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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

The OHS job market

How does your income compare to that of your peers? PETER BATEMAN crunched the numbers in this year’s salary survey, and reports on the state of the job market.

Last year we conducted our first salary survey of New Zealand health and safety practitioners. The response was so good we’ve done it again.

The key result is that the median annual income of our 172 respondents has risen by around $3000, from $68,214 last year (180 respondents) to $71,333 this year.

Before you break open the bubbly to celebrate – employers begin to realise the value of OHS, shock! – a word of caution. The numbers we report in the tables over the page are presented to one decimal place simply so columns add up to 100 where they should. We do not pretend for a moment to have actually achieved that level of accuracy.

Best, then, to treat the figures as provisional rather than precise, but they are useful to establish broad numbers and to spot trends, such as:

  • • 
    almost half the respondents have spent 10 years or more in OHS roles;
  • • 
    less than a third of respondents have a bachelor’s or higher degree in OHS;
  • • 
    far more occupational health nurses have taken part this year;
  • • 
    fewer people this year feel their income is lower than non-OHS roles of similar responsibility.

Our thanks to everyone who took part in the survey. The first table presented on page 44 summarises the results of all questions. Other tables drill down deeper from different angles.

On the Safeguard website you’ll find an anonymised selection of respondent comments on the state of pay for OHS practitioners.

The job market

We asked five people to comment from different perspectives on the state of the job market for health and safety practitioners.

The commentators are Alison Gill, a director of Eden FX HSE Recruitment; Mike Cosman, managing director of Impac; Ian Clark, national manager of NZISM; Nicole Rosie, GM health, safety and environment with KiwiRail; and Andrew McComish, chair (compliance) of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA) and director of consultancy thinkHR.

As you would expect in the current economic downturn, the panel describes the market as difficult and tight, with some retrenchment and less use of contractors. However there is inconsistency, as some sectors – energy and infrastructure are cited – continue to hire.

A flow-on effect from the recession is that employees in OHS roles are aware of job security and are staying on longer than they might have, leaving fewer openings for others to move up to.

Despite this, Cosman has noticed a tendency for people to move on from OHS roles after a couple of years or even less.

“It’s not clear if this is about building their CV by getting a range of experiences, or a more worrying sign of a mismatch between expectation and reality, on the part of both employer and employee.”

He has found strong interest from overseas practitioners, some highly experienced who have become victims of the global recession, others looking for a lifestyle choice in New Zealand.

Job market changes

The market has definitely changed, says the panel, though views differed on the details. Gill says the economy has led to a reduction in entry and mid-level positions, and fierce competition for senior roles.

“Highly skilled and qualified New Zealanders are returning home, along with the continued influx of skilled migrants,” she says. “This gives employers a much larger talent pool from which to select.”

Rosie and Clark both detect more OHS-specific roles being advertised, with more emphasis on applicants proving they have tertiary level OHS qualifications as well as experience.

“The way in which role profiles are scripted has improved, indicating companies are more aware of the value being added to their business by the engagement of a suitable person,” notes Clark.

However Cosman regards the market as still immature and lacking benchmarks against which employers can judge competence, noting that he recently saw a senior role advertised in a public sector agency which asked for “membership of Safeguard” as the professional qualification. [Sounds fine to me – ed].

He says moves to develop a clear professional structure for OHS practitioners will clarify things for employers, and wishes that the Department of Labour would issue a position paper on its expectations of access to competent advice as part of an effective OHS management system.

“This would align with their current position of acting as a ‘modern regulator’ and working in non-traditional ways.”

McComish notes the evolution of OHS roles from a compliance/physical hazard approach, to a more systems-based approach, and then to incorporate environmental management too.

“The latest iteration is for practitioners who have more of a sense around business management, coupled with a move towards experience in the health part of OHS. The trend is moving from safety to health, in other words, towards employee wellbeing.”

Desirable candidate qualities

The panel’s key descriptors here are demonstrable competence, tertiary qualifications, interpersonal skills, commercial nous, and the ability to build good internal and external networks to fill gaps in OHS or sector knowledge.

Clark reckons employers also want practical people who can challenge proposals and enlist the support of others within the organisation. Rosie stresses the need for practical commercial experience, and reinforces the ability to build links across all levels of an organisation.

Gill notes that employers are looking for people who will stay to make a difference in the longer term, “rather than someone who still believes that it is necessary to change positions every 12 - 18 months for career development purposes.”

Employers, she says, are increasingly happy to wait to get the right match rather than just hiring the best available person at the time.

McComish stresses the need for knowledge of the industry sector, plus systems and legislation, and most of all people skills, because the OHS person “is a key safety advocate and is required to take a leadership role at all stages of their career.”

Cosman says employers look for people with business experience and the ability to work collaboratively with other parts of the organisation to integrate OHS with wider initiatives.

“Box-tickers have no place in the current climate, so a positive, imaginative, can-do approach combined with enthusiasm and commitment will go a long way. The other critical attribute is self awareness: know your limits and when to seek assistance.”

Advice to ambitious practitioners

Here the panel is unanimous: continue your professional development and ensure you have good qualifications.

“Continual professional development is the key to maintaining standards and retaining a competitive edge both as an individual and also as a risk management asset to your company,” notes Gill, who urges practitioners to honestly assess their own development needs.

McComish cautions that employers are looking for people who can create a tailor-made solution, rather than rely on implementing a solution which might have worked elsewhere earlier in their career.

“Broaden your area of knowledge so that you can weave the multiple strands of OHS into a toolkit that adds value to a business. Recognise the career path from safety coordinator to adviser to manager and make sure you develop skills at each level to carry you to the next.”

Rosie notes that promotions – internally and externally – often occur through personal recommendation, so focus on delivering in your current role and area of influence. She also urges people to make use of opportunities to network and to demonstrate leadership.

“Join a safety managers’ network, attend briefings, submit applications for safety awards, and present at or participate in conferences or workshops.”

For Cosman, a key point is to ensure the culture of the organisation you would like to join matches your own, otherwise disappointment is sure to follow.

“Get qualified. Get a good CV that reflects your achievements and capabilities, not just where you have worked. Be choosy (if you can).”

He also advises building good networks – formal and informal – to assist in playing the long game.

“To be effective in a significant OHS role you need to be looking at a 3 to 5 year tenure to get under the skin of the organisation, identify the priorities, get the budget and then see changes through to fruition. Constant turnover of staff leads to a stop/start approach which can be highly disruptive.”


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