Each year Australian recruiting company SafeSearch releases a remuneration survey. This year the report was released in late-February 2009.
A media release from SafeSearch reports that
“Almost all HSE Managers hold formal safety qualifications with 90% reaching Diploma level or higher.”
In Victoria, in particular, there is a strong professional community generated from the Victorian Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, located at the University of Ballarat. The OHS studies at VIOSH have always been the course of choice because it is one of the oldest of the OHS courses and it was given a high profile by the lecturer also being on the national OHS body, Professor Dennis Else.
The standing of VIOSH graduates is high but it seems that part of the reason is that the students have always been drawn from the already-employed. The course has also required a four-week residency that may generate considerable focus on OHS and has the benefit of established a camaraderie reminiscent of boarding school. Many students seem to be drawn from those corporations or government departments that allow for study leave.
The SafeSearch report says the trend to degree-qualified safety professionals is only a recent phenomenon. The Director of SafeSearch, Julie Honore said
“While we have always seen a strong requirement for Environmental professionals to be degree qualified the trend for safety professionals has only been evolving and becoming stronger more recently.
Whereas once our clients were prepared to consider unqualified people, that is no longer the case. We are seeing a trend of experienced Managers enrolling to take on more studies to ensure they are competitive in the market.”
Honore also warns about students implying a greater level of knowledge than reality
“We have had numerous instances where candidates have included qualifications on their resumes but once these are checked out further, you often find that they have only recently commenced studying towards a qualification as they have recognised the need for formal qualifications to assist in making them marketable. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important that this is correctly stated on the resume”.
From the recruiter’s perspective, verification of qualifications is very important but, more broadly, it is important to look at the quality of the course in order to gauge the quality of the qualification. Is one diploma of OHS the same as another? – No. Is the quality of instruction the same across tertiary institutions? – No. But is this important? Perhaps we should be assessing the person and not the paper.
But how do we do that with a new recruit? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have an external assessment of safety management skills? Perhaps, a registration system? But many of those stem from a base qualification of a university degree.
Safety qualifications and competencies is a difficult area to understand and most of the people investigating the issue are from academia and so have a vested interest in the research.
The Safety Profession is at risk of limiting its selection criteria too narrowly and developing irrelevance. It is similar to the operation of political parties where candidates for election on the conservative side come mostly from law practices and employer associations and those on the left of politics come from law practices and trade unions. The politicians may still be able to represent their constituents but they do not reflect the electorate and, it could be argued, represent narrow desires of the electorate.
The Safety Profession needs to draw from a much broader pool of skills, understanding and experience if it is to continue to develop and improve. It should not only draw upon those who can afford a tertiary qualification or who is supported by their employers financially or through study leave.
Even if the bulk of the profession is tertiary qualified it must actively seek those from outside the established structures. Any profession that does not recruit widely and wisely runs the risk of becoming too “chummy”, elitist and, eventually, irrelevant.
Note: the author is one unit shy of a Graduate Diploma in Risk Management (OHS) from Swinburne University