Human Factors Engineer: What It Is and How To Become One

As we return after the Easter break, many of us start to reflect on our current career paths and consider making a change. One field that has gained popularity in recent years is Human Factors Engineering. Whether you’re a new graduate or someone looking to pivot to a new career, you may be curious about what it takes to become a Human Factors Engineer. In this article, we’ll break down what a Human Factors Engineer does, the necessary skills for the job, the path to certification, where you can work as a Human Factors Engineer, and the future of the industry. So, let’s dive in and discover whether a career in Human Factors Engineering is right for you!

What Is A Human Factors Engineer?

A Human Factors Engineer is someone who studies the interactions between people, technology, and the environment. The goal is to design products, systems, and environments that optimise safety, efficiency, and user satisfaction. Human Factors Engineers consider a wide range of factors, including user experience (UX), cognitive psychology, physical capabilities, environmental conditions, and safety. They use research methods, such as surveys, experiments, and simulations, to analyse data and identify potential problems. Based on their findings, they make recommendations for design changes or improvements to ensure that the product or system is safe, efficient, and easy to use.

What Do Human Factors Engineers Do?

Human Factors Engineers work on a variety of projects, from designing airplane cockpits to developing medical devices to creating video game interfaces. They may be involved in any stage of the design process, from initial concept development to testing and evaluation. They may conduct user research, create user profiles, design prototypes, and test products or systems to ensure they meet user needs and are easy to use.

They may also work closely with other professionals, such as designers, engineers, and project managers, to ensure that products meet their overall system performance goals.

What Skills Do I Need To Become A HF Engineer?

To become a Human Factors Engineer requires a diverse skill set that includes technical, analytical, and interpersonal abilities.

Technical skills are essential, including knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, statistics, and research methods.

Problem-solving skills are also crucial for Human Factors Engineers. You will need to identify potential problems and come up with creative solutions to improve the usability and safety of products, systems, and environments. This often involves observing users’ behaviours, analysing data, and designing studies to test potential solutions. Strong critical thinking skills and attention to detail are necessary to ensure that all factors are considered and that the final solution meets the needs of users while also meeting regulatory or stakeholders requirements.

You will also need strong analytical skills to evaluate data and identify trends, as well as communication skills to explain your findings and recommendations to others.

Additionally, you’ll need to be comfortable working collaboratively with others, as teamwork is often essential to success in this field.

How Do I Become A Human Factors Engineer?

While having a degree in a related field can be helpful in becoming a Human Factors Engineer, it is not always necessary. Pursuing certification through professional organisations such as the HFES or the UK Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors technician grade membership can also provide the necessary training and knowledge to succeed in the field. In fact, some employers may even prioritise certification over traditional education.

To become certified as an Ergonomist or Human Factors Professional, you will need a minimum of two years of relevant experience and to have your qualifications reviewed by a board of peers.

This certification provides recognition of your expertise in the field and can improve your job prospects and earning potential. Certification can also be a valuable way to demonstrate your commitment to the profession and your dedication to staying up-to-date with the latest developments and trends.

One practical step that can be taken to gain experience in this field is through volunteering. This could involve volunteering at a conference, a non-profit organisation, or a charity. For example, some STEM charities in the UK offer opportunities for people to work with young people who are interested in STEM, and this can provide an opportunity for new graduates to develop their skills.

Additionally, the UK Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) message boards can be a good place to reach out and see if you can find a mentor. Mentors can also sometimes be found in your own organisation, so it can be beneficial to connect with experienced Human Factors Engineers in your workplace.

Another practical step to take is to seek out internships or apprenticeships in the field. Many companies offer internships or apprenticeships in Human Factors Engineering, which can provide valuable hands-on experience and help you develop a network of professional contacts.

How Do I Become a Human Factors Engineer? Image of a usability study conducted by a Human Factors Engineer.

Additionally, online courses can be a great way to learn more about Human Factors Engineering and develop new skills. Liv Systems, for example, offers practice-based online courses in HFE that are self-paced and supervised by experienced HF practitioners.

Where Do HF Engineers Work?

Human Factors Engineers have a wide range of career options and can work in various industries. Some of the most common industries for Human Factors Engineers include aviation, healthcare, transportation, and consumer products. However, they can also work in fields such as defence, energy, and finance.

Human Factors Engineers can work for a variety of organisations, including government agencies, academia, research firms, or consultancies. Some Human Factors Engineers also work for large corporations or startups, particularly those that focus on user-centered design.

Working as a Human Factors Engineer often involves working in interdisciplinary teams, collaborating with professionals in other fields. For example, they may work closely with designers, engineers, project managers, and marketing professionals to develop products that are both user-friendly and marketable. Collaboration is essential to ensure that a product is designed with the end-user in mind, as well as meeting business goals.

In addition to working in specific industries, Human Factors Engineers may also focus on specific types of products or systems. For example, they may specialise in medical devices or software interfaces. Specialisation in a specific area of Human Factors Engineering can lead to a more focused career and allow individuals to develop a deep understanding of a particular domain.

What’s The Future Of Human Factors Engineering?

The future of Human Factors Engineering is bright, as more companies recognize the importance of creating user-friendly products and systems. With advancing technology, Human Factors Engineers will have an increasingly critical role in designing safe and efficient products that cater to a diverse range of users.

Innovations in virtual and augmented reality offer new opportunities for Human Factors Engineers to develop groundbreaking solutions for various industries. While there may be challenges that come with these advancements, such as the shift towards automated systems, this presents an opportunity for Human Factors Engineers to focus on designing the interactions between the user and the system.

This shift reinforces the critical role of the human factor in the overall system, highlighting the need for Human Factors Engineers.

In addition to technological advances, other megatrends such as aging populations and the need for increased security will also put an emphasis on the importance of Human Factors Engineering. As our world becomes more complex, the need for products and systems that are easy to use and understand becomes increasingly important. Human Factors Engineers will be critical in ensuring that these products and systems are designed with the end user in mind, taking into account their abilities, needs, and preferences.

With the growing importance of creating user-friendly and accessible products and systems, the field of Human Factors Engineering will continue to be in high demand and play a crucial role in shaping our future.