Just as sports psychologists can grant athletes a competitive edge, so can industrial psychologists be of benefit to business organisations.
Just as many sports teams look to sports psychologists to grant them a competitive edge, so will any forward-thinking company with a coherent business strategy in place be interested in the potential of psychology to boost employee performance.
Here’s a brief overview of industrial psychology, and why it makes for such a promising career choice.
What is an industrial psychologist?
An industrial psychologist applies psychological theory to an organisation, rather than an individual. Specifically, they look at how employees within the organisation relate to their work environment.
Companies in turn can recruit industrial psychologists to help them improve productivity by creating a more efficient workplace environment.
Dr. Andrea Gould, a certified psychologist and president of Lucid Learning Systems, writes that industrial psychologists can “identify training and development needs in areas such as productivity, management and employee working styles, and help companies address problems by coaching employees, developing performance evaluation criteria and assessing market strategies.”
How do industrial psychologists help businesses improve their productivity?
According to Paul Muchinsky’s Psychology Applied to Work: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology, industrial psychologists can apply their expertise to one or more of these six key areas of a business:
- Training and development, where the focus is on identifying roles within the company, and the skills required to perform those roles. Industrial psychologists can then help companies develop effective training programmes.
- Employee selection, where the focus is on helping the company optimise their recruitment procedures, for example, by developing effective screening tests.
- Ergonomics, where the focus is on the layout of the office environment, which can impact employees on a psychological as well as physical level. Psychologists can recommend improvements that will reduce work stress.
- Performance management, where the focus is on developing methods for measuring employee performance levels.
- Work life, where the aim is to improve productivity by improving the quality of life for employees in the workplace.
- Organisational development, where the focus is on the structure of the organisation as a whole, with psychologists advising companies on how to improve productivity through restructure and redesign.
What is the difference between an industrial psychologist and a professional coach?
The role of the industrial psychologist may seem similar to that of a business or executive coach; in that they are hired by companies to improve productivity throughout the organisation, by focusing on the smaller parts that make up the whole.
One fundamental difference, however, is that an industrial psychologist focuses on employee satisfaction and motivation, whereas professional coaches focus on developing leadership and management skills. One could say that industrial psychologists are employee-focused, while executive and business coaches are leadership-focused.
Why become an industrial psychologist?
Aside from having a promising future in this increasingly competitive business landscape, industrial psychology is a profession that allows for a unique combination of skill sets; including motivational skills, strategy and engineering. As such, it is perfectly suited to individuals with a diverse range of interests, and a willingness to explore the boundaries of what the psychology profession is capable of.
How to become an industrial psychologist
Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming an industrial psychologist. In most instances, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Social Sciences (BSocSci) with a psychology major is a good start. Since many industrial psychology schools are found in the Economic and Management Sciences or Business and Economics faculties, you could also begin with a Bachelor’s of Commerce (BCom) with a major in industrial psychology. SACAP’s Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences (BAppSocSci) majoring in Human Resource Management is also an excellent first step into the world of organisational psychology.
Industrial or organisational psychologist is one of nine categories in which you can register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). In addition to a Bachelor’s degree majoring in psychology, you’ll need the following to qualify for registration as an industrial psychologist:
- An Honours degree in industrial psychology
- A directed Master’s degree programme in psychology approved by the HPCSA
- Successful completion of a full-time approved internship of 12 months duration
- Successful completion of the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology in the relevant registration category