Monday, December 31, 2007

The Origins of Task Analysis

Personnel Departments were charged with several administrative and compliance issues, one of which was the categorization of jobs. They were required to categorize jobs for two main reasons: to determine the appropriate pay range for a given position and to ensure compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) published by the Department of Labor, provides a wide range of occupational information and acted as an early guide to Personnel Departments in their quest to classify jobs and assign a pay range. However, this book was exhaustively long and burdensome to use. The same could be said for using this book to determine whether positions fell under exempt or non-exempt status according to FLSA. Later the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), published by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics, broadened the categorization of jobs and decreased the size of the database that Personnel Departments had to search by 90%, but it still comprises several thousand pages of information.
The level of detail provided by these texts was sufficient for making pay and status decisions, but they were not detailed enough to help companies design training classes for new and existing employees. While the DOT and OOH listed job titles and other categorizing information they did not break jobs down into their component tasks. Employees responsible for training wanted to know exactly what steps were involved in doing the work so that they could teach those steps correctly. The process devised for finding out what work was being done and how it was being done came to be called task analysis. Whereas the Personnel Departments were content with analyzing positions at the job level to meet their requirements, Training Departments had to drill down two levels deeper – from job to activity to the required steps for each activity. The first attempts at task analysis involved asking job incumbents: 1. how much time do you spend on each activity and 2. what steps do you take an in what order to complete that activity? Task analysis resulted in long lists of fine details for each job.

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