Ergonomist

Salary and conditions

  • Range of typical starting salaries for new ergonomics graduates: £20,000 – £25,000.
  • Range of salaries with around five years’ experience: £25,000 – £40,000.
  • Senior ergonomists can earn up to £60,000.
  • Salaries vary significantly between large industrial companies and universities. Earnings in consultancies are equally variable. Those with an ergonomics degree in addition to relevant experience from a previous profession can earn higher salaries than those stated above.
  • Ergonomists generally work office hours, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but overtime and weekend or shift work may be required depending on the employer and the project.
  • Working environments can differ enormously. However, the work often involves a combination of office or laboratory-based activities and field work/externally based tasks.
  • Self-employment/freelance work is possible for those with experience in a specific area.
  • There are many opportunities in the field to undertake individual research. This usually involves liaising with other freelance ergonomists.
  • Because of ongoing developments in technology and design, ergonomists must be prepared to continue learning throughout their careers.
  • Jobs are available in most areas but mobility may be necessary to secure promotion.
  • The work can be stressful because of the demands of the clients and professionals in other fields.
  • The work often involves interacting with a range of people within a team of professionals and/or working with clients or with individuals in the process of assessing workplace issues.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home at night can be frequent but varies according to the focus of the role. Overseas work or travel is occasional.

Job description

Ergonomists are concerned with the safety and efficiency of equipment, systems and transportation. They use scientific information to ensure the health, comfort and protection of the people using them and due to the nature of the work can find themselves in a wide range of environments. According to the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors , ‘Ergonomics is the application of scientific information concerning humans to the design of objects, systems and environment for human use.’

By scientifically studying the relationship between people, environments and equipment, ergonomists can use their findings to improve human interaction with processes and systems. Areas of work include product/equipment design, production systems, information and advanced technology and transport design.

They may work in consultancy, research, development or teaching and may also be called human factors specialists

Typical work activities

An ergonomist’s work activities vary widely but are always based on ensuring that a system or product meets the needs of the user and will usually include:

  • investigating the physical capabilities and limitations of the human body;
  • analysing how people use equipment and machinery;
  • undertaking workplace risk assessments;
  • assessing work environments and their effect on users;
  • utilising assessment results to identify areas for improvement;
  • designing practical solutions to implement these improvements;
  • producing user manuals to ensure the best use of new systems or products;
  • producing reports of findings and recommendations;
  • writing proposals and compiling statistical data;
  • using detailed knowledge of the human body to improve the design of products, such as cars and leisure facilities;
  • interviewing individuals and observing them in a particular type of environment, as part of the research process;
  • liaising with staff at all levels of an organisation to undertake research;
  • visiting a wide range of environments, such as offices, factories, hospitals and oil rigs, in order to assess health and safety standards or to investigate workplace accidents;
  • providing advice, information and training to colleagues and clients;
  • acting as an expert witness in cases of industrial injury;
  • developing a clear understanding of how specific industries and their systems work in a short space of time;
  • managing sections of projects;
  • presenting to clients, conferences and professional societies;
  • identifying opportunities for new work.

Entry requirements

There are two common routes to qualifying as a professional ergonomist:

  • a BSc in Ergonomics recognised by the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors;
  • a relevant postgraduate qualification (MSc or PhD by course or research).

For entry via the postgraduate route, a degree in a relevant subject is required. Examples include:

  • engineering;
  • computer science/software engineering;
  • mathematics/physics;
  • operational research;
  • physiotherapy/occupational therapy;
  • medicine;
  • design;
  • sports science;
  • psychology;
  • biology.

Some distance learning courses, leading to a relevant postgraduate certificate, diploma or MSc are also available. Visit the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors  website for more information.

A high standard of academic qualifications is usually sought by employers.

Some courses include a year of practical experience. The choice of course and the type of pre-course qualification you have may affect the type of areas in which you can specialise as a professional ergonomist. The Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors’ website has details of recognised and qualifying courses. As there are more places on postgraduate courses, more graduates will enter the profession with a Masters.

Entry is not possible with an HND only.

Applicants with a relevant postgraduate qualification will have an advantage, particularly if this is combined with related work experience, specifically in industry.

Whilst pre-entry experience is not required, work in a relevant environment can be useful. Employers usually favour candidates with some level of industrial experience.

Potential candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a good level of numeracy;
  • the ability to understand technical concepts;
  • an interest in people’s behaviour in different situations;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • a systematic approach to studying people in their work environment and producing research;
  • the ability to work well with people at all levels;
  • good communication and negotiation skills.

Membership of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors is open to anyone but those who are qualified and experienced gain entry to the professional register, which is sent out to employers and profiled on the institute’s website. Membership can also be a useful way of forging professional contacts. The institute also runs a work experience scheme, ‘Opening Doors’, which operates an online placement service, available to student members. Use projects on degree courses to develop areas of specialty and to create opportunities for holiday work. Sandwich options on degree courses are also very useful. A valuable way to gain greater insight into the profession is to talk to working ergonomists. Contact the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors for more information about speaking to professionals in the field.

The hardest job to get is the first one, meaning that initially competition is high but there is a great demand for ergonomists with over three years’ experience. This field welcomes mature candidates and is open to those starting new careers. A high proportion of ergonomists enter the profession in their 30s and 40s and come from a range of backgrounds, including physiotherapy, psychology and engineering.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.

Civil Service fast streamer

Salary and conditions

  • Starting salaries usually range between £25,000 and £27,000.
  • Typical salary after promotion, usually after four to five years but dependent entirely on performance: around £45,000, eventually rising to around £57,000 or more.
  • These salary ranges apply to London-based posts. Most entry-level posts are based in London. Starting salaries can vary across departments and sometimes departments offer pay above the minimum to reflect certain experience or qualifications (e.g. a relevant postgraduate degree).
  • Departments differ quite widely in their range of work and style. Some roles require long and/or irregular hours, but working hours are more likely to be a standard nine to five and most roles do not require working weekends or shifts.
  • A generous holiday entitlement of 25 days plus 10.5 days public and privilege holidays are given.
  • A large proportion of the work is office based.
  • Family friendly benefits, including flexible working hours and job sharing, are widely available. Many departments also offer crèches, holiday play schemes or childcare assistance. Some departments offer loans for transport season tickets, and access to sports and social facilities.
  • Part-time work and career breaks are possible but self-employment/freelance work is not.
  • It is often necessary to work under considerable pressure.
  • Although slightly more than half of Civil Service jobs are held by women, men continue to be over-represented in the more senior roles. The Civil Service is committed to increasing diversity in its workforce and regularly publishes its employment statistics.
  • Initially, jobs are in restricted locations. Most departments will start Fast Stream recruits in London, but many civil servants, including senior staff, work outside the South East. There are also opportunities in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, for example.
  • Travel within a working day, absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel may be required occasionally. Relocation and mobility may be required to make progress in some departments and may be a permanent fact of life in others.

    Job description

    The Civil Service Fast Stream  is an accelerated development programme for graduates preparing them for careers at the highest levels of the Civil Service. Fast streamers are placed in regularly changing roles of intensive responsibility to prepare them for future senior managerial positions.

    Working with, and for government, Civil Service fast streamers are exposed to a range of placements in government departments and agencies. Opportunities for secondment into the private sector, charities or other public sector organisations may also be available. Placements usually last around 12 to 18 months.

    The precise nature of the job changes from placement to placement but will generally include the following types of roles:

    • policy adviser;
    • project leader;
    • consultant;
    • researcher.

    Typical work activities

    Civil Service fast streamers are expected to become skilled negotiators and good managers. After three to five years’ training, those with an aptitude for the work might be managing a multimillion-pound budget or taking the lead in drafting a government White Paper.

    Typical work activities include:

    • rapidly developing an in-depth knowledge of a particular subject or issue, to the extent that you will be consulted as a topic expert;
    • representing your department’s interests and negotiating with others to reach a position of mutual satisfaction;
    • contributing constructively to issues where many interests are involved;
    • formulating and implementing policy;
    • communicating complex ideas clearly, both orally and in writing (e.g. you may be required to summarise a 1,000 page report into a page of A4 for a busy minister);
    • adapting to different jobs, possibly in different departments on a regular basis;
    • working quickly and under pressure, often within complex rules and procedures;
    • leading and managing projects, resources and people;
    • achieving and delivering results to deadline.

    Entry requirements

    There are six fast stream options to choose from:

    • Graduate Fast Stream
    • Analytical Fast Stream
    • HR Fast Stream
    • Technology in Business Fast Stream
    • European Fast Stream
    • Northern Ireland Fast Stream

    The Graduate Fast Stream option is open to people with a degree in any discipline and is sub-divided into four further options: Central Departments; Diplomatic Service; Houses of Parliament; Science and Engineering.

    The Analytical Fast Stream option is open to graduates with a relevant degree who wish to pursue a career as an economist, social researcher or statistician.

    The HR Fast Stream option is for people wanting to build a career in all areas of the HR profession.

    The Technology in Business Fast Stream option is for those who have a strong interest in technology, particularly IT systems, and who want to be involved in managing the government’s use of technology and how this impacts on every area of society.

    European Fast Stream is suitable for people seeking a career in the EU institutions and the Northern Ireland for those seeking a Civil Service career in that country.

    The majority of fast streamers are recruited from any degree discipline (the exceptions being those entering the streams for statisticians, economists, and science and engineering). A 2:2 honours degree is the minimum entry requirement (2:1 for economists and the technology in business stream). The recruitment process is extremely thorough and places greater emphasis on future potential than past achievement. Additionally, if you have a disability that has prevented you from obtaining a degree, and you can provide alternative evidence of your suitability, the degree requirement may be waived.

    Further details about the schemes, eligibility criteria and how to apply are available from the Civil Service Fast Stream  website.

    Entry is not possible with an HND or foundation degree only. Although not essential for any of the other schemes, postgraduate qualifications are welcomed and are recognised in starting salaries.

    Pre-entry experience is not required, although sandwich course placements, vacation visits and work experience are all offered by many government departments. See the Civil Service Jobs  for details. The Civil Service Summer Diversity Internships  programme aims to improve diversity within graduate recruitment. It also provides a valuable insight into the wide ranging opportunities across the Civil Service.

    Candidates to the Fast Stream need to show evidence of the following:

    • a lively, informed but impartial interest in political and economic issues;
    • decision-making, planning and organisational skills;
    • initiative, flexibility and the ability to deal with the unexpected;
    • ability to rapidly build relationships and work in an extended team;
    • ability to translate complex and technical information, persuade and communicate;
    • commitment to personal and professional development.

    A small number of posts are available only to UK nationals, but most are open to Commonwealth Citizens or European Economic Area (EEA) Nationals with unrestricted right to reside in the UK. The Diplomatic Service has certain residency requirements for applicants (see Civil Service Fast Stream  for full details).

    Competition is very keen, with thousands of applications for just over 550 vacancies. In 2008, there were approximately 14,500 applicants across the general and specialist Fast Stream programmes.

    Applications must be made online, with varying deadlines depending on which stream you are applying for. Candidates are assessed on their drive for results, and their abilities to learn and improve, make decisions, think constructively, build productive relationships and communicate with impact. The application process involves:

    • a non-assessed stage of competency evaluations for potential applicants to assess their own suitability for the scheme;
    • online tests (verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, competency questionnaire);
    • an e-application form;
    • a supervised e-tray exercise at a regional centre;
    • a one-day assessment at a centre in London;
    • there is a specialist assessment for applicants applying to the analytical fast stream option but these applicants do not need to complete some of the earlier recruitment stages;
    • for some options there is also a final selection interview.