Our first annual salary survey highlights the fact that, in the UK at least, the safety and health profession is ageing faster than some others. Only 15% of the practitioners who took part in our poll were under 35 and the median average age was between 45 and 54. The median for the whole working population is 42.
If our survey is representative, in the next 20 years 50% of those now in the profession will retire – if they can afford to. (Only 2% in our survey were working over 65, suggesting the predicted trend of people staying beyond the traditional retirement date is yet to emerge.)
Unless there is a steady supply of younger entrants to the profession, there could be serious skills shortages coming.
But there is no reliable pipeline to deliver those “replenishers”. Even if people continue to move into safety and health after starting in other professions at the same rate they do now, the decline in births in the last quarter of the 20th century means that there will be a lot fewer of them.
And the academic path for bright school leavers is a very narrow one. You can count on the fingers of one hand the occupational safety and health degree courses open to undergraduates at British universities. By contrast, a search for environmental management courses will yield 117.
The recently announced government-approved plans for an OSH apprenticeship so employers can grow their own young practitioners will help, but it is unlikely to make up the coming shortfall.
It should not be hard to enthuse young people about a career in worker protection. The strong sense of natural justice that makes them willing to picket retailers who are outed for contracting sweated labour in other countries is bound to interest some in a career safeguarding workers closer to home. Keeping people from danger – leaving aside the Lycra, the masks and the grappling on rooftops, isn’t that the job description of a superhero?
The detail of the work is not hard to make sound attractive either (unlike, say, accountancy). As Merlin Entertainments’ health, safety and security director, Dominic Wigley – one of the minority of OSH graduates – says in our leader interview, the job mixes the roles of lawyer, engineer and physicist. You could plausibly add detective and psychologist to the list. Our salary survey also finds that practitioners enjoy higher-than-average job satisfaction.
But someone has to get that message to the potential next generation of OSH advisers. So if you ever receive a request to address a school class on a practitioner’s work, or if anyone of an impressionable age asks you what you do for a living, don’t miss the opportunity to paint them a positive picture. They will be needed to carry on your good work.