A person thinking of a career in organizational or industrial psychology, ergonomics, human factors or occupational health and safety may be interested in knowing, “How is the job outlook for human factors psychology?”
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate this type of psychology or occupational safety occupation, it does compile statistics on psychologist jobs and occupational health and safety jobs. This gives us some insights into the predicted outlook for careers in these fields.
Related resource: Top 15 Master’s in Human Factors and Ergonomics
Additionally, there are many websites that track employment information specifically for careers in this field. We can review data from these websites, and in conjunction with the BLS data, can paint a thorough picture of what to expect from a career as a human factors psychologist.
Knowing about the job outlook data and other relevant information for an occupation can help you make a decision for a college major or future career. When starting your educational journey, it’s important to have as much information as possible so you can make an informed decision about your future.
Let’s have a look at the latest trends to help you decide if this is the right career path for you.
Employment Statistics for Psychologists
According to the BLS, 192,300 people were employed as psychologists as of 2019. This includes all types of psychologists. Of the people who reported their employment as a psychologist, 171,500 stated that they work as a clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, or school psychologist.
Around 1,100 people reported their occupation as an industrial-organizational psychologist. Approximately 19,800 reported that they work as some other type of psychologist.
The BLS predicts that the employment numbers for each of these types of psychology will remain fairly steady through the end of the decade.
For example, the BLS estimates that there will be three percent growth among all psychology jobs through 2029. The same holds true specifically for industrial-organizational psychology. With 1,100 jobs currently estimated in the U.S. for industrial-organizational psychologists, this means an increase of just 33 jobs over the course of the 2020s.
Employment Statistics for Occupational Health and Safety Workers
As reported by the BLS, about 122,600 people were employed as occupational health and safety workers as of 2019. Of those workers, about 100,500 were occupational health and safety specialists, and about 22,100 were occupational health and safety technicians.
Both occupational health and safety technicians and specialists are needed in a variety of work settings, from government agencies to business and industry. In the coming years, a significant portion of this job will entail examining insurance costs as well as workers’ compensation costs. And while these issues will likely not cause a major increase in jobs in this field, they will be issues that you will need to navigate if you elect to pursue a career in occupational health and safety.
Job Growth Predictions for Psychology and Occupational Health and Safety Jobs
As noted earlier, the BLS estimates that psychologist jobs will increase by three percent through 2029. This is a flat rate of growth, with not many new jobs in this field expected.
However, this is just an estimate from the BLS, and those estimates can change. For example, in 2018, the BLS predicted 14 percent growth between 2018 and 2028. Specifically, industrial-organizational psychologists had an estimated growth rate of 13 percent, and all other types of psychologists have an estimated job growth rate of 12 percent. At that time, clinical psychology jobs were expected to grow by 15 percent.
These growth rates are faster than the rate of growth for all occupations, which is expected to be around five percent. Now, with psychology jobs expected to grow at three percent, the growth rate is slightly below the expected rate for all occupations.
The news is slightly better for occupational health and safety workers. Occupational health and safety technicians can expect a job growth rate of five percent while occupational health and safety specialists can expect a growth rate of around four percent. Compare these figures to the 2018 prediction from the BLS, which was that the occupational health and safety field would grow at a rate of six percent through 2028.
So why have these estimates changed?
As we’ll discuss below, there are plenty of factors that can influence how much a career field grows – if it grows at all. In the case of occupational health and safety jobs, the change in estimates from 2018 to 2019 aren’t that large and are well within the margin of error for estimates of this nature.
Psychology jobs, on the other hand, showed a significant downward swing from one year to the next. In addition to the issues that can affect job growth discussed in the next section, job outlook estimates can change because of a wide range of factors.
For example, employment growth can slow down, thereby reducing the number of new jobs in a certain field. Likewise, there might be a larger-than-usual pool of qualified applicants that outnumber job openings. If this occurs, it will be harder to find work in a certain field, even if you are qualified. On the other hand, there might be a smaller-than-expected pool of job seekers that can drastically improve job growth numbers.
So, take the job outlook numbers with a grain of salt, and remember that they are just educated guesses. Economists work hard to report estimates that are as accurate as possible, but since those estimates are based on fluid numbers, they can vary significantly from one year to the next.
Issues That Could Affect Growth in Human Factors Psychology Jobs
There are several key issues that could affect jobs in human factors psychology and ergonomics.
First, an economic recession could cause both private and public sector employees to cut down on non-essential jobs. While having human factors and occupational health and safety workers is viewed as essential in some businesses and industries, in others, these positions might not survive a long-term economic downturn.
Second, productivity of current workers can influence how many new jobs are created in the human factors space. If current workers improve on their productivity and ability to meet job-related goals, there might be less of a demand to hire additional staff.
Third, as the Baby Boomer generation ages and retires, more jobs might open up in human factors-related areas. Obviously, the more current workers that retire, the better the job outlook will be for new workers to enter the field.
Lastly, there are unforeseen circumstances that can greatly affect job growth. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of this. As the virus swept the globe, it took with it any sense of normalcy in the workplace and disrupted employment for millions upon millions of people.
Events like this can have a long-term impact on the health of the economy, including on hiring practices and the number of positions that are available.
What You Can Do to Improve Your Job Prospects
One factor that could help you improve your job prospects is to specialize your studies in more than one area. Workers who are adept at technology, for example, and who have two or more areas of specialty in human factors psychology may have enhanced prospects for employment as human factors psychologists and other jobs in this field.
While focusing your studies on a single area of human factors psychology can be beneficial (i.e., for a career in research), in other areas, having more than one area of expertise can help you stand out from the crowd of other job applicants.
For example, you might get a master’s degree in human factors psychology but pursue a certificate in occupational safety and health. As another example, you might double major in psychology and computer science to give you a wider skill set that might be attractive to businesses hiring someone in a human factors position.
Another factor that can positively impact your ability to find a job in this field is to continue your education. Someone with a master’s degree will likely have a leg up on a job versus someone with a bachelor’s degree. The same is true of an applicant that has a doctoral degree.
This doesn’t mean that you must forge ahead from your undergraduate to your graduate studies and then directly into a doctoral program. Getting some on-the-job experience in between your degrees can be helpful for getting a future dream job as well.
As you continue your education, be sure you have opportunities to focus on research. You don’t necessarily have to spend years in post-doctoral research, either. People who have experience with quantitative research and who have published one or more research studies in human factors psychology could find themselves at the top of the list for a new job.
Networking is also an important part of increasing your chances of getting a job in human factors psychology or a related area.
While it might not be practical to criss-cross the nation to attend every networking event you can find, you should make an effort to establish connections with people in the human factors psychology field.
If you conduct research in your master’s or doctoral program, you will work with many other people in human factors psychology. This is a great starting network of people that could help you find a job after you graduate.
Internships and practicum experiences throughout your education are also excellent ways to start building a professional network. You might find that your undergraduate job shadowing experience connects you with the human resources manager at the company where you just applied for a position. It’s a small world, and you never know when you will meet someone that can help you advance your career!
In terms of making yourself a more attractive job candidate, good communication skills go a very long way. An applicant that has a well-formed resume with excellent spelling and grammar will instantly be higher in the order than someone that has similar skills and experiences, but who has some spelling and grammar mistakes on their resume.
Of course, it isn’t just written communication skills that can help elevate you to a higher positioning amongst job applicants. Having superb oral communication skills will help you leave a lasting, positive impression on interviewers. Being a good speaker isn’t just having the ability to put words together in a pleasing way. Instead, you should be able to be clear and concise as you speak – interviewers appreciate applicants that can get their point across without being long-winded!
But your job prospects really begin years before your first interview with the planning stage of your education and career. While not everyone is a strongly goal-oriented person, if you intend to increase your likelihood of working in human factors psychology, you need to make a plan with actionable goals and steps that get you to your career goal.
Your plan doesn’t have to be a detailed spreadsheet or anything terribly formal. But sitting down and mapping out what you want to accomplish in school and in your career will help you identify what you need to do to make those things happen.A five-year plan is a great place to start. In it, identify where you are now and where you want to be in five years. Determine what you can do now and what you need to be able to do in the future. Then establish goals to get you from Point A to Point B, ensuring that you reward yourself along the way for sticking to your roadmap. Check-in on your progress periodically to see how far you’ve come.
Also, take a look at the job outlook for psychologists and occupational health and safety professionals every couple of years. This is a good way to have an idea of what to expect for human factors psychology. The BLS updates its information on these and other occupations every couple of years, and as we discussed, their estimates might change. But staying abreast of job trends is certainly a good thing as you prepare for your future.
If you can do these things, you will have a great plan in place for maximizing your ability to start a career in the human factors psychology field.
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Updated May 2021