Organisations in almost every industry, from manufacturing, mining and engineering through to construction, oil, gas and the public sector, employ health and safety personnel. With the remit and importance of this company function increasing, it is a great career option for young people due to the interesting and rewarding roles available.
Barry Wilkes, Director of Strategy at NEBOSH, has the following advice for young people considering a career in health and safety:
- Getting some work experience will help you decide if health and safety is the career for you. As health and safety is relevant to so many sectors, it would be well worth thinking about the industry that you think you’d like to work in as a starting point. For example, construction, manufacturing or a local authority would all be a great place to begin.
- Alternatively, if you’re already working, you could volunteer for the role of health and safety representative or join the company’s health and safety committee. This would give you a good insight into what a full-time health and safety position could involve.
- Once you’ve made your mind up, you need to think about taking qualifications. The NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety will give you a sound understanding of health and safety issues and responsibilities and is a great place to start. It is also the perfect springboard for continuing your development with the NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety.
- Choose qualifications that are widely recognised by professional bodies. Becoming an active member of your local branch will help you to expand your network of contacts.
- You need to be prepared to continue learning throughout your career as it’s vital to keep your knowledge and skills up to date.
- Apprenticeships are becoming increasingly common and are a great option for people who are looking for an alternative to full-time education. As our example below shows, apprenticeships enable you to learn on the job and are a very good route into a career in health and safety.
- Be prepared to be flexible. It’s common for people working in health and safety to move between employers and sectors throughout their career. As a result, it’s important to build your knowledge of the fundamentals of health and safety that apply no matter where you work.
- It’s also important to develop your wider business skills too. You’ll need to draw on core skills like decision-making, influencing, negotiating and networking as a health and safety professional and they’ll help you do your job to the best of your ability. It will also help you feel comfortable working with people at all levels of your organisation from the chief executive down.
- Finally, be inquisitive! Health and safety is a role that is suited to people who enjoy interacting with others. You need to be interested in the way people are actually doing their jobs rather than simply what they’re telling you. Noticing people’s behaviour will show you the problems they’re having doing their job and also what might go wrong, enabling you to develop a solution.
A good example of a young person who is building a successful career in health and safety is Lee Broadbent.
Lee joined Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) four years ago at the age of 18, after gaining four A levels. His grades were two A stars, one A and one B, but surprisingly he chose not to go to university and looked for an apprenticeship instead.
For several months Lee shadowed senior members of the Council’s team, until he was gradually given more and more responsibilities. At this point it was decided he should gain a suitable qualification; the degree-equivalent NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety.
“Although the Diploma is an academic qualification, it is hugely important in terms of practical application,” said Lee.
“It’s not all just textbook. It works perfectly when you are developing your experience. You pick up so much from the Diploma as an apprentice. It’s the backbone to a health and safety career really.”
Lee completed his Diploma in July 2016 and is currently applying for Grad IOSH status. He has progressed to the position of full-time Health and Safety Advisor and is destined for bigger things. Not bad for someone aged just 22!
He is already effectively leading a stress management programme at Calderdale MBC and recently made a presentation to the IOSH Yorkshire branch about young people entering the profession. He is also proving to be a strong advocate for health and safety apprenticeships.
“It’s difficult as a young person applying for jobs, because employers want experience,” Lee says. “But how can you get experience if nobody will offer you a job? My apprenticeship has given me a lot of practical experience and through my NEBOSH Diploma I already have a strong CV.
“I hope more employers open their eyes to the benefits of taking on a health and safety apprentice and give more young people a chance. If they support them like I have been supported, they might be pleasantly surprised!”