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EDITORIAL COMMENTS: The EHS pro of 2020

January 11, 2009
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Your typical environmental health and safety professional today is in his or her early 50s, according to ISHN’s 25th Annual White Paper reader research. If not for last fall’s economic calamity which sent too many retirement savings plans into a nosedive, in 11 years (2020) most of these pros would be “short timers” scouting out retirement homes in Florida or Arizona, buying an RV or testing a Harley. Now, who knows?

What we do know is that in a little more than a decade, EHS pros now under age 40 will be in their prime-time career years for earning power and influence. And based on research, these up-and-comers in the year 2020 will have significantly different attitudes and goals about their jobs and careers, and different job responsibilities, compared to the typical early-50s EHS pro of today.

“First Globals”

“First Globals” is the term used by author John Zogby in his new book, “They Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream” (Random House; 256 pages) to define the demographic characteristics of Americans born 1979 to 1990. This year the oldest will hit 30. By 2020 they’ll be in full EHS career flight. Here are a few of their common characteristics, based on Zogby’s extensive polling and interviewing:
  • They are the first generation of Americans to possess a consistently global perspective on everything, from social reform and politics to environmental issues.
  • One-quarter of “First Globals” believe they will spend a significant period of their adult lives living in a country outside of the U.S.
  • Almost half of the “First Globals” (42 percent) already possess passports. Many traveled abroad in college. They have a global sensibility and a heightened sense of responsibility for global issues.


“The Nikes”

The other demographic group that will take command of the EHS profession by 2020 is the one immediately coming before the “First Globals,” which Zogby calls “The Nikes” (born 1965 to 1978 and reflective of great commercial slogans of that era such as Nike’s “Just Do It!”). They share the “First Globals” belief that government institutions (can you say OSHA?) have broken down.

Let’s look at “The Nikes” and the “First Globals” in an age-group analysis of ISHN’s most recent White Paper research findings (the survey was conducted in September, 2008). Results can be analyzed specifically for the under-30 age group (“First Globals”) and the 30-39 age group (“The Nikes”).

What we learn is that EHS pros under age 40 today do indeed share a number of the characteristics outlined by Zogby for “The Nikes” and “First Globals.” Consider:
  • One-half (50 percent) of pros 30-39 work for companies with facilities beyond the U.S. That is the highest of any age group studied, up to 60 years and older.
  • The under-40 ranks of EHS pros also score highest in these priority plans for 2009: 1) Increase involvement in environmental sustainability activities for their companies; 2) Increased need for international experience; 3) Increased involvement in corporate social responsibility activities; 4) Improve personal business skills; 5) Develop an ROI to sell safety programs; 6) ensure the safety and health of their company’s global supply chain; and 7) Purchase more environmentally-friendly PPE.
  • Perhaps due to these newer and diverse responsibilities, the 30-39 age group has the highest job satisfaction of all age groups — 43 percent versus 33 percent for all EHS pros surveyed in total. It’s also not surprising, given these new job tasks, that the 30-39ers score highest in job stress (reported to be increasing by 57 percent) and longer work hours (reported by 50 percent).
  • One more distinct parallel between EHS pros under age 40 and Zogby’s “Nikes” and “First Globals” — that lack of confidence in the federal government. In ISHN’s White Paper research, no age group wants to see OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program continue to expand more than the 30-39ers (48 percent). VPP encourages a DIY approach to safety and health program management.
When it comes to OSHA standards-setting, the under-30 age group of EHS pros and their counterparts 30-39 are the groups least desiring an increase in rulemaking.

Bottom line: In 2020 the EHS profession is going to be globally-oriented, racking up frequent flier miles (if they still exist), business-minded, more involved in environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility, and possessing a mindset far from the notion that OSHA is the anchor of the profession.

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