The first issue for 2008's volume of the journal Ergonomics is focused on the future of the field. While an academic or professional subscription is required to access the volume, the lead article, Bartlett and the future of ergonomics, is available for free online.
The article takes a retrospective look at Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett's 40+ year old predictions on the future of ergonomics, which were surprisingly insightful and accurate:
"Bartlett predicted that developments in automation and communication technologies were likely to present a significant challenge for Ergonomics. Specific predictions he made seem to derive from overall anticipated changes in working activities, and research foci, as a result of the new technologies. These were:
- greater physical isolation of individuals;
- greater demands on technologically-mediated communication;
- reductions in physical workload;
- increases in mental workload;
- combining of the work of several people into the work of one;
- presentation of multi-modal stimuli;
- greater emphasis placed upon decision making; and
- shorter working hours and more leisure time."
The article closes with a look at more recent predictions made by ergonomists, as well as design research practitioners:
"Fulton Suri (2001) proposed the adding of 'empathy' to the armoury of the professional ergonomist. She saw challenges arising from an ever widening field for the application of ergonomics, from resolving conflict between the commercial goals of organisations and the societal goals of maintaining human values and from trying to influence how systems are designed and operated. Fulton Suri saw the role of the ergonomist as being one of a centrally positioned facilitator of effective solutions through being more empathetic to the needs of all concerned."
Beyond this lead article, the content of the special issue contains articles on future ergonomics trends taken from the present context, presented by a range of international experts. If these experts are nearly as accurate as Bartlett was about the future, then this is clearly worthwhile reading.
On a related note, the Human Factor & Ergonomics Society recently published an article, On the future of ergonomics, based on a survey of their members. It includes estimates of the ergonomics job market across a number of relevant fields and industries.