July 13, 2023 / Larry Sloan

An Untapped Source of Future OEHS Professionals

In 2020, a longtime AIHA member reached out to me to propose a fresh way of thinking about how AIHA can grow the association and increase the number of professionals entering industrial hygiene. LCDR James Speckhart, REHS, CQIA, of the U.S. Public Health Service explained that a knowledge gap exists for individuals with some OEHS-related competencies. These technician-level practitioners often lack a four-year college degree; many are working in the military and have no formal post-secondary education or are matriculating at a community college or vocational-technical school. But they still have valuable on-the-job experience.

According to LCDR Speckhart, AIHA should seek to provide an entry-level training matrix targeting a cross-section of relevant occupations so practitioners can become better skilled at hazard analysis and exposure assessment competencies. These occupations encompass the federal government; for example, the Department of Defense employs technicians for the maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear reactors. Other relevant technicians work for state or local police departments (for example, forensic analysts and firearms trainers) or highway administrations (spill management professionals), to name just a few.

So, in 2022, AIHA commissioned a third-party market research firm to conduct a survey of students enrolled in relevant OEHS and fire safety management technical programs at U.S. community colleges, members of the National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP), and those affiliated with various trade unions. Although we were not able to include a representative sampling of "trades" in our respondent base, the findings from the survey were quite insightful. In terms of their career goals, over 43 percent of respondents hope to be in a more senior position within the next five years. Yet the top barriers to their progress were identified as the high cost of learning new skills/meeting training requirements (33 percent), a lack of career advancement opportunities in their field (25 percent), and a lack of formal education (25 percent). Access to affordable education/training (41 percent), education/training that fits their schedule (40 percent), and opportunities to network/connect with mentors/experienced professionals (33 percent) were the top resources that respondents indicated they need to help them achieve their professional goals in the next five years.

These discoveries led us to conduct a two-year outreach effort with the objective of educating IH/EHS generalist technicians about AIHA's Career Mapping Toolkit and other free resources such as infographics, curated SynergistNOW blog posts, and our Essentials of Exposure Assessment eBook to help guide their career progression within the broader OEHS profession. Complex digital marketing and lead capture campaigns began in May and have already prompted 82 technicians to download our free resources.

Pipeline development is a mission-critical element of any professional society: it is a key tool in ensuring an association remains a vibrant and sustainable entity for years to come. I am pleased by the initial work AIHA is doing in generating awareness about the profession through grassroots outreach in secondary schools and with undergraduate STEM students; however, it is apparent that we need to appeal to the thousands of technicians working in a broad range of industries who may be interested in a career change or want to build upon their existing skills. These include those working in water management, chemical transportation, and nuclear plant operations, as well as boilermakers, shipbuilders, carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, septic tank cleaners, welders, and a host of others.

In the realm of marketing strategy, one might categorize these practitioners under the umbrella of "non-obvious" audiences that can be targeted to help us grow our profession and ultimately train the next generation of AIHA members. But we need your help if we are to be effective.

If you have any connections with organizations representing these types of workers, we want to know. Contact me and share any information you have so that we can further explore possible training options for these workers.

Larry Sloan

Larry Sloan, CAE, is AIHA's CEO.


OEHS Practitioners are needed in all areas of our profession

Thank you Larry, for this wonderful blog. OEHS is such a broad field, and we can use practitioners with all sorts of backgrounds, skills, and experiences that benefit the profession as a whole.

By Dina Siegel on July 13, 2023 5:09pm

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