Industrial organizational psychologists keep things humming

PhilosophyConservationJobs and WorkplaceCompensation and BenefitsJob MarketIllinois Institute of TechnologyRoosevelt University

With the state of today's job market one might think it would give rise to a new type of profession aimed at dealing with the stressors. The reality is, industrial organizational psychologists have been in place in many companies long before this economic downturn, helping to create a productive work environment for management and employees. However, the need seems to be greater than ever and the popularity of this career path has increased, leading one university to expand its present program.

The gift

Thanks to the generosity of alumnus Irwin Helford, Roosevelt University is starting a doctoral program at its Schaumburg Campus in industrial organizational psychology and has hired Adrian Thomas of Auburn University as the founding director. This is the University's first Ph.D. program. Plans are to begin admitting students in the fall of 2011.

Helford, who retired in 2002 as chairman emeritus of Viking Office Products and vice chairman of Office Depot, donated $1 million to the university.

"Roosevelt has had the largest master's-level IO program in the area for the past 10 years," says James P. Choca, director of Roosevelt's Psychology Department. "The Ph.D. sequence is a logical expansion of our program. It will be a student-centered, four-year program for highly talented and motivated students."

Thomas, who will be the Helford Professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology, has an extensive background in this field doing everything from creating curriculum and teaching courses to mentoring students and acquiring funds.

"The program at Roosevelt will be based on the apprenticeship model used at some of the top IO programs in the country," he says. "This model emphasizes research, practicum, and internships in an effort to highlight real world experiences over classroom learning."

What is it?

According to Mark Kiel, associate professor at Argosy University, The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology Inc. describes IOs as: "…versatile behavioral scientists specializing in human behavior in the work place."

"Traditionally, the 'industrial' portion has focused on personnel, personal and engineering psychology issues; and the 'organizational' has focused on systemic issues, leadership dynamics, and organizational assessment and culture," Kiel says. "Both traditions use research and theory to inform workplace practices."

IOs are dedicated to applying psychology to people in the workplace, says Roya Ayman, professor and head of the division of Industrial and Organizational Psychology School at Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Psychology.

"No, they are not 'shrinks'," she adds. "Rather, their field of psychology tries to understand and measure human behavior to improve employees' satisfaction in their work, employers' ability to select and promote the best people, and to generally make the workplace better for the men and women who work there. They do this by creating tests and by designing products such as training courses, selection procedures and surveys."

What they do?

IOs apply scientific methods to topics ranging from hiring and employee selection, to socialization and training of workers, work life balance strategies, promotion and/or turnover of employees, to succession planning and associated issues, says Thomas.

"For instance, a company with a high turnover rate may be required to invest much time and effort in training and developing new personnel only to see them leave," adds Choca. "Such a company may benefit from studying the possible reasons for the turnover and the characteristics of the employees who stay with the company as opposed to those who leave. At the upper end of the employee hierarchy, the company's board may want to explore the different attributes of the prospective candidates in order to consider the advantages and disadvantages that each of the candidates may present for the company."

The field includes many roles. Some graduates work in organizations and some become consultants. Those within organizations work in a variety of capacities from human resources to training and development.

"I use the analogy of medical doctors," says Ayman. "We all need doctors to help us prevent illness and to help us find cures. Organizations need IO psychologists and their expertise to help prevent the organization from facing major challenges or to help the organization manage it.

"For example, we help in training the leadership of organizations to be more effective. We help employees and organization in work/family interface. And issues related to safety and productivity are topics of interest to us. We are also very concerned about the inclusiveness of the workplace both in the hiring practices, as well as the climate of inclusion and the factors that affect all this."

Get educated

Argosy's Chicago campus offers a Master of Arts in Industrial Organizational Psychology that is in its first year. According to Adam Froerer, assistant program chair, full-time students can complete the program in approximately 14 months and part-time students can complete the program in 28 months.

"This program prepares students for careers in areas such as compensation, statistical decision making, organizational development, leadership, and human resource management positions," he says. "Each course is generally offered once a year right now. As the program grows it is anticipated that the classes will each be offered more regularly."

IIT's industrial organizational psychology program has two tracks -- Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology and an MS in Personnel and Human Resources Development (PHRD), says Ayman.

"Most students can finish the MS in PHRD in two years," she says. "The Ph.D. is designed to be completed in about five years. These include work experience. The Ph.D. students are expected to be active in research from the first year. They usually present their papers in national conferences and some publish their work before graduation."

Admission into the new Roosevelt Ph.D. program will be competitive, says Thomas, with consideration given to standardized scores, undergraduate work, previous research and relevant work experience.

"Doctoral education is much more about out of class experiences than in class experiences so it is hard to predict the exact length of stay for a particular student," he says. "Classes will mostly be held on the Robin Campus in Schaumburg although, again, classes are not the bulk of a doctoral education."

Job prospects

2010 employment statistics for IOs are just being collected, says Kiel.

"It is assumed that the job market has tightened for IO professionals like many other employment sectors," he adds. "That said, there are some trends that are positive for the field regardless of economic up- or downturns."

According to the last formal survey of the industry taken in 2009, these include an average starting salary of $55,000 and more than over 40 percent of respondents to the survey reported receiving raises and another 40 percent reported receiving bonuses.

In addition, the skill set of an IO and the variety of ways this degree can be used helps the job outlook, says Kiel.

"IO professionals can work in a rich variety of roles and positions including human resources, administration and leadership roles internally in organizations, or as consultants, coaches, assessors, researchers or trainers as external resources," he adds.

The prospects for IOs remain solid, says Thomas. "Despite the economic downturn as long as there are organizations, and people working for organizations, there is a great need for IOs," he says. "In fact, the demand for IOs is usually greatest during times of great prosperity and great decline. In the current economy companies need to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of every worker and every personnel function, which is the very job description of the IO psychologist."

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