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HFES Bulletin

August 2009
Volume 52, Number 8

Feature: Education and Training Survey

HFES Member Education and Training Needs
By Nancy J. Stone & Paul L. Derby

     In 2003, the Education and Training Committee determined the education and training needs of the HFES membership using a Web-based survey (Cooke & Gorman, 2004). Another Web-based survey was administered in May 2009 to all current members. The 2009 survey, like the earlier one, aimed to determine how needs have changed and whether former needs have been met through various Education and Training Committee activities. In addition, the 2009 needs survey included questions to assess new needs that reflect changes in the HF/E profession and technology, and to gain feedback on the Educational Resources Web page.

     This report highlights the main findings of the survey. The complete report is available in the Educational Resources section.

     Of the 346 respondents, the greatest number of respondents was at the PhD level, followed by the master's and then bachelor's degrees (see Table 1). This trend is similar to the results of 2003; however, the 2009 response rate for PhDs is higher and the master's and bachelor's degree response rates are lower (43.3%, 37.1%, 12.3%, respectively; Cooke & Gorman, 2004).

Table 1. Highest Degree Obtained

     Respondents' major field of study and concentration fell into these categories: behavioral science (44.1%), engineering (35.9%), human factors-undefined (6.4%; i.e., those who could not be classified as behavioral science or engineering), medicine/health (5.8%), and other/blank (7.8%). The two largest categories were once again behavioral science and engineering; however, the proportions were more equal than in the 2003 data (58% behavioral science and 26% engineering; Cooke & Gorman, 2004).

     Similar to the 2003 survey, practitioners (60.5%) were the largest occupational group of the respondents, followed by academics (18.6%) and students (10.3%). Another 10.6% of the respondents indicated having an "other" occupation, typically indicating a combination of the other choices (e.g., academic and practitioner). The majority of practitioner respondents reported working in industry (57.6%), government (30.3%), or private consulting (12.2%).

     In order to further understand the demographics of the respondents, we asked individuals to rank order their top three areas (primary, secondary, and tertiary). Unfortunately, the survey system allowed individuals to mark multiple primary, secondary, and tertiary areas. That is, instead of ranking just their top three areas, some individuals ranked each or multiple areas as either a primary, second, or tertiary area, invalidating these data. Therefore, it was not possible to identify individuals' top three fields in which they work or to make a comparison with the 2003 survey data.

Education and Training Needs of Occupational Groups
     Because education and training needs are likely to vary depending on whether one is a student, academic, or practitioner, different sets of items were presented to these three occupational subgroups. Therefore, only students should have responded to the student items, the academics to the academics items, and the practitioners to the practitioner items. Because it was possible for anyone to respond to any set of items, the data were sorted by occupation. Therefore, only those responses made by respondents who identified as students were used in the analysis of student needs. The same process of analysis was used for the academic and practitioner items.

     Respondents indicated the extent to which an item was an education or training need by selecting either "not a need," "a need," or "an important need." To compare the results with the 2003 data, we combined the "need" and "important need" categories to represent the "need" category. Based on the percentage of need, the items were rank ordered for each occupational subgroup.

     Not surprisingly, students' top needs target job and career needs, followed closely by educational needs (accreditation, books, and internships). Accreditation of graduate programs is a new need, compared with the 2003 survey results, indicating that students are more aware of and concerned about the accreditation of graduate programs.

Table 2. Top Five Student Needs

     Academics also were highly concerned about internship opportunities, which was the top academic need in 2003. The need for improved textbooks is new to the top five academic needs areas, as well as a database for tracking academic programs. Finally, the need to attract undergraduates to the profession and to HF/E programs is related to a current workforce concern about developing enough HF/E professionals to meet workplace demands.

Table 3. Top Five Academic Needs

     Practitioners are concerned that there are not enough qualified practitioners. The needs for higher-quality graduate programs in HF/E and more practitioner training and development opportunities also were expressed needs in 2003. The need to increase the quality of undergraduate education and the number of qualified specialists who have the opportunity to access valid resources seems to reflect the current needs of practitioners and academics. This finding further suggests that there might be some workforce issues to address.

Table 4. Top Five Practitioner Needs

Accreditation Issues
     In 2003, accreditation did not make the top five lists for students, academics, or practitioners, but it is apparent from the 2009 results that accreditation has become a greater need for students. In 2003, the largest proportion of respondents indicating that accreditation was a need were students, followed by practitioners and then academics (Cooke & Gorman, 2004). Although accreditation was not a top five need for academics or practitioners in the latest survey, issues related to improved education are.

Specific Content Areas and Skills
     Besides assessing general needs, we included questions regarding which content areas and skills are important to one's work as well as which content areas and skills reflect the greatest need for education and training. Respondents first indicated how important content areas were to their jobs and then indicated, based on the same set of content items, the extent to which an item was an education or training need. We used the same process to assess the extent to which skills were important to respondents' work and if more education and training was needed on those skills.

     The response options for importance to work were "not at all important," "somewhat important," or "extremely important." On whether the item was an education and training need, the response options were "not a need," "a need," or "an important need." To compare the results with the 2003 data, we combined the "somewhat important" and "extremely important" categories to represent an "important" category. Likewise, the "need" and "important need" categories were combined to represent the "need" category. Based on the percentage that each item was important or a need, we rank ordered the items for each occupational subgroup.

     Tables 5a and 5c present data on the importance of various content areas and skills to one's work. Tables 5b and 5d present the need for education and training for the same content areas and skills. The top five content areas that were viewed as important to one's work appear to be fairly consistent across occupational groups. The need for education and training in these content areas appears to vary somewhat depending on the occupational group, which indicates that not all important content areas are seen as a high need for education and training.

Table 5a. Top Five Content Areas Important for Work (Percentage of Responses)

Table 5b. Top Five Content Areas Needing Education and Training (Percentage of Responses)

Table 5c. Top Five Skills Important for Work (Percentage of Responses)

Table 5d. Top Five Skills Needing Education and Training (Percentage of Responses)

     The content areas that are considered important and that represent a need for training and education have changed somewhat since 2003. Specifically, only three of the top five content areas felt to be important to work are the same as reported by Cooke and Gorman (2004): cognition, display design/graphical user interface/signage, and human-computer interaction (HCI); and three of the top five content areas needing education and training are the same: again, display design/graphical user interface/signage, HCI, and cognition.

     Similarly, there was general agreement on the skills important to work across occupational groups, but the perceived need for education and training varies. The skills important to work listed in Table 5c are the same skills listed by Cooke and Gorman, although the rankings changed slightly. The needs for education and training also reflect a great deal of similarity to the 2003 survey data.

Feedback on Educational Resources Web Site
     In response to the education and training needs identified in the 2003 survey, the Education and Training Committee developed the Educational Resources section of the HFES Web site. We asked about respondents' awareness, perceived usefulness, and ease of use of the site. The majority of respondents (77%) were unaware that the Educational Resources section existed. Therefore, most of the respondents (83%) had never used it. Nevertheless, the majority of respondents (55%) found the site useful.

Figure 1: Number of responses (n = 295) indicating the usefulness of the Educational Resources Web site.

     Only 28% of respondents found the ER site easy to use, whereas 33% found it difficult to use. It is possible that the ER site is not easy to use because, as several respondents indicated, the relevant information is too embedded in the site hierarchy.

Figure 2: Number of responses (n = 286) indicating the ease of use of the ER Web site.

E&T Committee-Sponsored Workshops
     Besides creating the Educational Resources Web site, the Education and Training Committee has been sponsoring Annual Meeting workshops that address members' education and training needs as identified in the 2003 survey. About 6% of respondents indicated attending each of the seven cosponsored workshops. Of those, 48% found the workshops helped meet their education and training needs, whereas 29% did not. The remaining 22% were neutral.

General Respondent Comments
     A common comment was that the survey was too long and complicated, which is similar to a comment about the 2003 survey. In addition, several individuals suggested the introduction of short courses delivered by distance to meet the needs of individuals who cannot travel to conferences. Finally, some individuals suggested focusing more on the technical skills needed and less on experimental psychology.

     These data suggest that accreditation issues may continue to increase in importance, that the Educational Resources Web site is helpful but difficult to locate and use, and that Annual Meeting workshops have helped some members meet their education and training needs. The Education and Training Committee will use these data to determine ways to further address the identified needs of the HFES membership.


     We thank all members who completed the survey (N = 346), which reflects a 10.1% response rate (739 members followed the link to the survey). In 2003, the response rate was 30% (Cooke & Gorman, 2004). We realize that some restrictions imposed by the survey tool often made responding frustrating or led to incomplete or inappropriate responses (e.g., multiple concepts ranked as a first need), which might explain why 140 individuals started but did not finish the survey.

     Congratulations to HFES Member Jerry Sue Bassalleck, who won the drawing for free 2010 membership dues

     This survey is the result of the work of many people, including Patricia DeLucia, Keith Kozak, Mark Lee, James Beno, Lois Smith, Anthony Andre, Kermit Davis, Paul Green, Elizabeth Davis, and Haydee Cuevas. Special thanks go to Paul Derby, who oversaw the implementation of the survey and data analysis.


     Cooke, N. J., & Gorman, J. C. (April, 2004). What do HFES members need to know? Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Bulletin, 47(4), 1, 4-6.

     Nancy J. Stone is professor and chair at Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly University of Missouri, Rolla). Paul L. Derby is a PhD student at Texas Tech University and is completing an internship at Honeywell in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

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