Believe it or not, safety does not sound cool to the younger generation.
Chances are decent that the word “safety” might be spoken around teenagers, but what they hear is “parents controlling your every move so you stay alive, which means we do nothing fun.”
Those of us who have or have had to raise teenagers know that their filters are often broken, but we shouldn’t dare call them on it because then we’ll be “mean” and “not let them do anything.”
Face Facts: We’re Graying
The truth is, though, there is a growing need to get high-school students interested in pursuing a career in occupational safety. Walter Jones, in the November 2015 issue of Professional Safety magazine, says the need is becoming urgent for new professionals in safety.
Why? The ASSE convention is seeing smaller and smaller attendance each year due to the numbers of people retiring far outpacing the numbers of safety professionals being added.
Yes, folks, we are getting older. The profession is aging, and we have to take action before there becomes too few safety officers to watch over all the workplaces, which then increases the risk for an incident occurring, or at least increases the risk of an incident not serving as an effective learning tool for a workforce.
And another sobering reality that is adding to this challenge is the relative lack of academic programs in occupational safety in colleges and universities, which are not producing the numbers of graduates that are needed to fill up the spots vacated by hard-earned retirees.
Children Are Our Future
One of the reasons that these programs aren’t doing as well in producing graduates is that the profession has not done a good job recruiting high-schoolers into these programs or directly into the profession. Jones writes in his article that now is the time to reach out to these teens and make the idea of “safety” interesting to them rather than “not fun.”
As the profession has steadily lost numbers, the occupation is losing some of its “feeder” academic programs. Universities are often reviewing their course offerings and they make trims from time to time, cutting out unpopular or unsustainable programs, and there is a danger that without active recruitment of high-schoolers, the numbers in occupational safety coursework will continue to dwindle to the point that some of these university presidents and chancellors may have no choice but to cut programs to maximize fiscal efficiency on campus.
So the need for recruitment at the high schools is doubly important now. But how do we break through that teenager filter that equates “safety” to “boring, no fun, not cool”?
Teach Them the Truth
Here is the bottom line: There are a few criteria that today’s teens are looking for in a career path. And if they don’t learn about the safety professions, they will miss out on how close these career paths are to fitting what they want.
A recent study showed that 80 percent of 2013 graduates who had taken the ACT college-entrance exam knew what they were going to pursue as an academic major – and only 36 percent of them chose majors that fit into their interests.
What does this mean? This means that for high schoolers and college students, it isn’t about what they love to do or what they are interested in, it’s more about some of these criteria which may not fit into those interests:
- Wanting to make a difference in the world;
- Lots of surprises, no routine;
- Not be stuck in an office, get out and meet people;
- Secure, stable job;
- Great money; and
- Opportunities to travel and/or work around the world.
I don’t know about you, but doesn’t this describe occupational safety to a T?
Jones is asking all of us with passion and love for what we do (which basically is everyone who is a loyal reader of this blog) to make efforts to go to area high schools and talk openly about our profession and the different areas that students could get involved. We might not be the perfect fit for everyone, but we can be a perfect fit for many students if only they knew what we do and how we serve. We should take it upon ourselves to help the profession by talking about it with high schoolers, their parents and others who are connected with high-school students – yes, even guidance counselors!
Talk your profession like a religion and evangelize the young masses. Our profession needs your help, the teens who will be future workers will need our help, and those young parents, who still work and will need safety officers keeping them safe in the workplace, will need your help.