The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 3 (July 1, 1930)
Industrial Psychology — The Worker and Psychology
Mr. Dale continues his series of articles on Modern Industrial Psychology, and, in the following contribution, discusses the advantages of selection of workers in relation to specific tasks in industry.
The Selection of Workers and What it Involves
To-Day, more than ever, the question in industry is how the business can be run most effectively. That we are realising the necessity for some form of selection in workers is demonstrated in our schools. When the child leaves, he takes with him a card upon which, in addition to a summary of his attainments, there appears a space for his aptitudes. This is a guide—possibly a crude one—for the employer. It ought to be the preliminary basis for selection. Of course the employer and the potential employee will regard it from different points of view, but, in the main, it is an impartial statement given after lengthy observation. The average worker will admit that selection on a basis of fitness for the job must effect no small saving in human energy, at the same time the employer thinks of the saving of material and cognate subjects.
Think, for a moment, of the haphazard way in which men find their work, it is determined more often by opportunity than by fitness. A boy leaves school in order to earn his living. In most cases there is little method in seeking his aptitudes, he takes anything that comes along. Economic pressure demands almost immediate employment, and so he finds himself working with a smith, a plumber, a carpenter—he does anything, so long as it is work. Often he is influenced by rates of wages. So he settles down, perhaps, as a carpenter. But it may be that he has no aptitude for the work, it is impossible for him to do first-class work, and so he remains a mediocre workman, earning a fair wage. It might be that his aptitude lay in poster designing. In this field he might have risen to the top of the profession, and there have done better work than some other man who just as “accidentally” started poster work with only fair results. Thus two men are compelled to work at a trade other than that for which they are most fitted. Our industrial life is full of these square pegs in round holes. The possibility of placing each man (or woman) where they are best fitted is termed “Selection on Natural Fitness.”
Interesting Examples of Selection.
Crude attempts have been made to select employees in some factories, but, speaking generally, such movements are only possible where there are different processes being carried out in the same shop. This seems to indicate a large shop such as our Railway Shops, which are concerned with a variety of processes. As an instance of what I mean let me quote two cases. The first was relative to a big screw-driving job. Screws had to be driven at set spaces by a machine, and the whole contract finished before a given time. The number of screws used was something in the vicinity of one hundred and twenty-six thousand. To the average man the task would have been tiring in the extreme. But the Otahuhu shops are employing some 800 men, so that it was possible to get just the man who could do it without engendering boredom with its attendant evils. The man took a pride in the job, he declined to accept a move to other work, and finished the contract ahead of time. Moreover, he was proud of his accomplishment, of his skill in doing the work, and, above all, of the fact that he used up all the screws of a particular size in Auckland. A small shop would have found it impossible to “select” with the same degree of success.
The second example is that of a general labourer who was discovered to have definite sketching ability. He was thereon placed in the card checking section—a labourer's job—for half the time. The reason is obvious. He had an aptitude for seeing in a particular way necessary for the reading of these cards. This aptitude meant more efficient work in less time, while the employee suffered less from fatigue page 54 page 55 because of the inherent interest the job held. I could multiply these examples, but these are two simple types which prove, in a very clear way, that our shops are doing their work in a scientific manner.
Vocation and Aptitude.
It will be plain to most readers that many of the industrial vocations are entered upon with little planning. For this reason one is safe in saying that there is a tremendous amount of mal-adjustment. Men who are bank clerks would, in all probability, be better painters, while some painters might be better electricians. The bank clerk achieves his objective only through hard work over a long period, that means, of course, a period longer than it ought to be. Similarly we might postulate a painter's case, or that of the electrician. Now, lost time—or its equivalent, too long a time—is a loss to industry that can never be made up. It is a permanent charge on output which falls on the retailer, and so ultimately on the consumer. Whichever way we look at it, it is bad business. But that is not all.
It means a deliberately self-imposed drain on the strength of the worker. The mental strain which comes from the ever-present realisation that the work is uncongenial is immeasurably worse than charges against production, because it affects human life. It is, in effect, a movement along lines of greatest rather than along those of least resistance. It induces sickness, it is the basic factor in work-weariness, the root of the matter when employees report for duty with drawn face and lack-lustre eye. Where work follows lines of aptitude less fatigue is involved, work becomes a pleasure. Where such conditions as these latter rule it means an increase of what the Americans have rightly termed “Happiness Minutes.” The writer does not assert, of course, that these cross-currents of mental life cannot be mitigated. The man who drove screws had his moments of fatigue, no doubt, but this was, happily, rendered nugatory by a consciousness that it was a job he could do, not only do, but do well. The work held interest. Most readers will agree that we enjoy doing something that holds an interest, and which we can do well.
Next month, “The Evolution of Selection in Industry.”
The enemy we have to face is not the tiger in man, but the lack of imagination and vigorous thinking.—Prof. Gilbert Murray.
At the Addington Railway Workshops, South Island.
(Steffano Webb, photo)
Members of the Committee who organised the recent social function for the official opening of the new Dining Hall at Addington Workshops.
Back row (left to right): N. R. T. Carey, E. Cameron, W. P. Hern, P. H. Stevenson, W. J. McCullough, D. H. Robertson, E. S. Stringleman, S. Atkinson, D. J. D. Gourlay. Front row: J. Dickson, J. S. Cummings, R. Moore, C. A. Jenkins (Workshops Manager), E. J. Wilson, J. D. Moore, T. J. Stokes. Absent: W. Hamilton.