Many of the students reflecting on the future of the safety profession during the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Future Safety Leaders Conference held recently in Louisville, KY, are optimistic about the future of the occupational safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) profession and see opportunities in construction, manufacturing, and the “green” movement despite the troubled economy. In addition, many note their school programs’ growth in popularity.
“I still see an increase in opportunities for safety professionals and the need for more SH&E professionals in the renewable energy and bio-fuel industries in the next 10 years,” said Jonathon Ludrick, a senior studying occupational safety and health at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and member of the ASSE Southeastern Oklahoma State University Student Chapter. “I also think ergonomics is one area that is becoming more popular to study, as well as workers compensation issues and legal liability. Companies can save money by taking precautions before incidents happen, but most importantly lives can be saved.”
“I think there are increasing opportunities in every area of safety,” said Kendra Potsubay, a safety and environmental management senior at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and ASSE Slippery Rock University Student Chapter member. “Overall, I think the profession is growing and the current economy will probably not cause a big change in the SH&E profession because workplace safety is a key component in many companies. Some companies may see a decline in safety personnel but not too much; after all, there are still workplace safety standards that are in place and need to be followed.”
ASSE Slippery Rock University Student Chapter Vice President Natasha Banks also sees an increase in students pursuing the occupational SH&E profession. A current senior studying health, safety, and environmental management, Banks noted, “I see our major and department growing at Slippery Rock University. We have five professors in the program and I can definitely see the need for more. I remember when the program had around 30 students, now it is more like 85 – 100. The program is running out of space.
“At my university one of the top career choices and areas of study is in construction,” added Banks. “One trend I am seeing is more women choosing the construction safety field. I do not know the exact numbers but I am definitely seeing more women entering the field at my university. I’ve even seen this change since I was a sophomore.”
Banks is currently seeing opportunities within the SH&E profession. She will be interning with ALCOA, an aluminum company in Pittsburgh, in the summer of 2009.
Some students are concerned with how the current economy will affect their job placement opportunities after school. Holleigh Humble, an ASSE student member and a graduate student in occupational safety at the University of North Carolina said, “It is intimidating out there right now in terms of job competition. The economy is not doing well, and there is more job competition from safety professionals with a lot more experience than those of us who are just finishing school. Because of the poor economy, people with more experience and education are going to go further and receive more job offers than new graduates.”
Jennifer Olson, an SH&E graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and ASSE University of Minnesota Student Chapter president notes that with the current economy “the demand for SH&E professionals in the workplace can go either way. Though I think companies are embracing safety and people are demanding more safety in the workplace, therefore there is a greater need for more SH&E professionals.”
SH&E student attendees also commented on areas of safety they are studying, which include ergonomics, construction, manufacturing, industrial hygiene, and maritime standards and regulations. To inform students of current trends in the SH&E profession, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) Executive Director Roger L. Brauer, Ph.D., CSP, PE, noted during his breakout session titled “Achieving Success in a Safety Career,” that the quality of safety in the construction industry is improving and the safety profession in this field is also growing. He also provided students with data from the BCSP January 2008 survey of Certified Safety Professionals (CSP), which showed that most CSPs were employed in manufacturing followed by insurance/finance.
Other areas students at the conference said they are studying included arena safety, fleet safety, and building with a green design. Olson added, “The green movement is affecting all industries. Currently, I am working on a research project on LEED certification, because I am interested in the environmental aspect of safety. With LEED certification, we know the costs and what it will take to build a brand new environmental or green friendly building but I am interested in finding out what it takes and how much it costs to change or update an already existing building into an environmental/green friendly building.”
Along with hope for the future, students see the value of the occupational SH&E profession. Olson concluded, “I decided to study SH&E because I like change and in the field of safety things are always changing. I am also passionate about the environment, I like to resolve conflict and I care about people, this is why I decided to become a SH&E professional.”