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Can You Teach Mechanical Aptitude?

August 6, 2019

Can You Teach Mechanical Aptitude?

In the manufacturing world, mechanical aptitude is known to be important— it’s consistently been linked with success on the job in basically all types of related roles. But if you ask the average supervisor to describe it, they might struggle to put it into words. We often hear “someone who is good with their hands” or “a person who can just look at a machine and know what to do.” One of the reasons that the definition can seem vague is because “aptitude” refers to an innate talent or strength.

So, what does it look like to have an innate talent for mechanics?

Then, after you define it, how do you measure it in job candidates?

And lastly, if it’s something innate, can it be developed? We’ll tackle all those questions below.

What is mechanical aptitude?

In the world of psychology, we rely on clear and consistent definitions of concepts before attempting to measure them. Mechanical aptitude can therefore be thought of as: possessing a basic understanding and knowledge of mechanics and mechanical relationships, including the ability to identify basic mechanical tools and devices, and visualize and mentally manipulate objects in space.

How do we measure it?

Based on the above definition, mechanical aptitude can be measured in a few different ways. The most common approaches include a combination of facets: some will focus heavily on realism, asking about basic tool recognition and the ability to mentally manipulate a tool based on its stated functionality. Others will also include more abstract reasoning and logic: understanding the next pattern in a complicated series, or being able to infer how a concept or process should work in theory. Depending on the position you may want to include a subsequent assessment of the candidate’s specialized knowledge, but we wouldn’t recommend including those questions in a basic mechanical aptitude test, because they muddy on the waters on what you’re actually measuring.

Can it be developed?

One of the most pressing issues for hiring managers in manufacturing is the so-called decline in mechanical aptitude for the new generation of workers. There is some truth to this: mechanical aptitude can be developed from an early age if someone grows up around those core concepts. We see this most often in towns that have strong manufacturing histories, or neighborhoods where the popular culture thrives on fixing up cars or other mechanically-minded hobbies. In less rural areas, it may be more difficult to find candidates who are naturally strong in mechanical aptitude.

Growing up around cars and factories isn’t a requirement, though: anyone at any age can increase their mechanical aptitude. Certain aspects of mechanical aptitude can be strengthened by simply learning different types of tools and their uses. YouTube and other free video sites are a great way to learn mechanical concepts and skills from experts in both general mechanical basics as well as specialized knowledge areas (e.g. welding). Viewers can take it at their own pace and interact with the online community if they have questions. The more abstract aspects of mechanical aptitude require an ability to imagine how several small or complex pieces of a puzzle will fit together, which can be strengthened by practice or working with a seasoned expert who can talk you through their process. If you’re struggling to find candidates who have innate mechanical aptitude, pairing them up with a mentor could make all the difference.

Related: Overcoming the New Manufacturing Hiring Challenges

In sum, mechanical aptitude is extremely important—don’t be afraid to hold your candidates to a high standard when it comes to this competency. However, if you’re finding a lack of qualified candidates in this area, remember that even an innate strength can be developed over time with the right methods.

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Jaclyn Menendez, Ph.D. Jaclyn Menendez, Ph.D. is a Project Consultant at PSI based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her areas of expertise include testing, assessments, and project management. Jaclyn has contributed to the development, validation, and implementation of assessments with various clients. She has managed, analyzed, and presented data analyses for content and criterion validation studies.