What does the “mentor” contribute to an ergonomics internship?

mannequins depicting an ergonomics intern and ergonomist mentorFanshawe College offers an Advanced Ergonomics Studies program, which includes an 8-week, unpaid internship. Because the interns are “free”, it’s tempting to “hire” one to come in and “do” ergonomics, under the supervision of a Safety or HR manager. The goal of the field placement is to provide real-life experience. Some placements do not offer the mentorship of a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE); after all, there are only 134 of us in Canada. Since one year of mentorship shortens the experience requirement for full CCPE certification from 5 years to 4 years, most graduates would prefer a placement with mentorship, especially with the possibility of mentored job afterwards! So CCPE-mentored placements tend to generate more interest.

If you don’t have a CCPE on staff, Taylor’d Ergonomics offers a program of mentorship, ideally rolling into a one-year placement for the graduating intern. The client pays for the ergonomist’s time. After graduation the client also pays a nominal fee for the novice ergonomist’s time as well. How does the client benefit from the mentorship?

7 things Taylor’d Ergo and the mentor contribute to the placement

1. Intensive hands-on training = quality PCDAs

Taylor’d Ergo provides Physical and Cognitive Demands Analysis (PCDA) training during a 2-day hands-on intensive workshop. We know from mentoring several interns that their in-class PCDA training from Fanshawe is a good introduction to PCDAs, but Taylor’d ergo provides in-depth training so that they can complete PCDAs to the quality standards you expect from Taylor’d Ergo Ergonomists.

2. PCDA template = consistent and concise reports

Taylor’d Ergo provides a PCDA template for the intern to follow. This helps them to focus on the valuable content of the PDCA rather than worrying about how it looks. It also helps them to keep the task descriptions concise. Some new ergonomists will write a full essay about one task, and while it is great to show that they fully understand the task, in a practical sense the report should be as concise as possible to minimize the user’s time required to find relevant information within the document.

3. “Soft skills” support = more efficient use of time

The mentor helps the intern to develop confidence in approaching workers. For some interns, getting information out of people who they haven’t met before can be a barrier to gaining quality information. Often, interns are so concerned about making sure they have the right tools and are performing measurements correctly, that they skip the part about building a relationship with the worker, which is critical for gaining trust. Having the Mentor there takes the pressure off of “talking to strangers”, and they can focus on developing their technical skills. The soft skills will come with time.

4. “Technical skills” support = accurate measurements and descriptions

The mentor provides data collection support. We spend a lot of time with the intern in the first few weeks. Their Fanshawe education introduced the tools and methods, and provided a little bit of practice, but out there in the field, it can be difficult and stressful to work efficiently in a new and unfamiliar workplace. For example, how to measure shoveling forces? (How do you get the force gauge to “stick” to the shovel handle? Or do I measure the “gripping” force?)

5. Peer-review process = reports that are clearly understood by all parties

The mentor provides feedback on reports, which often requires quite a lot of time for proofreading at first! Again, interns are focused on collecting accurate information in the field, but sometimes don’t focus so much on the writing piece (or maybe it’s just not their strong suit!) While good writing can be taught, learning can be time-consuming, with several revisions for the first few reports. While some people may not put much emphasis on clear, concise writing, at Taylor’d Ergo, we do; at the end of the project, the report is all you’re left with. You need something you can be proud of: a valuable report that reflects the effort that went into it.

6. Guidance about common pit-falls = avoiding long-term consequences from well-intentioned mistakes

The mentor tries to help the intern avoid mistakes that could have a significant impact on the hosting company down the road. While young ergonomists mean the best, they won’t have experienced the impact of seemingly “small” mistakes. For example, deeming a job “repetitive” has potential for an injured employee to lose their job. The intern needs to understand the importance and impact of checking off each small box in a PCDA. They should be able to objectively justify each demand.

7. Professional, ready-to-go “extra” resources = careful answers to “tricky” questions asked of the intern by employees

When you have an ergonomics intern on-site regularly, employees will start to ask, “Is this too heavy?” or “Is this unsafe?”. Interns may be excited to answer these questions, but their answers can have a domino effect… and depending on how they answer, could create a lot more work for you. A mentor has experience with these scenarios, and will guide the intern to answer carefully and to ask for help, or can provide “ergo extras” as awareness materials to help answer employees’ common questions.

4 perspectives on mentored placement: A collection of quotes

Our interns have said:

“I quickly realised that there are things that you only learn from experience and mentorship.”

“I learned about the importance of building good relationships and having good communication.”

“In the workplace, I had to come up with creative ways to use my [measurement tools].”

“[Mentorship] helped me to write more concisely, and to make ergonomics concepts easier for anybody to understand.”

“[My mentor] demonstrated how to complete a PDA/CDA, and provided guidance and feedback as I learned to do things on my own. Having a one-on-one learning opportunity from a knowledgeable and experienced Ergonomist was especially helpful for me. Receiving personal feedback was particularly valuable during the first few weeks of my internship when I was learning the ropes.”

“Having a professional ergonomist as a mentor gave me the opportunity to ask as many questions as I needed to”

“Field placement was an invaluable and enjoyable experience. It provided me the ability to dabble in various aspects of physical ergonomics and human factors, but also pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone. This contributed immensely to my growth as an individual and ergonomist”

“It was of great benefit to me to be immersed in such a variety of working environments, from offices, to installations in the field, to warehouses, [to] quality testing workshops”

Our clients have said:

“Breaking through and into the workplace after undergraduate studies can be very difficult; many recent graduates have the knowledge and theory to perform the job but lack the work experience and technical skills that are highly regarded by employers. Fanshawe’s Field Placement experience is a great opportunity, working through a field placement with the support of a mentor provided the necessary training and education needed which paved the road for a smooth transition into the workplace to ensure confidence and success!”

“The mentorship provided by the rockstar ergonomist… sets the intern up for success, the 8 week timeline goes fast.  Being clear from day 1 with a written plan on what the project is, having weekly check in on progress ensures that both the intern & the company WIN!”

Taylor’d Ergo mentors have said:

“Mentoring new ergonomists is rewarding, and seeing their vast improvement over just 8-weeks is inspiring. Young ergonomists are like fresh air, they make me reflect on how I can do better as well!”

“Being on-site with a new ergonomist allows me to connect with our client contact in a different way – I get to talk to them about and show them the range of skills and resources that having a novice and certified ergonomist on-site could bring to their ergonomics program and company.”

“The interns are so interested and energetic, and it’s really exciting to see them apply their classroom skills to real life scenarios. I love that we’re able to place interns in two different sites, so they essentially get two completely different experiences in one term. And it’s especially rewarding for the client, intern, and mentor, when we get to keep the interns on full-time after the internship ends.”

Fanshawe program coordinator’s perspective:

“I love the Taylor’d model because the students get high caliber expertise in the field of ergonomics, minimizing the trial and errors that sometimes occur with students. It offsets the time of the company representative by utilizing the skills of Taylor’d Ergonomics, maximizing the benefits of having a student.”

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