By DAVID SHADOVITZ, executive
and publisher of Human Resource ExecutiveŽ
magazine sister publication of Risk & InsuranceŽ
Despite the most recent gloomy job market, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are predicting a severe shortage of qualified occupational safety and health professionals.
In a report released in October, NIOSH researchers projected that the demand for safety and health professionals in the next five years should outstrip the supply by 49 percent.
Employers, the study predicted, will need to hire roughly 25,000 occupational safety and health professionals by 2016 -- filling on average 5,000 positions per year -- but organizations will be limited to a pool of approximately 12,000 new graduates.
The study, National Assessment of the Occupational Safety and Health Workforce, was conducted earlier in the year for NIOSH by Westat, an independent research firm based in Rockville, Md.
Even with the projections of a talent shortage, some professionals in the field have difficulty finding jobs today.
"I just met two highly qualified people who can easily fill jobs as safety professionals at a construction site," says Paul Satti, technical director for the Construction Safety Council in Hillside, Ill.
Still, some believe occupational safety and health professionals who have lost their jobs are having an easier time landing new positions than most.
"Many of the people I'm familiar with who were downsized are finding jobs in six to nine months, compared to three years for others," says Terrie S. Norris, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers in Des Plaines, Ill.
Norris, a risk control manager at Brickmore Risk Services in Sacramento, Calif., says she isn't surprised by the findings of the report. "A number of universities that used to offer educational opportunities in this area are no longer doing so," she says.
Not helping the future shortage is "the greying" of certain occupations, especially occupational physicians and occupational-health nurses, according to the survey, which predicted the retirement of about 10 percent of safety professionals in the next year.
Considering the troubled economy, says M. Chris Langub, a scientist technical adviser at NIOSH, it's possible that the projected shortfall could actually underestimate future needs. "The demand for OS&H professionals could easily go up were the economy to improve," he says.
Langub says increased collaboration is needed between employers and training organizations to ensure that people have the skill sets that are needed by employers.
The study found that employers, for the most part, were satisfied with the level of training workers were receiving for their particular disciplines, but would like to see them receive training in additional safety-and-health disciplines as well.
"In this kind of economy," says Westat Project Director Tim McAdams, "people may be trained in one area, but might be asked to [contribute in other ways], regardless of what their training happens to be."
In addition, employers said they would like to see candidates with better communication and leadership skills.
In the NIOSH report, researchers said they were particularly troubled by the "overall decline in funding for OS&H programs from university, college or department sources."
In a letter sent to NIOSH, Norris praised the agency's efforts to shed light on the issue, noting that the "report should challenge the entire occupational safety and health community to work together to ensure that the far too few resources this nation has to educate and train [safety, health and environmental] professionals are used wisely and appropriately to meet the actual needs employers have said they will face in the future."
November 17, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications