Heading into 2012, occupational safety and health (OSH) jobs are available. The problem is the scarcity of potential hires with required job skills and the plethora of graduates who exhibit weak work ethics. This I learned by contacting a dozen mid-career and older practitioners working in five of the top-29 industry sectors. I was told:

• “We can’t find the EHS professionals we need in North America despite significant recruiting efforts. The résumés we review don’t work for us.”

• “The candidates we interview have the wrong preferences (euphemism for weak work ethics). New hires are reluctant to do the same things (same pace, same hours, same dirty efforts, etc.) the people they are replacing used to do.

• “We have the lowest HSE headcount now that I can remember since 1997, primarily due to recruiting difficulties.”

• “Routine HSE work is now pushed to contractors, most of whom worked for us and retired to become sub-contractors or sole proprietors.”

• “In my industry, employers are doing the least they can when it comes to hiring anybody and, when they are forced to hire, OSH professionals will not be on the top ten list of occupations to hire.

• “The jobs are out there, look at EHScareers.com and the Gulf Coast Safety & Training Group’s monthly “Career Opportunity Report;” however, the problem is no one is qualified to do the work.”

• “After spending six to ten months recruiting an OSH professional and the associated costs to hire and relocate this individual, he quits after five months because the work is too hard.”

• “Just got an update on our newest external recruit. My bet, he will quit as soon as we run out of weeklong OSH schools to send him to. If a movie were made about him, it would be called “Failure to Engage.” By the way, this is not a recent graduate; we are his fourth OSH career attempt.”


Of course not everyone seeking an OSH position possesses a weak work ethic. But these characteristics surface enough to cause severe frustration among employers looking for new hires.

Academic OSH education and training programs are not the starting place for personal “work ethics,” but they certainly can redirect the focus of their programs to meet the competency needs of employers.

Skills being sought

According to NIOSH’s recently published National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce,1 employers are satisfied with the non-technical core competencies of current OSH graduates. But they do expect future safety professional hires to be trained in communicating with workers (59%), leadership (48%), technical writing (40%), local, state or general regulations (30%), and communicating with upper management (29%).

 For future industrial hygienists hires, employers expect training in communicating with workers (43%), leadership (32%), communicating with upper management (31%), technical writing (31%), and understanding workers’ jobs (25%).

I find all of these non-technical core competencies, with the exceptions of technical writing and local, state or general regulations, to be skills that evolve over years in the field, post-graduation.

Of the top four non-technical core competencies, three relate to communication and one to leadership. Many academic programs expose students to leadership skills and approaches to communication. But until a safety professional or industrial hygienist is actually practicing these skills on a daily basis in a work environment, it is impossible to imagine a new hire meeting these employer expectations.

No hiring frenzy

“The jobs are out there,” as one of my contacts said, but clearly, employers are not in any mood to undertake a hiring frenzy. The recession has gone on long enough for them to learn agility in producing more products with less people.

That is only one factor. According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s June 2011 report, “An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future”, 40% of full-time job openings in companies planning to hire have been unfilled for six months or longer because they cannot find qualified applicants. At all levels of postsecondary education, American students are not pursuing “job ready” skills employers require.2

“There is now a glut of liberal arts majors,” note Doug Hornig and Alex Daley of Casey Research3. “A classic bubble, born of unrealistic expectations that the investment of a hundred grand (or more) must result in a cascade of job offers. Or at least one.”

Economic “softness” and uncertainty continue. The U.S. and world economies have been coping with recession since 2008. U.S. unemployment has hovered near 9% since May 2009 and underemployment has been around 19% since January 2010. U.S. Gross Domestic Product has been anemic. Obamacare unsettles employers. And we have failing European economies (i.e., Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain).

Plus, according to McKinsey, new business creation has declined 23% since 2007, resulting in as many as 1.8 million fewer jobs; and it is estimated that there will be a shortage of 1.5 million college graduates in the workforce by 2020.

NIOSH’s assessment addresses the impact these factors have had on hiring OSH professionals during the past two years. Sixty-four percent of employers interviewed did not try to hire a safety professional and 81% did not try to hire an industrial hygienist.

NIOSH’s numbers

Still, NIOSH interviews reveal employers expect to hire 25,078 OSH professionals — including 17,801 safety professionals and 2,310 industrial hygienists  — during the next five years (2011 – 2015). The supply will come from new OSH degreed graduates, OSH professionals already in the workforce, and professionals who do not have OSH training.

Given the lack of hiring, who in the world is going to be hiring 20,111 safety and industrial hygiene professionals over the next five years?

In light of our current economic circumstances, NIOSH is to be commended for undertaking the assessment. The assessment’s projected number of expected new hires over the next five years and its notion that not enough students are pursuing degrees in safety and industrial hygiene is grossly exaggerated. There are not going to be 25,078 new hires and the current number of students, if accurate, is more than adequate to satisfy the demand.

In my column next month, I’ll explain how the NIOSH assessment of the job market missed the mark.




1 McAdams, M.T., J.J. Kerwin, V. Olivo, and H.A. Goksel. October 3, 2011. National Assessment of the Occupational Health and Safety Workforce. Westat. Rockville, MD.

2 Manyika, J., S. Lund, B. Auguste, L. Mendonca, T. Welsh and S. Ramaswamy. June 2011. An economy that works: Job creation and America’s future. McKinsey & Company, McKinsey Global Institute.

3 Hornig, D. and A. Daley. Not Enough New Scientists – How America’s Obsession with Liberal Arts is Making Us Less Competitive. Retrieved December 1, 2011 from www.caseyresearch.com.