Chapter 12: Becoming a Human Factors/Ergonomics Practitioner

by Andrew Baird, Claire Williams and Alan Ferris

Practitioner summary

An effective human factors/ergonomics (HF/E) practitioner has a blend of knowledge, skills, abilities and other factors (KSAOs) that allow for the development of solutions to what are often complex client needs within a variety of real-world constraints. The development of these KSAOs occurs as part of initial professional development (IPD) and continuous professional development (CPD) throughout a practitioner’s career. IPD is a fundamental step towards formal professional recognition and demands input from academic institutions, trainee and mentor practitioners and employers. Academic institutions try to ensure that practitioners develop skills and underlying knowledge such that graduates are useful to employers from the outset. But academic institutions work within constraints placed on them by academic regulation and in terms of available time, and cannot provide everything required. HF/E students must be active learners and look to develop real-world skills. Mentor practitioners need to help develop skills and knowledge, particularly in light of the realities of particular market requirements. Employers must accept that students will not emerge from university courses as fully capable for independent HF/E work, and will need time and resources to continue their development.

Chapter quotes

“The HF/E profession requires practitioners to be capable of a least some useful practice as they enter the workforce. HF/E educational institutions have to ensure that academic standards are maintained and academic skills are acquired whilst delivering courses from which students often enter industrial practice directly. There is therefore a wide range of goals for HF/E training and it is unsurprising that there are differences in opinion about the extent to which these goals are achieved.”

“Overall, HF/E course providers face the difficult aim of ensuring that their offerings get the right balance of knowledge and skills to allow individuals to become a researcher or practitioner. This compromise means that it is not possible fully to meet the needs of both sets of potential professionals within the constraints of a one-year qualification.”

“Ultimately, HF/E practitioners must use their range of skills and knowledge to provide solutions to what are often complex client needs. This can be difficult to mimic in an academic environment, even when practical, scenario-based assessments are employed.”

“Making use of guest lecturers and contributors to any programme, with good representation of practitioners from different domains who bring current workplace case studies helps support in-house academics…”

“If an employer is very keen to ensure that they get the ‘best’ students available, then they could consider sponsoring students and/or providing work placement opportunities. This would ensure that the student was able to answer the important “how does this fit with…?” questions mentioned above, but would also give the employer the chance to see the employee in action in a way no interview can allow.”

Practitioner reflections

About drclairewilliams

I am a senior consultant at Human Applications and Visiting Research Fellow in Human Factors and Behaviour Change at the University of Derby. Most of my work just now deals with leadership and culture in the health and safety realm; trying to support organisations to take a systems approach to understanding behaviour. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @claire_dr
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