Posted with permission, ISE magazine at www.iise.org/ISEMagazine
What attracted you to industrial engineering and ergonomics?
My undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, which for many of my peers meant working in the automotive industry. I really did NOT want to design cars, but I did want to design for people. I took an elective ergonomics course and found my niche!
What are some of the new challenges posed by people working from home?
There are so many challenges employees are facing as they work from home. From a physical standpoint, the temporary setups that worked for the first few weeks or months may not be ideal for the long term. Businesses are making decisions on what equipment they can or should provide for their employees for their home offices. Setting up a consistent standard for supporting employees working from home will be especially important for those businesses considering changing their work models to allow more permanent home office employees. This is especially true as the lines between work and home have blurred. Employees are spending more time working and more time in virtual meetings. The emotional stress is growing, especially with those who are also dealing with the responsibilities of younger children, elderly parents or school-age children attending virtual classes.
What’s the most exciting thing about what you do at the Ergonomics Center?
Our vision is to enhance life and performance through the science of ergonomics. I love the fact that we get to work with a variety of companies, large or small, to help improve their ergonomics program in some way. No matter what the industry, when you improve the workplace for the employee, you’re improving their overall quality of life.
One of my favorite things is to see the passion and ideas that come from the teams participating in the Ergo Cup competition at the Applied Ergonomics Conference. The Ergonomics Center is proud to sponsor the annual event, which showcases ergonomic solutions that have been successfully implemented and have often led to significant ROIs for the participating companies.
What was your experience like with the virtual AEC?
The 2020 virtual AEC was a first for us, and we’ve learned a lot! We had some fantastic presenters, both live and prerecorded, who did a great job. The master track sessions were also amazing. We have some areas we hope to improve on or add, but given the circumstances, we were pleased with the outcome. I have to give a shoutout to the great group of volunteers who plan AEC, as well as our alliance partners, sponsors and vendors.
What are the greatest challenges in your industry?
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges in the field of ergonomics is the lack of governmental standards. Some companies understand that applying the principles of ergonomics to products and processes not only improves employee health but also positively affects key measures such as efficiency and quality. However, many companies are still regulation-driven and do not understand the fiscal benefits that can come when ergonomics programs and efforts are supported. Unfortunately, without standards and regulations, many view addressing ergonomics-related issues as an option – that is, until they have a problem. As a profession, we need to do a better job of showing the value and return on investment that the application of sound ergonomics principles can bring.
As an ergonomist, communications skills are just as important, if not more so, than the technical skills you learn. You will have the opportunity to interface with so many people at all levels and in all types of industries. You often have to understand the other person’s perspectives and goals in order for your message to be heard.
What are some of the key trends to watch in 2021?
The use of wearable technology has been steadily growing and attracting interest in the past few years, and I think that trend will continue as more companies navigate the options to see what devices work for them. I also believe that the use of AR/VR will grow, especially as a way for companies to safely train and prepare workers. Lastly, the use of wearables and handheld devices for job task analysis is an area to watch in the coming years.
What advice would you give to young people in this profession?
I would let young professionals know that as an ergonomist, communications skills are just as important, if not more so, than the technical skills you learn. You will have the opportunity to interface with so many people at all levels and in all types of industries. You often have to understand the other person’s perspectives and goals in order for your message to be heard. As ergonomists, our passion is to improve the workplace in ways that keep the worker healthier, but we also have to remember to show that we have the ability to improve productivity, efficiency and quality.
Why would you recommend membership in IISE?
I’ve been a member of IISE since I started my career and started attending AEC. Over the years, my involvement progressed from presenting to volunteering and eventually serving as a chair. The leadership skills, networking opportunities and most of all, the valued friendships I’ve gained through my involvement in AEC and IISE have been invaluable.
– Interview by Frank Reddy