By Barbara Semeniuk, 2021

These are challenging times. Companies are focused on survival; quite literally, it is life-and-death! Safety professionals have been hit hard by COVID-19. In tough times they are the first to be laid off because companies believe they, like human resources and training, do not directly contribute to the bottom line like productivity. This is a shortsighted approach as the skeletal staff, including safety professionals, are busy trying to survive and react – not manage health and safety. However, changes are on the horizon; the new normal’s dim glow is emerging as we wait for vaccines to roll out and help us finally achieve herd immunity. However, the new normal is expected to cause another 10 years of disruption on an unprecedented scale and continue to affect our workplaces with artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, automation, and nanotechnology, further displacing millions of employees. Where does the safety professional fit? Well, according to the World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs Report 2020, risk managers will be one of the rising stars in a highly demanded profession.

The top skills safety professionals will require quickly, leading up to 2025, include critical thinking and analysis, which many already have in abundance. Just ask any safety expert who has conducted an incident investigation! Problem-solving skills and self-management to actively learn, navigate stress, and demonstrate flexibility, will be required in the coming decade. Many safety professionals currently exhibit these skills. They often deal with worker concerns and/or complaints, complex workplace problems, and promoting a safety mindset among all levels of employees. It’s their responsibility to get everyone to ‘buy-in’ to safety standards.

Many safety experts deal on a multinational basis as their companies operate in Europe, the United States, or South America. I believe this will be a growing trend as well. The digitalization of safety programs from paper processes to big data documentation is on the way. The workplace continues to be more complex, and more micro businesses will be created with their unique safety challenges. The technology will move from larger organizations to smaller ones that continue to employ the bulk of workers—accelerating as the gig economy and self-employment continue to grow. All these changes present unique challenges and opportunities for safety professionals.

Ninety-four percent of businesses expect employees to pick up new skills on the job. This is a sharp increase from 65% in 2018. The public sector will be tasked with continually training workers to improve and enhance their skills, and companies will need the incentives to provide it. I believe social inequality and the resulting civil unrest will rise, and groups of workers with lower education and skills, or those in dying industries disrupted by technology, will be left behind. Do not be one of those; learn and evolve! Lifelong learning is a must!

Planned business adaptations to COVID-19, such as remote work opportunities, automated tasks, and accelerated digitalization of work processes using electronic tools and video conferencing, are simply harbingers of what is to come. Off-the-job safety is now blurring as more work is being done in employees’ homes whenever possible. Safety professionals will have to acclimate to remote work and deal with new roles and challenges associated with this transition, such as mental health issues.

Environmental initiatives will become more important for safety professionals in light of climate change and diversity initiatives that must be considered in both traditional and hybrid workplaces. Safety professionals will have to be more adept with technology to manage complex worksites and deal with many languages, including signage, pictograms, and evolving visual/audio technology like holograms and interpretive software. Safety professionals will become increasingly effective due to technological innovation; however, the human factor and soul will always be part of a good health and safety practitioner. Employers are progressively looking for more kindness, flexibility, and teamwork in the coming decade as well.

According to the World Economic Union, the top 15 skills in demand for 2025 will be as follows:
• Innovation and analytical thinking
• Strategic and active learning
• Critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and analyses
• Creativity and originality
• Leadership, initiative, and social influence
• Technology skills for use, monitoring, and control
• Technology processing and design
• Flexibility, resilience, and stress tolerance
• Reasoning and ideation
• Emotional intelligence
• User experience processes and troubleshooting
• Service orientation, systems analysis, and evaluation
• Negotiation and persuasion

I believe many safety professionals already exhibit these skills, and because they are continually learning, they can add skills that augment their employability in the future. The key is to thrive, not just survive!
This, in short, is my belief in the future roles and skills required for safety professionals in the next 10 years. We will experience a faster pace of change and a greater need to stretch existing talents while picking up new skills. Embrace these challenges and continue to succeed.