How to Break into the OSH Industry by Scott Crichton

I started within the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) profession in 2006 and typically like many of us (pardon the pun) ‘I fell’ into the business.  I was approached by my line manager at the company I worked for and asked whether I wanted to take on Health and Safety.  I had some minimal OSH experience from my time within the military and I had undertaken a Level 2 certificate, so I said yes and the rest as they say is history. 

The typical barriers or questions presented before you often are:

  • I can’t get experience as I don’t have the ‘ticket’;
  • I can’t get a job because I don’t have the ‘experience’.

I was fortunate however, for you that might not be the case, you may be struggling to break into the OSH business as you need a certain ‘ticket’ or a certain grade of membership, so what can you do in the meantime to work towards that? 

If you are early into your OSH career or are wondering what can you do to make yourself more ‘attractive’ to prospective employers?  Here’s my handy tips of what you can do, to make yourself more marketable:

  1. Use what and who is around you

Think about liaising with those around your geographical location and enquire as to whether you are able to shadow them on their work.  You may even be able to approach well known and smaller consultancy companies and enquire as to whether you can shadow some of their people (with their client’s permission and provided you have the necessary approvals of course).  You will most certainly have to make your way to wherever they are, however this is a starting point for you to consider.

If you have any relatives or friends that have a linkage to OSH, then why not see if you can tap into their experience.

  1. Mentoring

Register to be mentored by those more experienced than yourself. Both IOSH and IIRSM have mentoring systems designed to help you chart out your path to progressing and help you get to where you want to be.  Don’t stop at a certain point of membership, progress through the grades.  Becoming a recognised OSH professional is a proud moment and one you can achieve if you seek the advice of a great mentor.  I mentor a number of individuals and it is thoroughly rewarding to see others achieve and celebrate and then in turn helping the next generation and leaders behind them.  Giving back, makes all the difference.

  1. Give yourself time.

I remember my mentor of fifteen years telling me “take your time Scott between grades and between qualifications”.  I would urge you to do the same.  It’s great to have aspirations and goals, however you need to build equally across your skills and abilities.  I’ll talk more about this below.

  1. Tap into IOSH Future Leaders or IIRSM Emerging Risk Leaders.

These are both great ways to help you (tomorrow’s leader) to start your journey and help you to go on and achieve your own personal and professional goals.

  1. Plug into your local IOSH or IIRSM Branch or Safety Group.

These are filled with useful information on development, whether that is initially or continually.  Furthermore, you are more likely be able to build your network and hear about vacancies near you.  You will also benefit from having the on-hand experience of a group of professionals to help you move forward.  There is also a wealth of available literature that can help develop you.

  1. Do you have a specific background?

If so, look for sector specific groups (such as IOSH sector groups) that you can plug into.  Like me, you may be ex-military, one such group is the recently formed Armed Forces group where you can be with like-minded individuals who are in a similar position and collectively you can help one another with your new career.

  1. Search for volunteer opportunities within your local area.

There are many opportunities to volunteer in order to expand your experience such as local churches, school governors, volunteer H&S roles with well-known and local charities and Trustees positions.

 These roles certainly help any professional to acquire further abilities in their chosen career.

  1. Remember who you are and where you have come from.

You already have a lot to offer any prospective employer, however as I have learned over the years, it is often in how you pitch yourself.  Taking on board some of the above information, try to request some OSH professionals to help you prepare your information, CV etc. and even undertake mock interviews to help you understand what is required. 

If I can give you any advice it would be, that you are likely to be on the right track and if doors close, so be it, they weren’t right for you to begin with.  When the door opens, it will be the right one for you.  I’ve been hired before and told, you had the least experience and qualifications, however we knew you were the right person for the job.

Remember the acronym ‘SKATE’

Skills – Consider how you can demonstrate what skills you already have and how a prospective employer can benefit from them and you managing/advising on their management of OSH.

Knowledge – Courses are great; however they are not the only way to build knowledge. Often, I see questions such as, I’ve done all these courses, what other course will make me more attractive?  Don’t focus solely on courses.  Yes courses will help you with developing your knowledge, however consider where else you can build this knowledge such as books, online information, social media platforms etc.

Train yourself to read, a large part of our job is reading and I remember when I first started, I read everything as I wanted to soak up knowledge so I was in a position to gain confidence and to help others.  I wanted to know why something has to be done.  Where it says that and what can be done as a solution.  I would suggest you may want to take a similar line of approach when you are setting out early in your career.  I absolutely love reading, which is funny as I hated reading when I was younger.  If you can read broadly on OSH topics, then you are arming yourself with knowledge.

Ability – Demonstrate how your current abilities match what the employer/market is looking for.  Think about some of the personal parts of OSH – such as influencing others.

Training – Undertake any and every training that you can to enhance your own knowledge. 

Also train your mind to be tenacious and never give up. 

If you can’t afford to undertake a certain qualification right now, then build that into your plan and how and when you can afford this.  I worked a lot of overtime to achieve my academic qualifications, are you able to do the same?  Sacrifices will have to be made to get to where you want to, however remember what I have said above, think creatively about how you can get to where you want to.  Keep working where you are and keep going forward.

Experience – Build, build, build.  There is no replacement for experience however you have built this up.  Remember we are all learning, every minute of every day, so keep on learning.

There is a real blend here and one that is required in order to stand out.  SKATE is not solely about training or experience, it is about moving yourself continually forward in all areas.  Use the competency frameworks of IOSH and IIRSM to help you chart out your plan.  If you can, use the Build, Buzz, Bake model that Karen J Hewitt writes about in her recent book People Power. Apply that to how an employer looks at you and you will be on good ground.

Build – In the same way that Karen is trying to get all of us to think about how we build OSH culture, think about how you can build yourself and your credentials.  Give yourself a chance with setting out your own trajectory and how you are going to achieve this.

Buzz – Create a buzz about you.  Look at job descriptions and what the recruiters are looking for. Then develop your package and work towards fulfilling those where you see commonality.  Show recruiters how they can benefit from having you work for them.

Bake – Apply the SKATE model above and watch your OSH career rise to be a success.

In closing, use your previous background and show to any prospective employer your ability to handle people and how you can influence and change culture.  You never know, that unexpected door that you didn’t expect to open, may just open right in front of you, as you already hold the ticket.

All the very best with your plans, endeavours and careers.

‘Prorsum Semper’

‘Ever Forward’