WHAT THE YOUNG 'UNS SEE

November 23, 2005
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Dear Subscriber,

In this edition of ISHN's e-zine, we tap the perceptions of young environmental health and safety pros. What are the most significant challenges they will face as EHS pros in the next 10-20 years? What are the most promising opportunities?

We've organized the views of eight attendees from the American Industrial Hygiene Association's recent Future Leaders Institute around these key issues: globalization, professional consolidation, outsourcing, leadership and empathy.

GLOBALIZATION

Here's the most common theme struck by young EHS pros: the world is shrinking and their own reach is expanding.

"The promise of international professional opportunities is clearly on the horizon and demand will continue to increase in the coming decades," says David Roskelley, MSPH, CIH, CSP. "As Americans we need to better understand the interconnectedness of the world and adopt a more global view of the profession."

"We have to pay more attention to the international standards," says Georgi Popov, Ph.D., Kingston Environmental laboratory director.

Michael Larranaga, PhD, CIH, CSP, calls his current work with the Chinese government "the most promising opportunity I will face. I don't believe I will ever be presented with another opportunity such as this one."

Larranaga explains: "The Chinese government is putting a tremendous amount of pressure on its industries to meet international safety standards so their products fare well on the world market. In my short ten-year career, I have never seen anyone be more serious about safety. Their culture is one that has not made safety a priority, but the world market demands safety be a priority."

ISHN's recent White Paper survey of EHS professionals reflects this interest in world markets by young pros. More than one-third (36.4%) of those surveyed under 30 years old, and more than one-quarter (27.1%) of those age 30-39, say the need for international experience and skills in their jobs has increased in just the past year.

In contrast, only 16 percent of pros age 40-49 report a stronger need for international competencies in their work.

CONSOLIDATION

"The most significant challenge I see is the melding of the profession into one combined field of health, safety and environmental disciplines," says Roskelley. "As a consultant, I am increasingly asked for services beyond the scope of traditional industrial hygiene."

Roskelley says he plans to obtain and maintain a diverse portfolio of safety and environmental certifications.

"We have to combine IH and environmental education and be more competitive," says Popov.

Here's the paradox: As overlapping skill sets become integrated in the professional's toolkit, the application of those skills broadens, expanding beyond traditional bounds. The idea that an industrial hygienist would only be interested in what is happening in the facility doesn't apply any more, says Popov.

Indeed. Leo Olds says he's "intrigued about the increasing awareness and media attention regarding emerging infectious diseases such as SARS, avian influenza and hemorrhagic fevers (infections transmitted by insects or crustaceans in a specific region resulting in fever, respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms followed by capillary bleeding)."

Tools and methodologies industrial hygienists use to address hazards in the workplace could be applied to some infectious disease issues, he says. Working in the healthcare field, Olds says he's "already using engineering controls and personal protective equipment as a means to control (or minimize the risk of) infections."

OUTSOURCING

"The safety profession as I have seen it is disappearing," says Michael Larranaga. "The future appears to be in outsourcing and consulting. He predicts increased demand for consultants, but the eventual loss of the traditional corporate safety/IH culture.

Perceptions of the demise of the corporate EHS culture might be linked to the dwindling resources many young pros are working with. In ISHN's White Paper survey, conducted in August of this year, 20.8% of respondents age 30-39 reported EHS resources in their company increased in the past year, while 37.5% reported cutbacks in resources.

Only 8.5% of pros age 30-39 say their 2006 EHS budgets will grow, while 25.5% are staring at budget cuts.

Interestingly - and happily - resource restraints don't seem to dent the morale of young EHS pros. Chalk it up to youthful optimism and energy perhaps, but 34% of pros age 30-39 report the level of satisfaction with their jobs increased in the past year, with 19.1% saying their job satisfaction deteriorated.

In comparison, only 21.3% of White Paper respondents age 40-49, and 19.3% of those age 50-59, say their job satisfaction increased in the past year.

LEADERSHIP

The EHS profession is graying like all baby-boomer dominated fields - 57.2% of ISHN's White Paper respondents this year are age 50 or older. The same graying is seen in the EHS leadership ranks.

Just take a look at who is authoring most articles in the professional journals, making most of the presentations at professional conferences, and taking to the bully pulpit as leaders of groups such as AIHA, the National Safety Council and the American Society of Safety Engineers. These seem to be largely the domains of early retirees, downsized pros turned consultants, and distinguished academics.

Keep in mind former OSHA chief John Henshaw was 40 years old when he was president of AIHA in 1990. Ah, but that was a different era. Today, corporations seem less willing to allow young professionals in their lean EHS departments to devote large chunks of their time to volunteer pursuits.

Human nature being consistent as it is, there will always be young, motivated up and comers, thankfully. "While attending AIHA's Future Leaders Institute, I was fascinated to learn that most of the attendees were highly-motivated over-achievers," says Leo Olds. He considers himself "a very driven, motivated individual" and plans to pursue AIHA leadership opportunities and other volunteer opportunities.

How tomorrow's leaders channel their volunteer spirit might very well differ from how John Henshaw climbed the ladder. "Impact players are out there," says Paul MacKinnon, M.Sc., CIH, but he wonders if their influence will be spread via new communication vehicles. "Blogs, telewebs, and other 'modern' forums have obviously had an impact in many areas of public policy, and I don't see EHS as an exception," he says.

EMPATHY

Young EHS professionals are being pushed by forces far beyond their control - globalization, changing demographics of the workplace, changing styles of management - to relate to the world differently than the baby boomer generation of pros.

That 50+ age cohort of EHS pros came up through the ranks during OSHA's heyday and at a time when organizations were more hierarchical and autocratic, and the workforce more homogenous. Communication was more along the lines of command and control. This is what OSHA says we have to do. This is what the boss wants. And pros were addressing a workforce that was largely English-speaking and middle class blue collar.

In 2005, many pros climbing the career ladder contend with foreign cultures, foreign regulators and foreign workforces. Domestically, they deal with a far more diverse workforce. Many work in flat organizations where employees have a far larger say in how safety and health programs are run. Sites enrolled in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program are a prime example.

And if young pros work as consultants, which more and more are, they're not in a position to be issuing orders. Plus, their client-based relations with managers and employees, usually short term and project-centered, create communication and teamwork challenges.

All this puts a premium on emotional intelligence. The ability to size up people, listen, probe, connect and coach. Young EHS pros are picking up on this. "The most satisfying thing I am able to do is explain EHS principles and policies in a way that workers can understand," says Carter Ficklen III, CIH, an industrial hygienist for Mainthia Technologies, Inc.

Demand for EHS professionals will stay strong in the next 10-20 years, the challenge will be finding professionals with strong technical backgrounds, good communication skills, and the ability to relate to workers, he says.

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