Education and Training: Master's or doctoral degree
Salary: $40,000 to $72,000 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Ergonomists, also known as human factors engineers, assist in the design of machines, tools, and other equipment to ensure that they can be used easily and correctly. The widespread use of computers has created a large demand for ergonomists to make office and home computer stations more user-friendly. They must take into account human factors, which include difficulty in understanding a machine's functions and discomfort when operating the machine. Such factors can cause vision problems, fatigue, physical pain, or even serious chronic conditions if they are not relieved. Ergonomists are also employed in many other fields, where they work with a variety of equipment and furniture ranging from desk chairs to military aircraft monitors.
Companies hire ergonomists when they are remodeling their work environments to increase the productivity of employees who may be adversely affected by poor lighting, uncomfortable furniture, or other factors. In addition, ergonomists play an important role in marketing new products. They can increase the sales of cameras, computers, and other equipment by making them easier to use.
Many ergonomists are employed full time by large manufacturing companies, such as automakers and computer firms. Others work as consultants for corporations, universities, and government agencies.
Education and Training Requirements
Because ergonomics draws on expertise from many disciplines, specialists from a variety of fields become ergonomists. Some major in engineering or computer science, while others are trained in psychology, biology, physiology, or anthropology. In the United States, most ergonomist jobs require some graduate study. Some colleges and universities have recently added undergraduate and graduate programs in ergonomics. A list of schools offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in ergonomics and human factors engineering can be found on the Web site of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
Getting the Job
Your college's placement office may be able to help you find a position in this field. You can also apply directly to manufacturers or other businesses that may need the services of an ergonomist. Trade and professional journals, newspaper classifieds, and Internet job banks may also list job openings in this field.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Ergonomists generally advance by moving to a larger company with more benefits or by becoming managers of ergonomics groups. Some ergonomists open their own consulting firms.
Employment opportunities are expected to increase at a rate faster than the average for all occupations as their expertise is applied to an increasing number of fields and as manufacturers compete to develop the most user-friendly products. Computer companies and others that use automated systems will need ergonomists to develop a comfortable, safe, and productive work setting.
Ergonomists work in comfortable, well-lighted offices and studios. They may have to travel to different locations when work environments or pieces of equipment need to be remodeled. They must be able to communicate effectively with people to determine exactly what type of problems they are having.
Where to Go for More Information
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
P.O. Box 1369
Santa Monica, CA 90406-1369
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries differ widely according to an ergonomist's area of specialization and the location of the job. In 2006 the range of average annual salaries for ergonomists was from $40,000 to $72,000. Benefits for ergonomists who work for large institutions include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.