Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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From: The Computer and the Decision-Making Process, edited by Terry B. Gutkin and Steven L. Wise (Hillsdale, New Jersey, Hove & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991) .


Copyright © 1991 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Digital Edition Copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing. This book may be downloaded, saved, and printed by an individual for their own use. No part of this book may be re-published, re-posted, or redistributed without written permission of the holder of copyright.


The rapid proliferation of computer technology, in the form of mainframe computers, networks of interconnected machines, and stand-alone personal computers, is having a profound effect on many areas of life. As a result of the spread of computer equipment to offices, homes, and educational institutions; the variety of software applications has grown at an unprecedented rate. With this as background, it should be no surprise that computers have assumed an increasing role in professional practice, including applications in providing services in the area of industrial and organizational psychology.

Industrial-organizational psychologists function in a variety of settings, but primarily provide human resource management expertise to organizations. As such, typical industrial-organizational psychologists are either employed by larger organizations or provide services to smaller organizations as consultants. The organizations in which industrial-organizational psychologists work have long had computer capability; in fact most such organizations are of sufficient size to be among those at the cutting edge of this new technology.

In addition, many of the activities undertaken by industrial-organizational psychologists lend themselves to possible computerization. Included among the major services are the selection of employees, placement of employees on jobs within the organization, training of employees, the design and management of performance evaluation systems, the development of systems to manage career progression, and planning of organizational interventions. Most of these areas involve dealing with large groups or manipulation of substantial data bases in ways that lend themselves to computer application.

Thus it is somewhat surprising that despite the availability of computer resources, industrial-organizational psychologists have been slow to develop innovative applications of this new technology. Computers have played a role in the practice of industrial-organizational psychology, but most often as a means of using sophisticated statistical procedures rather than as an adjunct to practice (Denton , 1987). For example, the Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Dunnette, 1976), one of the most respected compendiums of information on industrial-organizational psychology, mentions computers only in conjunction with computer-assisted instruction, an application that has been in place for more than two decades. The more recent compilation on Human Performance and Productivity (Alluisi & Fleishman, 1982; Dunnette & Fleishman, 1982; Howell & Fleishman , 1982) also failed to address the topic of computer applications , except for computer-assisted instruction. The popular texts in the areas of industrial-organizational psychology, personnel selection, and human resource management also uniformly sidestep the topic of applications of computers to human resource management. One exception is the Schuler text (1987), Personnel and Human Resource Management, which touches on topics of computer applications in compensation, job analysis, performance appraisal, recruitment, selection, training, and related areas.

The purpose of the present review is to examine some of the computer applications for the practice of industrial-organizational psychology. Areas covered will be those that are the traditional service provider activities of industrial-organizational psychologists, and include human resource planning, job analysis, selection, placement, performance evaluation, training, career progression, and organizational facilitation . As will be seen, in most of these areas of practice, progress has been slow, but the prospects for the future are bright. Innovative computer applications are possible, and progress is being made in adapting the new technology to the delivery of industrial-organizational psychological services.

Human Resource Planning

For small organizations with limited human resource needs, the planning process is not an important concern. For large organizations the planning process is essential to meet the personnel needs that result when complex and multiple demands are pitted against the changing forces of a dynamic environment. The planning process consists of developing and implementing programs to ensure that the right numbers and types of individuals are available at the right time and place to fulfill organizational needs. Organizations depend on "what if" scenarios that look at future needs in the context of demographics, economic projections, anticipated technological changes, eligibility standards (i.e., current and future selection standards), recruitment success, and retention goals. In addition, more sophisticated techniques factor into the planning process job preferences among current and future employees, values toward work, and values toward geographical mobility (Dyer, 1982).

It should be no surprise that recruitment-planning models have been developed to take into consideration the many factors involved in developing human resource forecasts. As with several other human resource applications, the military, as one of the largest and most complex organizations, has led the way in developing and using models to forecast future needs. Traditionally, such analyses have been either on the basis of econometric or demographic analyses. However, more recent approaches have brought divergent methodological techniques together to allow more unified forecasts of needs and supply.

In 1987, Borack outlined a model to incorporate what he termed the three distinct approaches to investigating supply issues, demographic analysis, attitudes toward military service, and economic models. One innovation of the Borack model was the inclusion of interest and intention, as well as the usual aptitude and physical variables that tend to determine qualification, as a barometer of the size of the available supply of individuals. By following a panel of respondents over time, Borack found it possible to measure the relative intent to enlist as a function of demographic and geographical factors.

Another way in which psychological variables can figure into the planning process are through determination of factors that influence staying versus leaving. Recent studies (Clay- Mendez, 1985; Hosek, Fernandez, & Grissmer, 1985) have looked at plans to enter the service, or to remain, as a function of demographic factors and economic considerations. As might be expected, predictions of continuation were heavily influenced by the other opportunities available, and the attractiveness of these alternatives. At the same time, both researchers found that predictions based on single trends or overly simple models did not measure up as a result of failure to take into consideration the interactions between psychological and economic factors.