Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Human Factors professionals

February 23, 2005

“In peace time, why and how often are Human Factors professionals hired?”

In peace time, governments of modern countries are the major employers of Human Factors and industrial psychologists either directly or indirectly.

Many of government’s contracts with private companies attach clauses that require involvements of these professionals in their projects, and so they get hired in order to secure bids.

In peace time, which is rare, companies have the luxury to select who they think are the best qualified candidates from the vast pool of job applicants, locally and internationally.

People assume that the hired applicants are mostly the best qualified technically and the best trained for the jobs.

Most of us are very skeptical about that assumption of hiring the best qualified applicants, especially in underdeveloped countries. 

It seems that this skepticism is applicable everywhere and for good reasons.

When you have to interact with coworkers every day for eight hours a day, it stands to reason that you prefer people whom you think are compatible to your idiosyncrasies.

So far, this approach might be considered rational emotionally, and bearing many elements of common sense and good judgments.

On the other hand, how could any one test his incompatibility of living and interacting with someone else, based on his discrimination on sex, race, color and religion if the opportunities to meet with them is an impossibility or at best the interactions are fleeting?

Under social and political pressures, governments have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination on the jobs unless the applicant is proven unqualified by well documented facts for specific requirements.

Obviously a law is not much of a law if no painful penalties are attached to it and no enforcement mechanisms are contemplated or an appropriate budget allocated for an independent agency and inspections agents.

So, how could an enforcement agency go about clamping down on these companies that discriminate unabashedly and with no impunity?

The first main tool is to collect data and analyze the proportions of the population hired.

A more serious analysis would compare these proportions within each department, especially in the higher levels jobs.

Any critical discrepancy in these proportions will trigger a red alert for direct inspection of the non abiding firms and legal actions taken.

By the by, the enforcement agency would learn to set priorities in their enforcement endeavor and learn what categories of companies are most inclined to discriminate for closer targeting.

So, what other job descriptions can be applicable to the training of Human Factors graduates in peace time?

A few of the design training in sound curriculum offer capabilities for designing instruction manuals, job aids, training programs, evaluation of systems on criteria of safe usage, ease of operation, ease of maintenance and repair, acceptability and retaining products.

Many of these jobs are taken by other graduates who have narrow multidisciplinary training and knowledge but are not described as engineering jobs and evidently lower wages are offered and gladly accepted.

Another job opportunity is designing workstations, not only in manufacturing facilities, but also computer workstations for institutions, private use, and educating the consumers to the various safety and health problems related to sedentary and repetitive jobs.

Note:  The version of a student to my article gave the impression that discrimination to jobs is prevalent only in underdeveloped countries.  I believe that perception is not correct since only a consistant and persistent application and enforcement of the anti-discrimination laws can hold discrimination behavior to a reduced level and check its spread among the companies and institutions.

 

“How Human Factors are considered at the NASA jet propulsion laboratory”?

Article #47 ( written in June 7, 2006)

Professor Charles Elachy, the director of NASA jet propulsion center at Pasadena in California, gave a lecture at LAU, Byblos, during his visit to Lebanon, and was inducted a member of the Board of Director of the university.

I instructed my class to prepare written questions to submit to Professor Elachy after the lecture, but we failed in our endeavor because questions were stricly managed.  I composed a series of questions, and after discussing them with my class, I e-mailed them to Elachy on May 30, 2006.  The mail stated:

            “I teach a single course “Human Factors in engineering“, which is required for industrial engineers. This course used to be elective for the computer and other traditional engineering fields before this year, until it was eliminated as a viable choice in the curricula.

The main value of this course is to offer a behavioral change at looking at the design of projects from a different perspective. A few students in my class of Human Factors in engineering prepared a series of written questions for your lecture at LAU at Byblos, and we would appreciate your reply on the following:

1)   As a leading member of one of the most sophisticated man-made system from conception, to designing, testing, evaluation, production, operation, and execution, then would you consider that any failure in your system is ultimately a human error?

2)  Could you offer us samples of what NASA would consider as near accidents?  In such cases, would your internal investigation of any near accident try to assign the error to a person, a team, or the organization as a whole in order to redress potential hazards?

3)  I read that the engineering work force at your department in NASA is around 5000.  What is the percentage of human factors and “industrial psychology” professionals in that work force who are involved in designing interfaces, facilitator’ tools, training programs, conducting controlled experimentation, testing, and evaluating human behavioral performance in operations in order to foreseeing potential errors and eliminating safety hazards?

4)  To what extent are tailor-made task analysis, foreseeable errors analysis, and decision flow diagrams in every stage of the development process computerized as expert systems, and how embedded is the role of experts in reviewing computer outputs?

5) Could you give us a few samples of the kind of expert opinions that NASA still seek in system development? What are the impacts of expert opinions in the development cycle and how critical are they? On what system do you rely in decisions concerning the allocation of tasks to either operators or automation?

6)  Do you think that NASA has already accumulated an exhaustive list of cognitive and physical capabilities/limitations of human operators compared to machine potentials?  How efficient is a human operator currently evaluated within this growing trend in technology and automation?  What kind of guidelines does NASA engineers rely on for designing interfaces or anything that requires operators’ interactions with the system?

7) What types of inspectors do you mostly hire, such as technical versus people oriented? Would your guidelines for hiring technical or people performance inspectors differ (for example in-house hiring or outside contracting)?  Is assigning an employee to inspection jobs is generally viewed by engineers as a negative coded message for position downgrading?”

On June 4, I received the following reply from Eachy:

“Dear Adonis, my response to your questions will not be in the direct order because our work here is not a production activity.

Each spacecraft is different and they are always first of a kind.  However, we do have a system of checks and balances.

We have one organization which does the design and development (about 3,500 technical people) and a separate organization which does Quality Control (about 350 technical people).

The role of QC is not only to check on the quality of the work, but also to help the development organization do it right to start with.  So, we assign a few QC experts to each project, but they report through a different chain than the project manager.

When we have a problem we try to understand the root cause and develop procedure/training to avoid it in the future.

We do not try to blame a person but we put a number of reviews and independent checks to make sure problems don’t slip through the cracks.”

I read Professor Elachy’s response to class.  It was clear that Human Factors professionals are still viewed as more relevant in the production activity phase, although there are many cases where they were involved in analyzing missions from their inception, knowing that NASA pioneered the process of hiring Human Factors in the agency.

Update 1:Professor Elachy was awarded this year 2011, the French highest order in scientific achievement. He had done his highest studies in France before Charles Elachy was hired in the USA.

Update 2: Charles Elachy is the head of the team that landed the rover on Mars to find out if there is life on this hot planet

Human Factors Engineering? What do you design again? (April 5, 2005)

Article #8

Human Factors disciples are primarily oriented to designing interfaces between systems and end users/operators.  Of the many interfaces two interfaces are commonly known and can be grouped into two main categories: displays and controls.  But that is not all.

For example, designing the arrangements of displays and controls on consoles for utility companies, aircraft, trains, and automobiles according to applicable guidelines…

Operators and end users need to receive information on the status of a complex system and be able to respond to this information through a control device. Thus, once a designer knows what needs to be controlled in a system and how, then the required types of displays follow.

Displays and controls can become complex devices if not designed to targeted users.

The design of the cockpit interface in airplanes is different from cars, trains or ships.

The design or the interface in cellular phones is different from computer games or computer screens, keyboards and mouse.

A good knowledge of the physical and mental abilities and requirements of the target end-users are paramount in the design of any interface if efficiency, affordability, acceptability, maintainability, safety and health are the prerequisite to wide spread demands and marketability.

How the functions and tasks of any subsystems should be allocated, to human or to an automated machine?  What are the consequences in emergency situations for any allocation strategy?

What are the consequences of an allocation when a system is exported to Third World countries?

What are the consequences of function allocation to employment, safety risks, health risks and long term viability of any system?

Who usually are in charge of designing interfaces that require multidisciplinary knowledge?

Given that any of these designs require inputs from marketing experts, psychologists, sociologists, economists, engineers, statisticians and legal experts on the liabilities of these designed objects for safe and healthy usage then, who should be responsible for designing interfaces?

Teams of professionals should necessarily be involved in interface designs, but because time being of the essence in business competition, and cost to a lesser extent, many of these interfaces are relegated to engineers applying published standards or relying on personal experience and previous models from competitors.

Human Factors data on the physical and mental limitations and capabilities of target users should be part of any standard book for designing interfaces.

Human Factors methodologies need to be disseminated so that viable interfaces could fit the characteristics of the end users.

The Human Factors professionals failed in their first three decades of existence to recognize that their main purpose was to design interfaces, to design practical system, and to orient their research toward engineers who could readily use their data in designing systems.

If this trend of targeting engineers in our research papers continues, this profession could make a serious dent in sending the proper message and open up a market for the thousands of Human Factors graduates who should be needed in the design of systems interfaces.

“In peace time, why and how often are Human Factors professionals hired?” (February 23, 2005)

Human Factors in Engineering (Article #6)

In peace time, governments of modern countries are the major employers of Human Factors engineers and industrial psychologists either directly or indirectly.

Many of government’s contracts with private companies attach clauses that require involvements of these professionals in their projects and so they get hired in order to secure bids.

In peace time, which is rare, companies have the luxury to select who they think are the best qualified candidates from the vast pool of job applicants locally and internationally.

People assume that the hired applicants are mostly the best qualified technically and the best trained for the jobs.

Most of us are very skeptical about that assumption of hiring the best qualified applicants, especially in underdeveloped countries.

It seems that this skepticism is applicable everywhere and for good reasons:

When you have to interact with coworkers every day for 8 hours a day, it stands to reason that you prefer people whom you think are compatible to your idiosyncrasies and general ideology.

So far, this approach might be considered rational emotionally and bearing many elements of common sense and good judgments.

On the other hand, how could any one test his incompatibility of living and interacting with someone else based on his discrimination on sex, race, color and religion, if the opportunities to meet with them is an impossibility or at best the interactions are fleeting?

Under social and political pressures, governments have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination on the jobs, unless the applicant is proven unqualified by well documented facts for specific requirements.

Obviously, a law is not much of a law if no painful penalties are attached to it and no enforcement mechanisms are contemplated or an appropriate budget allocated for an independent agency and inspection agents.

So, how could an enforcement agency go about clamping down on these companies that discriminate unabashedly and with no impunity?

The first main tool is to collect data and analyze the proportions of the population hired in order to uncover tacit and biased discrimination tendencies.

A more serious analysis would compare these proportions within each department, especially in the higher levels jobs.

Any critical discrepancy in these proportions will trigger a red alert for direct inspection of the non abiding firms and legal actions taken.

By the by, the enforcement agency would learn to set priorities in their enforcement endeavor and learn what categories of companies are most inclined to discriminate for closer targeting.

So, what other job descriptions can be applicable to the training of Human Factors graduates in peace time?

A few of the design training in sound curriculum offer capabilities for designing instruction manuals, job aids, training programs, evaluation of systems on criteria of safe usage, ease of operation, ease of maintenance and repair, acceptability and retaining products.

Many of these jobs are taken by other graduates who have narrow multidisciplinary training and knowledge but are not described as engineering jobs and evidently lower wages are offered and gladly accepted.

Another job opportunity is designing workstations, not only in manufacturing facilities but also computer workstations for institutions and private use. And educating the consumers to the various safety and health problems related to sedentary and repetitive jobs.

Note:  The version of a student to my article gave the impression that discrimination to jobs is prevalent only in underdeveloped countries.  I believe that perception is not correct since only a continual and persistent application and enforcement of the anti discrimination laws can hold discrimination behavior to a reduced level and check its spread among the companies and institutions.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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