management jobs in manufacturing turn to graduate programs in industrial management. A quick Google search reveals that master's of science (M.S.) are more prevalent than master's of business (MBA) degrees among industrial management programs, but both are available. Whether professionals seek to earn an MBA or M.S., they tend to pursue roles such as industrial production managers, plant superintendents, or sales managers in an industrial or medical sales environment after they graduate.

The first step for those interested is understanding the basics of an industrial management education. Here's what you need to know:

What does an industrial management M.S. or MBA program entail?

A graduate program in industrial management has students learning to be an effective manager and leader in a manufacturing environment. The difference between an M.S. and MBA program lies in core concepts. In both programs, professors will focus on specialized coursework, such as supply chain management, logistics, and strategy. But the MBA program will also provide a foundation in business, with courses on topics like marketing and finance.

If the program is online, it usually allows the convenience of participating in class and assignments from anywhere with an Internet connection at times that are convenient for you. These programs are offered through education platforms that utilize videotape lectures, some live sessions, forum discussions, and videoconferencing. Both traditional brick-and-mortar programs and online ones typically offer opportunities for group projects or hands-on learning to give theory-based studies more practical application.

Of course, each school puts its own spin on the coursework, so applicants have to research their options to find the right fit. For example, the University of Texas at Tyler offers an industrial management M.S. program that includes education in Six Sigma, the business management strategy that originated at Motorola USA, and lean manufacturing as modeled by the Toyota Production System. The goal, according to the university's website, is to help students meet the needs of today's manufacturing industry, which includes achieving "goals with a lean budget and fewer employees."

Oklahoma State University -- Tulsa's industrial engineering and management M.S., on the other hand, concentrates on production systems. Its website stresses that faculty introduce students to using creativity and leadership to produce goods and services. "People provide the creativity and leadership essential to make things happen," according to their site. "Hence, industrial engineering is the most people-oriented discipline within the engineering family." These slightly different approaches to the coursework point to the cultural differences between programs. Applicants have to carefully study their options before choosing which ones are the best matches for them personally and professionally.

Manufacturing Manager

Who is the right fit for these programs?

Those with undergraduate degrees in engineering or some other industrial background are usually the best suited for graduate programs in industrial management. Work experience, of course, plays a role, too. Those who are a good fit have had some experience organizing production systems, handling relevant projects, and dealing with sales or engineering in the manufacturing sector. A mix of quantitative skills, leadership potential, and an understanding of production of goods and services in manufacturing are all traits for which schools offering these programs are looking.

What are the application requirements?

Application requirements for M.S. and MBA programs in industrial management are quite similar. Usually, applicants must provide admissions essays that explain their desire to pursue the degree at this time in their career as well as their goals for the future. They also have to provide recommendation letters, preferably from supervisors familiar with their work and character. Most programs require scores from either the GMAT or GRE standardized tests, although some MBA programs allow applicants to choose which test they prefer. Of course, candidates must share their work experience (usually in the form of a resume). Some programs require an admissions interview as well.

Ultimately, those with an engineering or industrial background, who want to rise to senior-level management, are the ones who find their place among M.S. and MBA programs. The subtle nuances in coursework between the two types of programs make them distinct, although MBA and M.S. degree earners often end up with similar types of jobs. Tomorrow's manufacturing managers will be asked to use their ingenuity and spunk to revitalize the industry even more.