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feature
Roni Reiter-Palmon
Roni Reiter-Palmon. photo by Tim Fitzgerald

Building Better Officers

by Susan Houston Klaus

Through their coursework, students in the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology Graduate Program are learning the impact of psychology on human behavior in the workplace. Through their participation in a special project, they're also getting a first-hand look at how they can help enhance the effectiveness of an organization.

A group of UNO students, together with I/O program director Roni Reiter-Palmon, are collaborating with a consulting firm to identify and analyze job duties for U.S. Navy officers.  The results will help the government organization better match candidates and existing employees to the right job.

The project is being led by SkillsNET, a Waxahachie, Texas, corporation that helps organizations across the country develop job profiles for employees.  As part of a grant provided by the company to Reiter-Palmon, the UNO group will collect and analyze data from thousands of naval officers.

"The information will be used to evaluate training needs and match the skills needed for each position," says Renae Manning, program executive officer for SkillsNET and the company's liaison for the UNO team.

Online surveys are sent to officers in 115 different positions. Respondents are asked to review current information about their jobs and provide any additional duties that may not be included.

"The students' job," says Reiter-Palmon, "is to identify the overlap in descriptions, clarify anything that doesn't seem clear and compile a final list of what each officer does in their job." Then, the students prepare task statements – one-sentence descriptions that will be used in the next survey phase.

When the information is edited, it's sent back to the officers for review and additional input. From here, the personnel provide information about specific tools and skills they use in their job, and the unique knowledge and resources required to perform in the position.

Each student gathers information for between 4 and 10 officer jobs. When each response is complete, the team performs scientific analysis – using the validated input from the participants – to paint an accurate picture of each job description.

The findings will provide valuable input to the Navy. "They'll use the data in training to link job data to learning objectives and content," Manning says, "as well as in promoting the continuum of jobs, helping to identify what kind of skills and knowledge are needed, and finding the best people to fill those jobs.

"The research and expertise that the group brings to the project in the areas of job analysis, training and selection," she adds, "are very helpful to us in providing the client with the information and recommendations they'll need."

For the students, participating in the project is a way to apply their knowledge to a real-life situation – as well as earn a monthly stipend for their work.

"Job analysis is really the building block of a lot of personnel actions," Reiter-Palmon says. "So we try to understand the job, regardless of the person in it. By using science as a background for this application, we can help people make better, more informed decisions in the workplace."

Susan Houston Klaus is a contributor to UNO's annual Omaha World-Herald insert.  She can be reached at shoustonklaus@hotmail.com.

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