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Outreach: Purposefully Reaching Further Than Yourself

By Laurie Mutdosch

Chances are, when you hear the word “outreach,” a lot of thoughts pop into your brain. Charity, community involvement, giving a helping hand to someone in need, and dozens more, I bet.

But what about outreach in the context of your career?

“Not really,” you’re probably saying. “It probably means doing additional things I just don’t have time for in my job.”

And that’s okay. Really.

But…

Let’s talk context and the future.

Just how important is outreach when it comes to the industrial hygiene profession?

Very.

Look, it’s an open secret that there’s a disturbingly small amount of “new blood” entering the IH workforce. We see that represented in our own membership: fewer than twenty percent are considered early career professionals (those with 5 years’ experience or less) or students who are just coming into the field.

Because of the very nature of the job you do in prevention, you’re not in the public spotlight, which means that few people understand what an IH does—even though your job is saving lives every single day through the art and science of preventing ill health.

That’s why career outreach is so important right now. How else will future generations know just how critical, challenging, and rewarding industrial hygiene is?

The most powerful voice for industrial hygiene will always be you, the practicing industrial hygienist.

If you aren’t already, you should be including professional outreach as a fundamental part of your career. There are two important reasons why:

  • Buck stereotypes about industrial hygienists
  • Get out of your IH comfort zone

You all must be tired of people thinking “industrial hygiene” has something to do with dental hygienists, or janitorial practices in a factory, or a dozen other common uninformed answers to the question “What is it you do for a living?” And when you try to explain further, they usually come away thinking you’re just one of those brainiac experts with no personality or sense of humor. Because that’s what all science types are like, right?

One of the most powerful messages you can covey through career outreach is that not only are you an IH, you’re also a person with human qualities like fallibility, finite knowledge, and interests outside work. By being yourself when you engage in public career outreach, you are humanizing industrial hygienists around the world. You’re showing others who IHs really are—that you’re more than “the safety police,” the no-fun executive, or the data or science geek. 

I know you’re a passionate person who is also invested in keeping people safe and healthy at work, so they can go home to be passionate people.

Getting out of your IH comfort zone has benefits for your own outlook on your profession and position. I know you spend a lot of time developing and refining expertise in a very specific, niche area, and it is easy to forget where that expertise fits in the wider world. 

Doing outreach activities, especially ones that require you to explain what you are studying and why, makes you think about the bigger picture. What does your audience care about? Where does your work fit in? How is what you do so critical for health and safety in the larger picture?

“Okay cool, got it,” you’re probably thinking. “But outside of career days at the local school, there’s just no other way to do what you’re asking.”

Au contraire.

There are opportunities all over for outreach like yours. You can do it online via blogs, Twitter, Instagram, videos, or even Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) series. Prefer face-to-face opportunities? Search online for a student group or a local community youth program you’re not currently aware of that offers outreach opportunities. 

If those don’t work, then consider the following:

  • Museums or science centers
  • Science festivals
  • Afterschool programs
  • Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or 4H
  • STEM education and literacy organizations

Or, if you really want to impress, create your own science outreach program like Jennifer Maclachlan did in Massachusetts. You only need a venue, a speaker, and a way to get the word out to the community. 

Career outreach is easy to adapt into your professional life, but you have to want to do this. Considering that your job is to get people home safely and healthily to their loved ones, it’s only right to extend that passion to the next generations. Show them that there’s a career path out there for them to help others in a quiet yet powerful way.

Remember—a firefighting team may get public recognition for saving lives, but you’re part of that team, too. Who helped create their tools to fight fires? Provided them the proper equipment to go and risk their lives? Researched new procedures and threats so they can protect themselves and others?

The industrial hygienist. That’s you.

You’re a modern-day hero for your work. It’s time to get out there and help raise up the next generation of heroes. 

What are you waiting for?

Next steps:


Laurie Mutdosch is AIHA’s senior manager of Membership & Professional Community.​

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