mechanical engineer

Civil Engineering vs. Industrial Engineering

Civil engineers help create the critical infrastructures that enhance our lives, ranging from roads and freeways to bridges and power plants. Industrial engineers, on the other hand, create and optimize production systems. Both of these professions encompass vital disciplines, as societies in the developed world are intently focused on providing people with the infrastructure, products, and services that communities need to thrive. Each path has a unique set of defining features, therefore a comparison of civil vs. industrial engineering will reveal some key differences that can be used by aspiring engineers to choose which of the two specializations to study.

Civil vs. Industrial Engineering: Similarities

One of the central similarities between civil and industrial engineering is that both disciplines involve solving real, complex problems by manufacturing products and building structures that meet the ever-changing needs of the people who use them. With continued breakthroughs in technology, renewable materials and smart devices, engineers in both fields must constantly investigate developing trends in order to design and implement useful new technologies.

In addition to both professional groups constantly striving for innovation, civil engineers and industrial engineers are also similar in that their training allows them to work in a variety of industries, such as the private sector, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Civil engineers can lead teams that find solutions to issues of structural and environmental sustainability, while industrial engineers streamline efficiency and reduce waste throughout the manufacturing process.

Differences Between Civil vs. Industrial Engineering

The main differences between civil and industrial engineering lie in the technical aspects required of the projects undertaken. Civil engineers work mostly on large-scale projects, which require the design, construction and maintenance of the infrastructure of cities and countries. The systems that they implement include roads, bridges, dams, airports, buildings, water supply systems and sewage and waste treatment plants. Civil engineers put emphasis on efficiency and safety to ensure the systems they construct run smoothly to minimize risks to public use.

Civil engineers must consider the construction environment when choosing building sites, selecting construction materials, planning structures and completing projects to protect their work from natural hazards. They may have to retrofit old structures as a safeguard against earthquakes, tornadoes and other disasters. They work on renewable energy projects and contain and dispose of solid and liquid wastes. These engineers also ensure projects comply with federal, state and local environmental mandates.

Industrial engineers are responsible for creating and maintaining the systems that are used to create products, deliver services, and build infrastructure. When developing systems that power industries, industrial engineers must take into account all of the factors involved, including users, materials, processes and supply chain management. They implement control systems to manage production schedules and flow, resolve production issues and analyze costs and spending. Unlike civil engineers, whose main priorities are creating practical designs and maintaining public safety, industrial engineers are considered “efficiency experts” who maximize efficiency and minimize costs in production environments.

Educational Requirements

At a minimum, both civil and industrial engineers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in their chosen field. For civil engineers, the degree must be in civil engineering, civil engineering technology, or a related degree with a civil engineering specialty. Industrial engineers typically major in industrial engineering, though degrees in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering technology or general engineering are also applicable.

In both fields, completing a master’s degree is essential to pursuing a senior-level position within the industry. In Norwich University’s Master of Civil Engineering (MCE) program, students choose from four technical tracks, which include structural engineering, environmental/water resources engineering, geotechnical engineering and construction management.

Industrial engineers also benefit from the leadership skills earned through a master’s degree curriculum. Common courses include statistics, manufacturing systems design and production systems planning. Both civil and industrial engineering often include cooperative education programs, which combine coursework with practical experience in the field, allowing students to attain academic credit while gaining valuable professional knowledge.

Job Outlook

The job outlooks in civil engineering and industrial engineering are promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), civil engineers are projected to see an 11 percent growth in employment from 2016 to 2026. This is partly a result of a growing need to update aging infrastructures, such as roads, levees, airports and other structures. The BLS also states that civil engineers earned a median annual wage of $84,770 as of May 2017.

Industrial engineers are projected to see a growth of 10 percent between 2016 and 2026 due to the increasing demand by major organizations for efficiency and reduced production costs. As of May 2017, industrial engineers earned a median annual wage of $85,880.

Civil engineers and industrial engineers work in complementary disciplines that create the structures and systems that power modern society. Students who are weighing a career in civil engineering vs. industrial engineering will want to consider their own strengths and interests. Industrial engineering degree programs are well suited for people who have the mindset needed to eliminate production waste and ensure that industrial systems operate smoothly; those who are curious about how infrastructure is developed, from design to implementation, would likely be inclined to pursue a Master of Civil Engineering program.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University offers exceptional opportunities to help advance your knowledge, target your skills, and gain greater proficiency as a professional civil engineer. The online Master of Civil Engineering program at Norwich University is designed to enhance your technical knowledge, management skills and engineering competence by delivering a modern, practice-orientated education that fosters creativity and critical thinking for problem-solving and innovation.

Recommended Reading

5 Innovations in Civil Engineering Aimed at Improving Sustainability
A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer
5 Civil Engineering Innovations That Help Buildings Withstand Earthquakes


Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civil Engineers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Industrial Engineers

5 New Trends in Construction and Building, ASME

5 trends for the future of manufacturing, World Economic Forum

Discover the Different Types of Engineering Careers, NACME

The Most In-Demand (And Aging) Engineering Jobs, Forbes

Learn More Today

Complete the form on the next page to request more information about our online programs.

Request Info