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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey Summary This report is concerned with human factors specialists: the men and women who do human factors research and apply human factors data and principles to design. It asks: What do these specialists do? Where and how do they do it? How are they educated and trained, and what is the quality of these experiences? Do the education and training obtained meet the needs of employers? Will the supply of human factors specialists match expected demand? What needs to be done to improve the training and use of human factors specialists? To answer these questions the Panel on Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization designed and commissioned two surveys. One, a mail-in questionnaire, was sent to the directors of the 65 university graduate programs in human factors in the United States and Canada asking them to describe their programs. The other, a computer-assisted telephone interview, queried human factors specialists and supervisors about their professional and job-related activities and education. The panel gave careful attention to the design and pretesting of the questions in both surveys and, in the case of the specialists survey, to the sampling frame because it defined a human factors specialist and determined who was eligible to be interviewed. The response rates to both surveys were higher than typically encountered. Of those invited to participate in the telephone interview, only about 10 percent declined; and 75 percent of the graduate programs supplied the program information requested in the mail-in survey.
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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey SELECTED FINDINGS Characteristics and Use of Human Factors Specialists Type of Employer Except for specialists who are psychologists, most human factors specialists (76%) work for private business; the rest work for government (15%) and education institutions (10%). Most psychologists in human factors are employed by government (41%) or private business (47%). Focus of Work The majority (60%) of human factors specialists work in just three areas: computers, aerospace, and industrial processes. Other areas—health and safety, communications, transportation, energy, consumer products, and office products—account for an additional 27 percent, with no other area accounting for more than 0.5 percent of the sample. A large amount of human factors work is performed for military purposes, with military aerospace, computer, communications, and transportation human factors work accounting for at least half of the work performed by 30 percent of the specialists sampled. Much of this military work was done under one of the new Department of Defense programs (for example, MANPRINT) that emphasizes human-centered design. Work History Most human factors specialists (70%) have held their present position for five years or less and 39% of them for two years or less. This pattern is consistent across types of employers, areas of work, extent of military work, and gender. The previous position of most of the specialists sampled (63%) was primarily concerned with human factors and was with the same employer (44%). Salary Received Nonsupervisory human factors specialists had a median salary of $46,000 and supervisors a median of $57,000. Salary levels are relatively uniform across employers, areas of work, and the extent of military work done. As might be expected, salary correlates positively with age, highest degree, and number of years since receipt of highest degree. Highest degree is the variable most highly correlated with salary. Men were consistently paid more than women across type of employer
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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey and areas of work; the difference was greatest in aerospace, communications, and transportation and least in computers and health and safety work. Self-Perception of Professional Identity Most nonsupervisors (66%) and supervisors (56%) who were sampled consider themselves to be human factors specialists. Those who do not identified themselves as an industrial engineer, some other type of engineer, a psychologist, a computer scientist, or an industrial designer. Perceived Importance of Human Factors to Projects Most human factors specialists and their supervisors rate human factors as being important to the project on which they spend or have recently spent most of their working time. On a seven-point scale, 88 percent of nonsupervisors and 86 percent of supervisors used the top three scale positions to indicate the level of importance of human factors to their projects. The Training of the Supervisors of Human Factors Specialists Few (9%) human factors specialists report that their supervisors are trained in human factors. The immediate supervisors and nonsupervisors of human factors specialists were reported by specialists to either know little or nothing about human factors (37%) or be quite knowledgeable about the field (49%). The Interactions of Human Factors Specialists During the course of a typical work week, human factors specialists report frequent interactions with engineers (86%) and other human factors specialists (81%). Other specialists with which somewhat fewer interactions take place are computer programmers, systems users, and systems analysts. The Nature of Human Factors Work The 52 different types of tasks performed by human factors specialists define what they do. These tasks can be grouped into a few main categories: systems analysis, risk and error analysis, design support, test and evaluation, instructional systems design, and communications. Among the most prominent tasks performed are task analyses, oral and written presentations, proposal preparation, application of human factors principles, and evaluation of reports written by others. As might be expected, which tasks
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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey are performed and how often depend on the systems being worked on and whether they are military or nonmilitary. Personal Characteristics of Specialists Most specialists (71%) have advanced degrees; 37 percent have doctorates and 34 percent master's degrees. Doctorates are found more frequently in some work settings, such as education institutions and government agencies, than in others, such as industrial process and transportation organizations. Only 20 percent of doctorates specialized in human factors; other doctorates were spread across many areas of specialization. The majority (60%) of human factors specialists sampled were under age 45, and only 15 percent were 55 or older. Supervisors are older than nonsupervisory human factors specialists: 69 percent of supervisors were 35 to 54 years of age; only 56 percent of nonsupervisors were in this range. Human factors specialists are predominately white and male. Over 94 percent of the sample was white and 81 percent was male. Of those with supervisory responsibilities, 87 percent were male and 13 percent female. The Education of Human Factors Specialists Where were Education and Training Obtained? For each of 52 listed activities, specialists were asked whether they performed the activity as part of their job and if so where they had learned it. Most activities were learned as part of a formal graduate program, with far fewer being learned in continuing education, in employer training, or in other ways. A few activities, which we're performed frequently on the job, appeared with low frequency in formal education programs: proposal preparation, verifying conformity to human factors specifications, planning and coordinating evaluations, and specifying evaluation objectives. Findings also demonstrated that formal education tends to stress theoretical issues and laboratory research more than practical topics. How Did Specialists Perceive the Quality of Their Formal Education? Specialists who received their highest degree within the last five years were asked to evaluate how well their education prepared them for their first human factors job. On a scale from 1 (very poorly) to 7 (very well), specialists rated the quality of their education higher than did their supervisors: two-thirds of the specialists gave a response of ''5 or above'' to this question; less than half of supervisors judged that specialists were well
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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey prepared to perform job activities. Some topics are not taught very often in formal programs: accident and malfunction analyses, computer-based topics, social issues, and maintainability. Some topics that were taught infrequently were also not judged to have been taught well: error and accident analysis, human reliability analysis, products liability law, computer input tool design, and speech recognition and synthesis. What Deficiencies Did Supervisors Report in Specialist Training? Three quarters of all supervisors responded that new hires lack certain skills and abilities. Deficiencies mentioned more than 10 times ranged from communication skills and knowledge of system analysis techniques, to experimental design, engineering and technical skills, and government system acquisition procedures. Characteristics of the Education Programs The mail-in survey of graduate programs yielded some interesting findings. The majority of programs are in engineering departments, followed by psychology departments and trailed by four programs affiliated with other departments. Most programs had links with departments other than their primary home department. Psychology topped this list at 82 percent of all departments with such links. Most programs (88 percent) offered both master's and doctorate degrees. Minors are required by a larger percentage of engineering departments than psychology departments at both of these degree levels. Undergraduate concentrations in human factors were available in 26 percent of the programs. A thesis was optional more frequently in engineering than in psychology departments; practical experience was required by a higher percentage of psychology than engineering departments. The number of core faculty per program averaged 5 to 6, with engineering departments having fewer core faculty than psychology departments. Engineering and psychology programs were rated the same across two key variables: adequacy of libraries and computer hardware and software for faculty. The mean rating for library adequacy was lowest and for computer hardware the highest. Support for human factors education programs from outside sources has increased at an average or above-average rate, with more engineering programs receiving support at a higher-than-average rate than psychology programs. Many ties in the form of internships, research contracts, guest lectures, and adjunct faculty appointments exist between university programs and outside organizations. However, the findings suggest that university programs
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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey may only be skimming the surface of potential additional contacts with business and government. The most frequently required courses center around research methodology and statistics; sensory, cognitive, and motor abilities and processes; anthropometry and work physiology; and design of displays, controls, and work stations. Less frequently covered topics, required by one-quarter or less of the programs, tend to deal with applications of human factors to automation, computer-assisted design, aging, transportation, robotics, and teleoperations. Only 30 percent of programs cover MANPRINT and related topics, which are the focus of a recent Department of Defense initiative to make technology design and procurement more human centered. When asked, if they could change any part of their programs, what would they change, program directors most often mentioned adding faculty. Many program directors (68%) believe that human factors education will increase its emphasis in the next five years on computers and industrial applications. Several programs predicted that future programs will be strengthened if plans for program accreditation are implemented. Specialists were asked about continuing education and books and periodicals read on a regular basis. About half of all specialists, and 40 percent of supervisors, have taken continuing education in the past five years. However, neither group feels that they are getting enough continuing education due to its lack of availability. Approximately 90 percent of supervisors and specialists read periodicals regularly. The journal and the bulletin of the Human Factors Society were the most frequently read periodicals, followed by computer magazines. The top four specific books mentioned contained one textbook (Sanders and McCormick, 1987) and three handbooks (Van Cott and Kinkade, 1972; Salvendy, 1987; Woodson, 1981). The Supply and Demand of Human Factors Specialists One of the principal goals of the project reported here was to assess the state of balance between supply and demand for human factors specialists in general and to make forecasts concerning the potential growth in demand or supply in the predictable future. Using several data sources, the panel estimated that the current supply of human factors specialists in the United States to be 9,100 people. The method of calculation used was conservatively biased, and there could be as many as 10,000 specialists, although it is unlikely that there are more than 15,000. The net growth of the Human Factors Society since its founding in 1958 has been 188 members per year on the average. If this is used as a basis to make a linear extrapolation of the growth of the profession, then the current total of 9,100 in 1989 may reach a supply level of 10,745 in 1995.
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Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey When trends in human factors employment are extrapolated into the future, about 530 individuals will enter the field annually as 255 leave. Finally, it appears that demand for human factors work is elastic. It is estimated that jobs for an additional 6,500 human factors specialists could be created if supervisors were given the authority and funding to do so. If that occurred, then the supply could not keep up with the demand. It should be pointed out that the findings on the supply-demand relationship reported here are based on data collected in 1988 and 1989. One change that took place since that period that may have an impact on the forecasts made: military funding, a long-standing source of support for human factors research and design, has been reduced and, as a result, the demand for human factors programs and personnel may have diminished. If that is indeed the case, then the validity of the supply and demand estimates reported here would be affected. No data yet exist to clarify the issue. Still, there is no reason to believe that other findings in this report have been affected in any important way by intervening events. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS A major conclusion drawn by the panel from the results of the surveys reported here is that the design of academic curricula adequate to the needs of employers with a great diversity of needs is a significant challenge that must be faced by the profession. The panel's major recommendations center on measures that need to be taken to strengthen the education and training of both human factors specialists and supervisors. Special emphasis should be given to interdisciplinary training; to the need to define and base education around a core curriculum; to the promotion of effective training for supervisors; and to the encouragement of graduate internship and traineeship programs. Other recommendations are to place more emphasis in funding research on inter-disciplinary and applied human factors problems rather than the support of traditional, academically oriented disciplinary approaches and values; to more actively promote human factors among women and racial minorities; and to extend human factors to new areas of societal needs, such as the problems of the aging population.
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