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What Does an Industrial Sociologist Do?

By Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An industrial sociologist will conduct research and apply sociological theory to solve problems, covering a wide range of industrial issues and concerns. Areas of focus often include productivity, management, motivation, work organization, employee relations, market trends, technological change, labor distribution and economic trends. Spending much of his or her time studying people on the job, an industrial sociologist primarily seeks answers to how workers respond to change in the workplace, collectively. Thereafter, he or she will use information gathered from both quantitative and qualitative research efforts to formulate theory and make recommendations to improve the work environment and work relations. Objectively, the job entails understanding how people relate to their jobs, including the functions, processes and people involved.

Job descriptions for an industrial sociologist may vary depending on the company or organization who is hiring for the position. Commonly, industrial sociologists are employed in government settings, but also may work with private sector firms or even non-profits. While the job descriptions for advertised positions are usually inherently similar, often the main difference is the key focuses the organization wants to embrace. For example, a human resource department may hire an industrial sociologist to help draft a new company handbook, leveraging his or her expertise in applied theory with the objective of mitigating changes that may adversely impact the organization. On the other hand, a government organization may seek industrial sociologists to conduct research into how economic trends may impact national productivity.

Duties of an industrial sociologist, however, are usually very similar in nature despite the variation in job descriptions. Planning, directing and supervising research projects are usually core requirements. Analyzing the results of those and others studies related to an assigned project ranks as a close second, while drawing conclusions based on that analysis and communicating them to executive management or others in the organization are usually crucial to the job's objectives. Most of the time, the position will require interaction with a diverse range of people in a variety of environmental settings, from an office environment to maybe working on an oil rig out in the middle of an ocean.

Requirements to become an industrial sociologist, will usually require at least a Master’s in Sociology, while a PhD is often sought for director positions. Programs specializing in industrial sociology are rare, however, they are available and usually identified in conjunction with urban sociology at major universities. Experience is also important for most employers, and this usually means working in an internship during or immediately following graduate school.

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