One of the best features of our “on-site ergo” program is that it offers vetted and trained ergonomists. If your organization is looking to hire an ergonomist, here is some insight into how we recruit, select, and train great ones.
If you’re considering hiring a novice ergonomist in 2022, you should know that they are looking for co-op or internship opportunities while they are still in school. The Universities of Waterloo and Windsor have both provided us with some great co-op students, year-round. For the past 5 years, we’ve hosted unpaid, 8-week interns from Fanshawe’s post-grad program. The process starts in January for the May/June internship or co-op period. Interns are most interested in mentored opportunities where they will be trained and supervised by an experienced ergonomist. (If you don’t have one, you can hire us to fulfill that role.) Make sure you set up some structure for the internship: what projects do you want them to complete, by when? What resources will be available? What tools will they use? How will they be trained? Who will check their work? Most interns don’t relish the idea of spending 8 weeks working on the same type of project (e.g. PDAs), so provide an opportunity to get involved in something else, such as providing recommendations for a particular issue, or developing ergonomics awareness session for a specific target group about a specific issue. Do you want to know what budding ergonomists want in a job? Check out the results from a survey we did last year, here.
In February, you might have a dozen resumes and cover letters to review. We love to see some exposure to industrial or physical work – has the candidate ever worked in a manufacturing environment, in any capacity? That first foray into a plant can be shocking…
Most candidates will have their resumes carefully groomed by an expert, or at least by a grammar app. A cover letter or an email might reveal their natural writing style – major grammar or spelling errors here might suggest that you will have your work cut out for you in terms of editing… do you have time for that? An ergonomist needs to be able to communicate clearly.
Your organization might have a better, more structured interview process than we do, as a small organization, but we’ve learned a couple of important tips.
- Take some time to try to get to know the person that you’re meeting. Will they be a good fit with your team? Will they be approachable? (My dad, always the fashion expert, says that the best thing to wear to an interview is a smile!)
- Give them a very, very simple task to consider, and ask them to assess it and provide a couple of recommendations, immediately. Let them ask questions. Give them 1-2 hours maximum after the interview to submit a report. Don’t expect a polished, professional report; their submissions will provide insight into their thought process, approach, creativity, and use of tools.
If you send a new ergonomist into a work environment without training or coaching from a mentor, you could be inviting trouble. The most obvious solutions to a strain/sprain injury hazard, from a new graduate’s perspective, might be to “slow down the process”, “provide more breaks”, “purchase sit/stand desks and new chairs” or “install hoists”. They might, helpfully, transcribe the wish lists of all the employees that they interview. New ergonomists often choose this field because they want to help people, and so they may see their role as an “advocate” for employees. The mentor needs to guide them to objectively evaluate job demands, provide recommendations where the hazards are significant, prioritize, and prove that the solution should work. Lists of nice-to-do items are great, but we do need to be cautious about raising expectations before resources are prioritized.
When new ergonomists participate in our formal classroom training to learn how to conduct physical/cognitive demands analysis, or office ergo assessments, they report that they “touched on” this type of assessment in school. A formal, step-by-step process is really important if you want consistently-done assessments. If you send a novice ergonomist into the workplace to complete a PDA, you’ll never know how, exactly, they measured a pinch force, or how they decided that “repetitive shoulder” movements were required. So if you don’t provide formal training, or a document that specifies how to do these things, a novice ergonomist may struggle. They will have very limited experience using analysis tools or developing recommendations in the real world. Do you have the time and resources to guide them through the process, and thoroughly review their reports to make sure that innocent (although well-intentioned) mistakes won’t end up being costly?
My recommendation for employers who are hiring new ergonomists is to create a training matrix. Make a list of all of the assessment tools and other protocols that you want the new ergonomist to use. Include technical tools such as manual handling assessments and biomechanical tools, as well as less technical skills such as who to copy on an email, and how to proceed with the validation process for a draft report. Then have the employee document the dates that you demonstrated each tool, when they applied the tool under supervision, and when they applied the tool independently. Long term, you can also use the matrix to document when they begin to mentor others on the tools. A review of this document can become part of a performance review process.
New ergonomists are also hoping for mentorship in their first job. The requirements for mentorship are laid out by our certifying body, here. The mentor must be certified, and is expected to:
- communicate with applicant at least once a month to review work progress and provide guidance
- identify objectives that the new ergonomist would like to get out of the mentoring process; review initial objectives periodically to see if they need to be changed.
- use meeting notes prepared by applicant to work out a plan for progression and determine if progress is being made
- review work products provided by the applicant and provide feedback and guidance as required
Ergonomists can be certified without mentorship with 5 years of full-time experience, but that period is shortened to 4 years if they are mentored for at least a year. Obviously, offering mentorship from a Certified ergonomist attracts better talent, since most graduating ergonomists look for ways to get their certification as quickly as possible. Of the 180 or so Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomists who are currently registered, 10 were mentored or provided mentorship at Taylor’d Ergonomics. Our senior ergonomists mentor the novices through a structured program called “on-site ergo +”….we typically spend a day per week at each of two client sites with each novice, supporting and guiding their projects and providing feedback on their reports. Over the year our on-site involvement is phased back, but we still talk with the novice every day, review every report, and interact with them at our biweekly team meetings.
So why would I reveal our secrets for hiring great ergonomists? Firstly, I want new grads in all workplaces to be set up for success; effective ergonomists advance the field of ergonomics. But I also want you to consider how much investment we make into our ergonomists. Contracting a Taylor’d ergonomist means that the administrative work of finding and preparing an ergonomist for the workplace has been completed. Our On-Site Ergo program offers:
- support from a mentor for your ergonomist, or
- the support of one of our experienced ergonomists to manage the day-to-day aspects of your program, or
- a placement for one of our new ergonomists, mentored by an experienced ergonomist, for really big projects requiring 90 or more days’ of work. You’d be surprised at how much we can accomplish in 1-2 days/week, focused exclusively on ergonomics. More on that later.
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