Web ExclusiveA recent internet discussion group focused on the job market in 2013 for environmental health and safety pros. The discussion was kicked off by this question:

Has anyone had any challenges finding work in the EHS field(s)? What tips can you offer someone trying to break into the industry? Certifications, training or volunteer programs? Employers?

Luis (who posed the questions)- I'm fairly new to the industry, most of my experience stems from creating, coordinating and conducting job safety curriculum for a non-profit organization; however, I fell in love with the challenges that face EHS professionals and in the industry. Currently, I'm enrolled in a Master's program to gain more exposure, experience and credentials in this arena, but have found that I have submitted hundreds of resumes and not have had any luck in this field. Has anyone had the same experience(s)? I wouldn't be opposed to starting at an entry-level position, given that there is training and room for advancement as I'm not afraid of hard work, but I do NOT want to take too big a step down in pay from what I'm currently at.

 Fred - Few of us have not had a challenge finding work in our field at one time or another. Consider the following:

* Try to make sure that your Masters program includes real-world-applicable research/ experience.
* Join relevant professional organizations, and actively participate.
* Undertake an internship, or pro bono work if you can.
* Join more LinkedIn groups to hear of work opportunities.
* Network with alumni of your current school program.
* Publish a worthwhile paper.
* Just one of many ways to get an advantage in a highly competitive job market.

Michelle - I have been in EHS for over 13 years, and have been actively trying to find a job for over 9 months. It has been a definite challenge!

Trish - You may want to contact third-party consultants. They are always looking for project help, if not actual employees. It gives you an opportunity to get your feet wet, and if they like your work, tend to become great mentors. A lot of my work actually comes as referrals from folks I've done work with or for.

Also, get involved. We have STEPS (Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety Network). Link to National STEPS network: www.nationalstepsnetwork.org/. There's one starting up in CA... not sure where. OSHA is in charge of this organization, so CAL/OSHA may have something similar or may be able to lead you in the right direction. They always ask who has openings and who is looking. Membership is free.

ASSE is also an incredible organization to become a member of. They post job openings and boy does the networking work! Ladies, WISE (Women In Safety Engineering) is a subset of ASSE-fantastic!

If you know your stuff and you get involved with a group of folks (heck I continue to establish my circle), you'll be amazed at how "easy" it is to get work. I haven't marketed at all and stay pretty doggone busy. Of course, we all support each other with updates of info and resources. That's what networking is all about. I also keep up training as much as possible and receive job offers periodically in class. Find free classes-there are plenty available.

Become buddies with HSE professionals at companies you're interested in. Be honorable about this. It cannot be a plea for a job, but a request for help in understanding the field. Ask them for advice. Shoot, ask them if they know of anyone looking for an intern or entry-level. People like to help. They just don't like to feel used and thrown aside.

For me, being on my own has been an accidental blessing. After dealing with lip-service safety cultures, my integrity refuses to be on the line (or in a courtroom facing a grieving spouse) for a measly paycheck. We all have to pay our dues, though, and start somewhere to gain experience.

My advice (that was given to me) is to always remember... regardless of management or employee attitudes, you are making a difference in families' lives. Someone is going home to love their family that otherwise may had been injured or even killed if you had not been there.

Frank - You may need to move to an area that has petro-chem sites, manufacturing sites, etc. If you want to live in Malibu, California, you will go hungry. Look up Kelley Services, they provide a list of jobs but you may have to move.

Edward - You may be new to the field and think you can just jump into a $100,000+ year job with no experience but that doesn't happen. You will have to take a pay cut and start at the bottom. You will have to pay some dues, and then after about 7 or 8 years you will be making the decent money.

I started in HSE at $12/hr in 2006. There is no way around taking a pay cut. You have no experience. Hire in with a drilling company that is working in North Dakota. They need help there.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in anything you can go to BCSP.org and check the requirements for CSP. You seem to be like one who may want to be down in the trenches with the troops and that is the place to be. North Dakota is wide open on exploration and drilling and that is where I would go to get my feet wet.

There are other safety companies if you research on the web but many are in west Texas. That is another place to get some hard core experience. I worked production for a year and a half there and got back into HSE. Took a big cut but worked as a contract client safety representative for an offshore production company.

I was recently hired to work for a drilling company on rig safety and I am so much more involved in the day to day safety of the drill and roustabout crew.

I am on a 28 day on 28 day off rotation and couldn't be happier. You will definitely want to get some down and dirty experience.

Frank - I got to do safety work for 40.2 years then two strokes benched me. Loved that job.

Shaista - Trish mentioned free classes…  is there anything available on line? Can anyone provide links to any such material that might be helpful? Also, is it possible to find (stay at home) work online in this field? I’m really new at this and trying to improve by going through books and stuff rather than actual field work.

Hila - It is still a tough job market, but if you are having no response at all, the problem may be your resume. Remember that the first step is often getting vetted by a computer using key words that show up on your resume. Try to reflect back on some of the key words listed in the posting if you can. You can have a great resume, but if it doesn't use the key words input by someone in HR, no human will get to look at your resume. That means that you have to customize your resume for each posting. It takes more work, but gets better response.

Also, it looks like you do have quite a bit of work history, just in other specialties, including legal and HR/Labor education related. That makes you a strong candidate for a position that marries your existing work experience with your new learned skills. There are probably few positions with this combination of requirements, but equally there are few candidates with this combination of qualifications. That makes you more valuable for such a position.

So I suggest that you try thinking outside the box for positions that might meet those characteristics, and start searching that way. Some ideas that come to mind include EHS-related worker training/instruction, and perhaps a technical expert of sorts at an environmental legal office (attorneys often don't actually get the science). It may not land you a strictly safety/IH position right away, but it will at least get your foot in the door.

Finally, I suggest that you update your LinkedIn profile to showcase more of your EHS qualifications and activities. I have actually been approached by recruiters on LinkedIn in the last year. But my pages, while by far not perfect, clearly show that EHS is my area of expertise. Yours need to show that as well.

TJ - It may not be a direct correlation Luis, but you may want to look at military offerings. I obtained IH, preventative med, HAZMAT, ergonomics, emergency response along with significant regulatory experience while I was in.

BCSP counted all of it toward my CSP. It is not always obvious to those who are not aware but there are ways of doing it on the government's dime.

Just a consideration.

Thomas - I am looking again as well - in the past I saddled up with some EHS people, asked if I could go with them to observe and help in any way (equipment) and did that for an extended period. Also, if you are doing advanced education, towards a Master (like I did), make a project that would match some aspect of EHS and contact several agencies - put that down as volunteer or study experience - have those times recorded so you start to establish a work ethic, a dependability factor. In the meantime to maintain costs of living, find some small part-time job (even working in restaurants, welfare aid, food stamps) that helps - I've done that too.

Georgia - I just finished my undergraduate degree and am seeking work in the safety field. I currently am working as a Safety Administrative Assistant but looking for an actual EHS/Safety position.

Benjamin - It took me a bit to find something, but I finally did at a consulting firm. Great company. I would say network as much as you can. Experience is great, but if you know someone, that helps quite a bit. Try to specialize.

Josh - Luis and Michelle, I feel your pain. It is a rough market right now. I've been trying to transition from in-house counsel to more of an EHS Audit Director role. It's been a long road. While additional education and certificates are nice bells and whistles, nothing compares to networking with people to help get your foot in the door. Companies are very particular these days about who they hire. With a competitive market, if you are missing one criteria out of ten (or 20), you might not make it past HR without some kind of an inside track. For job listings, try EHSCareers.com. I can't speak to having success on that site, but they list many opportunities that you can follow up on. Good luck to you both.

Anna - Keep positive, keep looking and keep yourself in the game by volunteering for professional organizations like AIHA. It takes time but eventually you will find what you are looking for. Best wishes!

Lindsey - I have 2.5 years experience as an HSEQ Manager in exploration drilling... I can’t find work... so yes it’s tough. The more qualifications you have the better -- and especially technical qualifications.

Jim - Check with bigger companies, Bechtel, Black & Veatch, they have worldwide opportunities in Power, Water, Transmission, Telecoms, a lot of areas you can apply your express knowledge to.
Good luck in your searches

Jason - I know how you feel Luis. I just earned my B.S. in EHS last month, and I'm having some difficulty finding an employer offering an entry level position. I've seen plenty of jobs out there, but they are all beyond my qualifications. Luckily I chose to do a co-op during my last semester, which lasts 6 months, so I have some time to continue my search.

I would join ASSE, it's an amazing resource. As a student, you are able to develop connections with other students, as well as EHS professionals, and you get to attend some great conferences! Good luck to you!

John - Perseverance is the best tool in existence. Networking through various groups on LinkedIn helps as well. Be open-minded about relocating. As one who changed jobs last year, I feel your pain. Remember: the jobs ARE out there, but YOU have to hunt them down. I will assist you in any way I can.

Michelle - This is all great input and advice- thanks! I am wondering… I know networking is #1, but does anyone feel there is value to adding some letters to the business card? I am considering Certified Environmental Specialist.... Not sure if that gets me any notice in the world though...

John - If it were me, I'd add them.

Stephen - Add credentials to boost your chances and someone out there is sure to notice. Don't give up.

Lee - Study toward the Internationally-recognized General Certificate in Occupational Health

Kerry - I am having trouble finding work in our field too, Luis. I have been out of work for 11 months in Connecticut. What I am finding -- and it was the reason everyone in our group was laid off from one of CT largest employers -- is that to cut costs, companies are pushing a lot of responsibility for Environmental Health and Safety down to the operating/department managers. This is not the first time this has been tried and it didn't work all the other times. Keep positive and this trend will turn around like it did all the other times pushing responsibility for Environmental Health and Safety off on to people who have no expertise in it didn't work. I'm going to try some temp agencies. I am concerned about the stigma of coming up on that 1 year mark of unemployment.