Ergonomists


Requirements

Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school is not too early to begin preparing for a career in ergonomics. You should follow a broad college preparatory curriculum with a concentration in the sciences. Courses in the life and physical sciences (biology, anatomy, health, and physics) will be particularly helpful, as will classes in research methods, writing and speech, mathematics, and computer science. Business courses will also help you learn more about the business world and the opportunities available for ergonomists. Any classes that broaden your knowledge of people and how they work, and those that sharpen your skills in communication, will be very important. Knowledge of modern foreign languages may also increase opportunities as global, multicultural economies are developing rapidly.

Postsecondary Training

Ergonomists need solid skills in three basic areas: business administration, science and technology, and communications. A career in ergonomics begins with an undergraduate degree in one of the behavioral, biomedical, health, social, or computer sciences or engineering. Aspiring ergonomists take whichever courses are needed to complete a degree in their chosen field. Most science-based degrees require courses in anatomy, psychology, physiology, statistics, mathematics, and education. If a concentration in ergonomics is available at your college or university, you might take additional courses such as operations research, demographics, biomechanics, kinesiology, psychology, work analysis and measurement, safety and health analysis techniques, and design methodologies. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) offers a list of educational programs in human factors/ergonomics at its Web site, https://www.hfes.org/resources/academic-programs.

Additional courses in business, writing, and communications will help you communicate your ideas and suggestions to the people with whom you will be working. Again, knowledge of foreign languages will allow you to work more globally.

Many ergonomists also earn a master's degree in ergonomics/human factors. Others earn degrees in industrial engineering or applied psychology along with a concentration in ergonomics/human factors. A doctoral degree is an advantage for those who want to pursue research and teaching at the university level or for those who want to develop specialized methodologies for ergonomics in advanced technologies.

The HFES reports that more than 40 percent of its members hold a doctoral degree, a third hold a master's degree, and about 15 percent have a bachelor's degree (as the highest degree held).

Other Education or Training

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society offers webinars and other continuing education (CE) opportunities. Past webinars included User Experience Professionals: Designing Your Career, Human Factors/Ergonomics Standards, and Modeling and Simulation Applications in Human Factors. The Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers offers classroom and online courses in applied ergonomics. Recent classes included Applied Ergonomics, Advanced Ergonomics Analysis and Design, OHSA and Ergonomics, and Principles of Occupational Ergonomics. The User Experience Professionals Association also provides CE classes and workshops. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Although certification is not mandatory, the industry is increasingly recognizing board certification in ergonomics as a standard of professional achievement and skill, and it is recommended that ergonomists earn their credentials to be eligible for higher positions. Because ergonomics is a rapidly evolving career field and tied to advances in scientific knowledge and technology, it is especially important to keep up to date on the latest developments.

The Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics offers the designations certified professional ergonomist (CPE), certified human factors professional (CHFP), and certified user experience professional (CUXP). To receive one of these certifications, you must have a bachelor's degree in ergonomics, human factors, or equivalent educational experience; three years of professional experience working with ergonomics; documentation of education, work, and project involvement; and a passing score on a written exam. The board also offers the associate user experience professional, associate ergonomics professional, associate human factors professional, and associate human factors professional credentials for those who are working on completing their three years of work experience to get the CPE, CHFP, or CUXP.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

To obtain experience, aspiring ergonomists should participate in an internship or assistantship with an established ergonomist.

If you are interested in becoming an ergonomist, you should be able to understand the relationships between actions and their results. An analytic mind is essential, and most ergonomists have good problem-solving skills. If you are interested in the research and design side of ergonomics, you should have good research skills and be able to apply research techniques to practical application. If you prefer to work directly with clients, you should enjoy working with people and be able to illustrate proper ergonomic techniques to them. Finally, empathy is an important trait, since many ergonomists are called on site after an accident or injury has already happened. The ergonomist should be able to investigate the mishap and make recommendations on how to avoid a recurrence and ensure the safety and comfort of the workers.