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Spotlight on Global I-O

Lori Foster Thompson,
Alexander E. Gloss, and
M.K. Ward1
North Carolina State University

Greetings TIP readers, and welcome to the January edition of the Spotlight on Global I-O column. Thanks to our guest author Seth Oppong, this issue offers a detailed look at the history, current status, ongoing challenges, and prospectus of I-O psychology in Ghana, a country which in many ways has been a leader on the African continent. Seth has intimate knowledge of I-O psychology in Ghana and provides both a personal and comprehensive picture of our discipline in this exceptional country. As Seth indicates, many of Ghana’s I-O psychology challenges are not unique to his country and to a certain extent can be extrapolated to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We hope you enjoy this rich portrait of I-O psychology in Ghana that adds greatly to our understanding of I-O psychology in the “majority” world.2


1As always, your comments and suggestions regarding this column are most welcome. Please feel free to e-mail us at: lfthompson@ncsu.edu.
2The “majority world” consists of countries which have traditionally been characterized as “developing” and which house the vast majority of the world’s population.


Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Ghana

Seth Oppong
Department of Human Development and Psychology3
Regent University College of Science and Technology
Accra, Ghana

 


3Seth Oppong is an I-O psychologist trained at the University of Ghana, Legon and teaches at the Department of Psychology, Regent University College, Accra. He was a visiting international scholar at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, during the 2007/2008 academic year. Seth can be reached at: oppon.seth@gmail.com.


To many Ghanaians who are less familiar with psychology, the discipline is perceived to equip its students with abilities to “read” other peoples’ minds. According to Machungwa (1989), “Unlike many other physical and social science disciplines, psychology is not well known by the average administrator/policy maker, let alone the average person in [African] countries” (p. 55). Even more than the larger discipline, I-O psychology is not well known in Ghana. Perhaps the reverse is also the case, that is, many I-O psychologists might not be familiar with conditions in Ghana. Therefore, before discussing I-O psychology in Ghana, I provide some historical, geographical, and economic information about the country.

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to regain independence in 1957 from the British. Ghana has a population of 24 million and is considered a lower middle-income country. Ghana is thought of by many as an oasis of peace, a beacon of democracy in Africa, and one of the friendliest places for businesses to invest in on the continent. Ghana is the home country of the former UN General-Secretary Kofi Anan and the first country in Africa that President Obama visited after assuming office in 2009.   

History of I-O Psychology in Ghana

As a discipline and profession, I-O psychology has a relatively short history, but that short history is almost as old as the independent nation. To appreciate the history of I-O psychology in Ghana, we must begin with the brief history of psychology itself. Psychology arrived in the present-day state of Ghana with colonialism in the form of literacy education and evangelism. It started with the establishment of the Basel Mission’s Boys’ School in Akropong and teacher training college at Osu, Accra in 1837 and 1843 respectively. The Anglican, Wesleyan, and Catholic missions all established schools during that period (Gadzepko, 2005) and included psychology as part of their teacher training curricula. However, it wasn’t until 1967 that psychology became a distinct academic discipline (Agbodeka, 1998). According to Agbodeka (1998), the department of psychology established at the University of Ghana, Legon was the first academic department of psychology to be established in Anglophone West Africa.

It was during the same period that I-O psychology was first taught as an undergraduate semester course at the University of Ghana, Legon. The course was entitled Occupational Psychology (R., Akuamong-Boateng, personal communication, 20 May 2010) and was taught by H. C. A. Bulley, considered, along with others, to be one of the fathers of I-O psychology in Ghana. Other notable Ghanaian I-O psychology figures include Robert Akuamong-Boateng, who trained many of the I-O psychologists we have in Ghana including the author, and Bill Puplampu, who was the first Ghanaian I-O psychologist to head the Department of Organization and Human Resource Management at University of Ghana Business School and was subsequently appointed as the dean of the School of Business Management and Administration at Central University College-Ghana. In addition to these figures, there have been many Ghanaian I-O psychologists who have established themselves abroad. However, many of the Ghanaian I-O psychologists in the diaspora have had very little impact on the shape and form of I-O psychology practice in Ghana because they have often not participated in the training of local I-O psychologists nor provided services to Ghanaian companies. Their major contribution has often been in the use of Ghanaian samples in their studies, and their studies are often not well known by I-O psychologists in Ghana itself.

By the late 1980s, undergraduate students who took the aforementioned I-O psychology course at the University of Ghana, Legon went on to complete their PhDs from such institutions as the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, and the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. The fact that many of these students had to travel outside of the continent of Africa to complete their studies likely is a result of the fact that, by 1988, there were only three universities besides the University of Ghana (which began postgraduate studies in 1984; R. Akuamoah-Boateng, personal communication, 12 August  2011) with postgraduate programs in industrial psychology: the University of Zambia, Nigeria’s University of Jos, and the University of Nigeria at Nsukka (Machungwa, 1989). If one traces the history of I-O psychology in Ghana to the time the first undergraduate class in occupational psychology was taught, then I-O psychology in Ghana is over 40 years old. However, it has been approximately only 25 years since Ghanaians have begun earning their PhDs in I-O psychology from foreign institutions, and no Ghanaians have earned PhDs in I-O psychology from Ghanaian institutions yet—although this is likely to change in the near future.

I-O Psychology Programs Today

Currently, psychology graduates interested in pursuing post-graduate study in I-O psychology within Ghana can do so by going to either the University of Ghana or the University of Applied Management. The University of Applied Management offers an MA in business psychology with a concentration in either industrial psychology or advertising psychology. Post-graduate training at the University of Ghana, the more established of the two universities, includes a master of philosophy (MPhil) that consists of 1 year of coursework, 1 year of research, and a 6-month industrial attachment; there is also an opportunity for graduate students to study abroad for 1 year.

Perhaps most significantly for the field, there is also an I-O PhD program at the University of Ghana. The first batch of I-O PhD candidates (notably consisting only of males) at the University of Ghana have yet to complete their studies. There are plans to admit a second batch starting in 2013. With the introduction of a direct MPhil/PhD route, it is expected that the number of locally trained doctoral candidates will increase even more over the next decade. Admission to the MPhil program has risen from five people in the 2006/2007 academic year to 13 in the 2012/2013 academic year (R. Akuamoah-Boateng, personal communication, 12 August 2011).

In addition to programs at the University of Ghana and the University of Applied Management, one can also find semester courses in I-O psychology at the following universities: University of Cape Coast, Regent University College of Science and Technology, Methodist University College, University College of Management Studies, and Data Link Institute.

I-O Psychologists in Ghana

There are few statistics on I-O psychologists in Ghana. However, based on my own online searches and a “snowball sampling” technique, I would argue that the majority of I-O psychologists in Ghana have master’s degrees, work as practitioners, and are trained at the Department of Psychology, University of Ghana, Legon (with a minority graduating from other Ghanaian institutions and universities in the U.S., Canada, and the UK). In terms of the nature of their practice, it seems that most I-O psychologists work in HR positions. Some would argue that I-O psychologists working as HR practitioners really do not practice their profession, as such they are not registered as I-O psychologists (G. Panford, personal communication, 16 December  2010; Renecle, 2001). Despite this argument, a number of the I-O psychologists have established I-O consulting firms, providing services mostly in the area of training, recruitment, psychometric testing, and, to a lesser extent, organizational development. At the time of this writing, the author was able to identify at least nine such firms. Some I-O psychology graduates are hired by these I-O consulting firms or by management consulting firms. Most I-O graduates are in HR and/or training positions in the banking, insurance, shipping and logistics, telecommunication, and allied industries. Notable employers of I-O graduates include Barclays Bank, Ghana Commercial Bank, Vodafone Ghana, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Metropolitan Insurance, and the African Institute of Management Science. In addition, a minority of Ghanaian I-O psychologists work in academia. At last count, there were at least 14 institutions that employed I-O psychologists as instructors and/or researchers.

Challenges and Prospects for I-O Psychology in Ghana

The current challenges to I-O psychology in Ghana are similar to other sub-Saharan African countries and are also similar to the challenges that other psychological subfields face in Ghana. These include: a lack of awareness on the part of the general public and employers, a lack of a professional association for I-O psychologists, a limited number of I-O psychology programs at the graduate level, a scarcity of scholarship to support postgraduate studies abroad, limited availability of suitably trained personnel, low enrollment levels in existing I-O psychology programs, and difficulty in securing applied attachments (i.e., internships) for graduate students during vacation. I argue here that many of the challenges raised can be addressed if we make the discipline and profession of I-O psychology in Ghana responsive to the needs of corporations in Ghana. However, there are also are concerns about the applicability of I-O knowledge in Ghana because the knowledge base of its academics and practitioners is largely imported from abroad. Further indigenization of the discipline must be embarked on. Adair (1999) has recommended four approaches by which we can indigenize psychology (linguistic, empirical, applied, and metadiscipline or pragmatic) of which the linguistic and applied strategies are of interest now. The applied strategy requires that we adopt a problem-centered research paradigm that enables the researcher to adopt others’ methods in addition to the positivist-empiricist approaches. The linguistic approach requires that we mainstream concepts within local Ghanaian languages into our psychological vocabulary and understand the relevance of those concepts to organizational behavior using qualitative research.

Despite these challenges, work-related and organizational problems faced by Ghanaian firms in the public and private sectors present opportunities for I-O psychologists to demonstrate their relevance both in terms of research and practice. For example, recent public sector reforms, most notably the “single spine salary structure,” which aspires to place all employees in a single salary structure, is an area ripe for I-O psychology’s involvement. In addition, there is a high prevalence of industrial actions/strikes in Ghana that I-O psychologists can help solve. There is a booming industry around petroleum exploration and production that can benefit from the discipline’s insights. Moreover, there seems to be a newfound love for psychometric testing in Ghanaian businesses. Finally, there are recurrent complaints that Ghanaian workers do not have the right job attitudes and perennial complaints of poor customer service. These issues are just a few examples of the many areas in which I-O psychologists can create a positive impact in Ghana. In summary, the future of psychology in Ghana is bright, but I-O psychologists must work together to overcome a number of challenges mentioned in this article in order to make that future come true.

Concluding Editorial

So there you have it—a timely and enlightening account of I-O psychology’s challenges and opportunities in Ghana. Meda wo ase (“many thanks” in Akan, one of Ghana’s many languages) to our guest author Seth Oppong and to you for joining us in our continued exploration of I-O psychology in the majority world!

References

Adair, J. G. (1999). Indigenisation of psychology: The concept and its practical implementation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 48(4), 403–418.
Agbodeka, F. (1998). A history of University of Ghana: Half a century of higher education (19481998). Accra, Ghana: Woeli Publishing Services.
Gadzepko, S. K. (2005). History of Ghana: Since pre-history. Accra, Ghana: Excellent Publishing and Printing (EPP) Ltd.
Machungwa, P. D. (1989, September). Postgraduate training in industrial psychology: Issues and Problems. Paper presented at seminar on the Current Status of Teaching of Psychology and Psychological Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.
Renecle, S. D. (2001). The relevance of industrial psychology as a profession and discipline in South Africa. Journal of Industrial Psychology, 27(4), 22–24.