Job Outlook 2015
Survey results indicate good market for safety pros
- Almost 9 out of 10 survey respondents said they consider their job “very stable” or “relatively stable.”
- More than one-quarter of respondents said they expect their departments to hire additional staff in the next 12 months.
- Not enough qualified candidates exist to fill all of the new positions and existing roles that will be vacated as an aging workforce increasingly decides to retire, survey results indicate.
Alvaro Taveira doesn’t need a heavy stack of government reports to gauge the job market for occupational safety and health professionals.
Instead, Taveira follows the paths of his students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“We always can measure a little bit of the market based on the demand for our interns,” said Taveira, professor and chairman of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health. “For several semesters now, we’re in a situation where there are more companies looking for interns than we have students ready to take those internships.
“I think that this is a very good time to be graduating with a major in occupational safety,” Taveira added.
The majority of safety pros seem to agree, according to the results of Safety+Health’s 2015 Job Outlook survey.
More than 1,300 people responded to the survey, which included questions about staffing levels, personal employment outlooks, retirement considerations and organizational succession plans.
Although some respondents indicated difficulty finding work in certain markets, most said that jobs are secure and opportunities are expanding. Eighty-seven percent of respondents reported that they consider their job “very stable” or “relatively stable,” and more than one-quarter expect their department’s staffing level to increase in the next 12 months.
The positive outlook supports a 2011 NIOSH report that projected a strong demand for occupational safety and health professionals over the five years following the report. In its report, “National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce,” NIOSH estimated that employers would hire more than 25,000 safety professionals by 2016, which amounted to about 5,000 jobs per year.
Sarah Felknor collaborated on the study, which was conducted by Rockville, MD-based research organization Westat. Felknor works for NIOSH as the associate director for research integration and extramural performance.
“We have not conducted a follow-up survey at this point,” Felknor said. “We don’t know with certainty how the 2011 projections are panning out. One indicator of the projected demand is whether graduates are still being placed. We have a very high placement rate across our training programs. None of our NIOSH-funded programs are telling us they can’t place their graduates. In fact, many of our NIOSH programs are saying, ‘Our limits are based on the funding that we have available.’”
Industries and job titles varied, but safety professionals offered a positive overall forecast for themselves and their colleagues going forward.
Only 5 percent of respondents said they expect layoffs within their department in the next 12 months. Fifty-four percent expect no change in staffing levels, while 24 percent anticipate adding staff and 14 percent said they were not sure.
The demand has accompanied an apparent shortage of safety professionals. Nearly half of respondents said they personally have observed a shortage of professionals in the field, and 55 percent said they have observed a lack of qualified candidates for vacancies. In its 2011 report, NIOSH estimated that about 13,000 trained students would graduate by 2016, compared with 25,000 job openings. That represented a shortfall of about 12,000.
“We can’t infer that all of the hires projected over the next five years would have to be filled with new graduates,” Felknor said. “Those could be filled with people already in the workplace and moving into another position. Nonetheless, it’s still a substantial shortfall.”
The survey results support Felknor’s theory. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they believe employers will look within the organization to fill safety positions – even if candidates lack safety-related work experience.
Retirement also could affect employment numbers. The most common age range for respondents was 50-59 (39 percent), and 28 percent of all respondents said they are planning or considering retirement in the next five years. Thirty-two percent of respondents said the state of the economy in the past five years has delayed their plans to retire.
“In the major discipline professional associations related to OHS, the membership is aging and the workforce is graying,” Felknor said. “We know in the United States in general – and our field is not an exception to that – people are working longer.”
Eventually, the next generation will need to step forward to fill the vacancies created by retired safety professionals. A shortfall of young workers in the field could create problems for organizations looking to promote safety.
“Because people are working longer, we can’t predict precisely when a graying workforce will become an issue for employers,” Felknor said. “And that’s one of our concerns and one of the things that we try to address as innovatively as we can in terms of training we support. You really want to be on the front end because to try to resolve it on the back end is a little late.”
NIOSH identified two research priorities as part of its 2011 project.
The first objective was to weigh the current supply with the future demand for safety professionals. The second mission focused on which skill sets would be needed going forward.
Westat Associate Director M. Timothy McAdams was the project director for the 2011 report.
“We were asking the providers what kinds of skills were they including in their training, and what did they see for the future,” McAdams said. “We asked employers the same thing: Are the people that come to them adequately trained? What are they expecting them to be trained in? What kinds of things do they see for the future?”
McAdams and his team found that most employers were satisfied with workers’ training levels in so-called “hard skills” that applied to specific on-the-job tasks.
However, the report’s executive summary noted that survey data showed “a desire for new hires to have training in additional areas, primarily relating to leadership and various forms of communication, and to have training in one or more of the other disciplines of interest to this study.”
At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, nearly one dozen desired “student outcomes” are listed for program graduates who enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree.
In addition to knowing how to design systems, processes and programs, students are expected to possess soft skills such as being able to communicate effectively; function on multidisciplinary teams; and understand the professional and ethical responsibilities that come with their positions.
Taveira said communication skills could extend into learning a second language. For example, he said, students with a minor in Spanish stand out to employers in construction and other industries.
Meanwhile, the outlook brightens even further for those willing to pack their bags.
“Some flexibility helps,” Taveira said. “Most of our undergrad students are from our area, and sometimes willing to move around a little bit increases their chances. Wisconsin is great, but you can go around and find your first job and then come back.”
Respondent comments on the market and needed skills
Q: How would you describe the current job market for experienced occupational safety and health professionals? Is this a good time to find a job as a safety pro?
“If you are willing to relocate, the job market is strong.”
“The outlook is good if you can walk the talk and multitask.”
“Yes, it is a good time. However, companies are pushing the salary down for safety and hiring less experienced people so that they can pay less money.”
“Appears to be very good for younger safety professionals (less than 45 years of age) but more challenging for older professionals.”
“I believe this is a great time to find a job as a safety professional. Many safety professionals are nearing retirement age and therefore qualified candidates will be in demand.”
“Not good at all. The job market in oil and gas is struggling now.”
“It is a good time to find a job as a safety professional. With OSHA’s budget increase and the indication that fines will increase for violations, companies are taking a closer look at regulations.”
“It is a good time to look for employment opportunities. While I don’t see a lot of positions posted, the hidden market (headhunters, word of mouth, etc.) is thriving.”
Q: How would you describe the current job market for recent or soon-to-be graduates who are looking to become occupational safety and health professionals?
“Hot market, but they should be careful (if they can) and align with a good employer.”
“Good, but you have to be willing to go where the jobs are.”
“Stay as far as you can from oil & gas.”
“The market for new graduates is probably better than for experienced professionals. Companies want to bring in someone new and train them. Plus companies want to save money by hiring new graduates.”
“New graduates need to have some form of experience (internship, co-op, etc.) to help stand out of the crowd as most positions seem to be asking for 5+ years of experience.”
“Entry level positions are available, but recent graduates should not expect high starting salaries.”
“It may be difficult for recent graduates with no experience. Internships are good résumé builders.”
“Soon to be graduate outlook = good. Take any job, get experience, and put letters like CIH or CSP behind your name for best results.”
Q: In your opinion, what skills will be most important for occupational safety and health professionals to be hired and promoted going forward?
“A safety professional must be passionate about preventing injuries. They must have safety as their primary core value.”
“People skills. Must be able to be motivational and positive. Good in front of audiences – very important for training.”
“Leadership skills. How do they influence others and improve the safety culture at their job?”
“The abilities to both communicate and adapt to change are most critical going forward.”
“Technical expertise is very important because as the safety professional you are the resource for doing what is right. Integrity, prioritizing, problem recognition, problem solving and assertiveness are all skills a safety professional must have to survive in their role.”
“Communication skills. The safety professional needs to be able to talk to the guy on the ground and the CEO and have his or her message understood. The ability to take complex projects and ideas and make them quickly understandable is very important. Being able to relate to others but hold the line is imperative in this field.”
“Ability to influence with no authority or line command. Ability to visualize and anticipate risks. Ability to justify financially or explain the financial implications of safety decisions.”
“People skills, communication, and a well-rounded knowledge of company operations. To make a true difference in keeping employees safe, you need to understand, in the real world, what hazards they face daily.”
“Hard skills (technical) and soft skills (people). You can have the best ‘hard skills,’ but if you don’t have the soft skills, your employees will not trust you.”
About the respondents
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