When it comes to psychology's work force, the field knows very little about itself in terms of how well it's balancing--and will balance--the supply of psychologists and demand for psychological service, research and education.
To help change that, in February, APA's Board of Directors--in line with recommendations made by the Board of Educational Affairs (BEA)--allocated $11,000 for a study panel to examine the feasibility and cost of conducting a psychology work-force analysis. The proposed work-force analysis will investigate employment patterns initially in health and human services--the largest area of employment in psychology--and will also eventually study other applied areas of psychology as well as academic and research positions. In the coming months, a newly formed study panel will decide the methodology and specific areas to be studied.
BEA Workforce Analysis Task Force member William Robiner, PhD, says the study is long overdue.
"We need to get a clearer understanding of what the needs are and how the profession can best fulfill those needs," says Robiner, who has written on work-force issues and is an associate professor and director of health psychology at the University of Minnesota. For example, he says, the field needs to evaluate how to expand professional and academic areas of psychology, better train psychologists to meet future needs and identify the needed competencies, such as skills in working with diverse racial, ethnic and age populations.
After all, the field needs to know where it is and where it's heading because there are too many gaps in current employment studies, making it difficult for the field to plan for future supply and demand needs, adds task force chair Emanuel Donchin, PhD, also chair of the psychology department at the University of South Florida.
Filling in research gaps
In particular, the BEA report suggests investigating the following questions:
How good is the match between the competencies and skills of new doctorates and the competency demands of the job market when they enter it? Are graduate students prepared for jobs across subfields in psychology?
What are the differences in the roles and employment opportunities of PhD versus PsyD psychologists?
Why do students pursue graduate degrees in psychology and its subfields? How do their goals evolve during their graduate education?
What are the employment trends among those with master's degrees and to what extent do they pursue doctoral degrees in psychology or shift professions?
How balanced is the supply and demand of psychologists across subfields of psychology, employment sectors and geographic areas? What are the future projections for employment?
Robiner says the field not only needs to look at how to increase demand in some necessary areas, but also evaluate whether and how psychologists could regulate supply to meet service demands.
"If we don't do that, we end up training people who [may become] frustrated by career trajectories or have difficulties starting careers," Robiner says. "We need to consider these real-world market forces."
The number of psychologists, however, is not a sufficient indicator of supply; quality of workers must also be taken into account, the report notes.
"Supply and demand are changing because of the nature of the changing work force," Donchin says. The field, he adds, needs to become aware of whether it's overpreparing, underpreparing or adequately preparing psychologists for their careers.
"Psychologists are very successful at inventing spaces in which they can apply their knowledge," says task force member Kathleen Barker, PhD, who studies the workplace. "We need to understand how that occurs--rather than 15 years from now looking back and asking ourselves, 'how did that happen?'"
The task force charged with finding some answers to such questions will have one member appointed by the Board of Directors to chair the panel and two members-at-large with expertise in work-force analysis. Other members will be appointed from BEA, APA's Board of Scientific Affairs, Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest, Board of Professional Affairs and Committee for the Advancement of Professional Psychology. APA's Research Office and each APA directorate will also appoint one senior staff person to serve on the panel, and representatives may also be invited from education and training groups, state psychological associations and licensing boards.
BEA task force members hope the results of the analysis will help guide the field on the challenges that psychologists face in diverse employment settings and the roles expected of them when they enter psychology's various subfields. The task force also wants to identify areas where training may need to be boosted to meet demand. Ultimately, they hope the results show Congress the need for public funding in areas of mental health where the supply of psychologists is inadequate.
"Overall, the stakeholders in psychology need data on all the aspects of employment in psychology," says Barker, "so they can plan for the immediate and long-term supply and demand of psychologists and the frontier scientific areas that are emerging...and understand how innovation emerges in the careers of psychologists."
BEA Task Force on Workforce Analysis members
Patricia Arredondo, EdD
Kathleen Barker, PhD
Emanuel Donchin, PhD (chair)
William Robiner, PhD
Robert J. Vance, PhD
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