Graduate Training in Industrial-Organizational Psychology: Some Oft-Ignored Contextual Issues

Article excerpt


The focus of this paper centred on the contextual changes in the workplace of our I-O graduates. First, large organizations have shed many departments and "outsourcing" is the becoming the norm for many, if not all, of the Human Resource functions of organizations. Second, the changing nature of "jobs in general" has made frequent career change not the exception but the rule for most professionals. Third, the globalization of the work place has placed tremendous burdens on organizations and their personnel to be flexible, fast changing, and information-oriented. Fourth, the changing nature of the academy has modified the way academics think about their work and how they spend their time. How can we best equip our graduate students with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be successful in such a world? While we don't claim to have definitive answers to these important questions, as we think through these contextual variables, we raise the issues for discussion in graduate programs and provide a few ideas about program design.

Most graduate training programs in I-O Psychology adhere to the guidelines published by the governing bodies of our discipline -- Guidelines for Graduate Training and Education in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Canada ('Canadian Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1989), Guidelines for Education and Training at the Doctoral Level in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, (1985), and Guidelines for Education and Training at the Master's Level in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1994). The focus of these documents is to assist curriculum and program designers to build an I-O Psychology graduate program. In reading these documents there is clear emphasis on competency in content areas. How many competency areas and whether they are "core" vs. more "peripheral" is what distinguishes these documents one from the other. These documents are helpful, but they only tell part of the story. "Related competencies" as they are called (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1985), such as interpersonal skills, effective oral and written communication skills, developing effective work habits, critical thinking skills, research skills, sensitivity to social and cultural diversity, career planning, as well as knowledge about other disciplines (e.g., management, human factors, computer science, sociology) and what these have to offer mainstream I-O Psychology are deemed important, but not as important as content information.

Some of these skills are developed systematically in our graduate programs; these skills include oral and written communication skills via conference presentations and writing papers, and time management skills via the work loads assigned and team work skills via group projects. However, many are not taught or developed. Our view is that these "related competencies" are extremely important and in fact in the long run of one's career may be even more important than reading literature on the latest development in a particular content area. This issue is troubling. Not only because it is a problem that most of us who are in the business of training I-O Psychologists are acutely aware, but because of the few resources we have to cope with the problem.

This article centres on the contextual changes in the workplace of our I-O graduates. Although it focusses mainly on the ramifications of these changes for I-O graduate students, we recognize that these contextual changes also affect the rest of the working world, and therefore our clients. Specifically, first, large organizations have shed their Human Resource Departments at a dizzying pace. "Outsourcing" occurs frequently for many, if not all, of the HR functions of large organizations. …


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