Opinion

Why OSH need not be a second career

2018 IOSH president

They are big decisions for our young people, but this year millions of students and graduates will take their first, tentative steps along their career paths. And there is plenty of advice out there for them.

One UK university, for example, invites its students to consider these factors: skills, interests, values and motivations, personality, contacts, qualifications and location. Are you a communicator or an organiser? it asks them. Creative or scientific? Money-oriented or into helping others? Outgoing or cautious?

It makes me think about how I’d pitch a career in safety and health to a young person undecided on their course of study. In its June 2017 issue, IOSH Magazine published its first annual salary survey, which highlighted 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 the poll were under 35 and the median average age was between 45 and 54. The median for the whole working population is 42.

If the figures are representative, in the next 20 years 50% of those now in the profession will retire – if they can afford to. It is clear that, if we cannot attract an influx of entrants to safety and health, the growing demand for our expertise will be met by a supply shortfall.

It is wrong to say safety and health cannot be a first career

That is why promoting safety and health as a first career of choice will be the central theme of my term as IOSH president. As part of its new strategy, WORK 2022, IOSH has committed to creating a “future leaders” programme to nurture young talent. We are one of several professional bodies supporting efforts to establish a safety, health and environment (SHE) apprenticeship for England as part of the UK government’s Trailblazer programme.

In November, IOSH launched a level 3 qualification that will give entrants the combination of technical and business skills that organisations now demand of their safety and health experts. The qualification may spark an interest in safety and health in our young people.

It is wrong, in my view, to say occupational safety and health cannot be a first career. It’s true that experience in work outside of safety and health can give you a valuable insight to the world of work, however, a career in the profession doesn’t have to be contingent on such experience. A carefully managed career development programme could expose a first career applicant to suitable experiences and develop them into an effective practitioner. 

We should have confidence in a new generation of qualified, intelligent practitioners to learn what is expected of them, with mentors and a strong professional body in IOSH behind them.

So how would I sell our profession to the young undecided? You will have your views about what makes it such a viable career choice. I believe there are few more worthwhile jobs than protecting the lives and livelihoods of people at work. You enable great things to happen, you protect reputations, and you see people home at the end of the day. What you do is often unheralded, but its outcomes are the first item on the board’s agenda.

If the young people you talk to are good communicators, organisers, leaders, team players, creative, innovative and into helping others, then occupational safety and health could be the career for them.

Craig Foyle, 2018 IOSH president

Comments

I welcome the new President and am pleased to see him expanding his views on the route into a career of Health and Safety. Sadly I am struggling to agree with his comments, the best HS practitioners I have ever worked with are those that add the rich mixture of life and professional experience gained from outside of the profession. A major UK University used to run a BSc degree for new entrants, this was closed for a number of reasons, one of them being those passing the degree could not find employment in that area.

Occupational Health and Safety as a first career has been available at least since 1976 when the University of Aston in Birmingham started a first degree in Safety & Hygiene. The emphasis then was on OH&S becoming a graduate profession. Is apprenticeships therefore the right level to attract young people, and what will they go on to do? The new president should read - The Safety Officer - past and future written by Trevor A Kletz, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s.

Interesting thoughts of partial agreement . I believe that degrees we offer in the topic require understanding of the risks of the business people work in. What are we teaching people, is it to quote the law, if so what a sad uninviting course. If it is to understand risk, appreciate the consequences of change and champion improved performance, being able to research then a fantastic interesting opportunity. A graduate at 21 still needs to learn how business works. Am afraid my vision of IOSH being a family of people key to look after safety and improve worker health, the doers, engineers, and technicians etc., is rejected by many who see it as compliance focused - maybe competency issues at the highest level? Discuss ?

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