So you want a career in Health and Safety? (Part 2)

Want a Health and Safety career?

Continuing from my previous posts where I shared with you how I started my Health and Safety career and what I did to excel at it, now I am going to tell you how you can get into Safety. No I am not going to employ you neither am I going to tell you who is presently recruiting in your area. I get this kind of emails often especially on LinkedIn. LinkedIn? That’s topic for another day. Today I will start with what courses you should do, to qualities you must have and how to get your first break. Read my disclaimer at the end of this post.

1. Get qualified by attending the right course/training

As much as I say experience is way better than certifications and qualifications you still need to have the right certifications. You could be certified and/or qualified and not have experience so qualifications really don’t do it for me. However, they are useful and most of the time will help get you to the interview. There is nothing like getting qualified while you work and learn. It is just the best way to go about things.

To get qualified, I usually suggest starting with the NEBOSH certificate if you are in Nigeria (seems employers in Nigeria are stuck on NEBOSH). There are other qualifications like
– the WSO (World Safety Organisation) certifications,
ABIOSH (a relatively new professional body with some really cool courses like the Process Safety Management and even the HAZOP/HAZID and many more courses),
NVQ Occupational Health and Safety Level 3 and 5 by City and Guild (my favourite)
– or even a Postgraduate certificate, diploma or Masters like I did. To mention a few.

Masters can be really expensive especially for international students who decide to go outside Nigeria – I spent thousands of £s when I did mine 6/7 years ago.

There is a Masters program at University of Ibadan (Nigeria) but it is not one of the IOSH approved providers so doing this will not guarantee you a GradIOSH title (lots of Nigerians are in love with the title 😉 but at least it certifies you. I did my Masters at Brunel University, London in 2009/10 but they no longer offer the course. However there are others you can study with – Universities like Greenwich, Portsmouth, Surrey, Heriot Watt and many others. The course name and contents might vary slightly but as long as they are listed as IOSH approved/accredited qualifications you are good to go. Portsmouth and Heriot Watt offer a distance learning program for those who want to remain in their jobs rather than take the risk of leaving it to study and returning to nothing. Yeah it happens more often than you realise.

NVQ versus NEBOSH

NVQ vs NEBOSH
Oh how I love the idea of an NVQ. Not sure when it started but I believe it was after my Masters program because I know I would have gone this route if it was available years before I discovered it. If you hate writing exams, the NVQ is for you as you gain and show competence on the job rather than in an exam. Yipee!

The NVQ is obviously my preferred choice over the NEBOSH as the NVQ is designed in a way that you learn as you work and even apply what you learn immediately at the same time to work. So basically, to do the NVQ, you should ideally be in employment. Answers to many of your course work can only be truly provided by your experience in the workplace. Nothing beats that.

The NEBOSH can be done whether you are employed or not. I have no problems with NEBOSH as it still provides you with the skills to start work as a Safety officer especially the Diploma which is more detailed and tougher – not for the faint hearted. Then again, the NVQ 5 is just like the NEBOSH Diploma – you do get GradIOSH once certified. So it really is your choice. Which do you pick?

2. Gain experience and remember money isn’t everything

I will advice you find somewhere to volunteer while you are studying for the NEBOSH or whatever course you decide to go for. Volunteering gives you experience that can go on your CV. Make sure your time volunteering is not wasted on photocopying paper or on social media except that is what you were employed to do.

Most times, volunteering means you don’t get paid. That is a really hard thing to do as money is so important, the economy is a miserable mess and bills need to be paid. Money is necessary after all why do we all have jobs and businesses? The problem with money is the love of it so to volunteer you must have a mind that sees money as nothing. A mind that is satisfied with just getting by for now knowing that soon, things will certainly get better plus you must work towards it not just hope.

Think of money as nothing. Only by thinking this way can you truly volunteer and do it well. When I volunteered I got paid nothing except money for lunch and transportation. As a student, transport fare was an issue especially in “expensive” London. Students did get 30% discount off transport which was a huge relief but I was happy my employers paid for my weekly travel-card which cost me about £23 (or thereabout) at the time. I hardly had lunch on them but when I did, the money was refunded as long as I submitted a receipt. This was good enough for me. It should be good enough for you.

Even if the employer decides to only pay your transport for the day, accept it in good faith. Where no transport and/or lunch is paid for, please dust their sand off your feet and walk away. It takes a lot of determination and will-power to work for free so even if you do it, do it with some dignity and for people who care about you and your wellbeing.

I once had an intern who flew in from Germany to work with me for 10 weeks when I lived in London. It wasn’t for a Safety role and of course, it was an unpaid role as I couldn’t afford paying salaries then. It was an important part of her Uni work and she really wanted to come to London rather than intern in Germany. I made sure to pay her transport and provide her with lunch everyday. Sometimes we worked from my flat and I made sure to cook lunch and those were her favourite lunch times. She worked so hard and I really missed her when she returned to Germany.

Get a place where you can volunteer. But how? you may ask.

Truth is multinationals and the large corporate organisations might not be willing to take you on. They have enough hands. Many who do, do it as a favour to their very important clients or to really close relatives.

I usually suggest going for small organisations and startups. We usually are short on funds and need help. Search for them and send your CV and cover letter telling them you are looking for a volunteering role in their organisation – be sure to state what department you want to work in. Be specific. By being vague, they could just station you at the photocopier lol.

One important thing to note is that when applying for volunteering roles, treat the application like you would treat an application to a job that will pay you 7 figures. Fill the application properly and sell yourself the best you can. I am saying this because I always reject applications that scream “I don’t give a s**t about you or your business. I just need to gain experience”. Yes like those emails where you send your CV to me and a bunch of others at the same time. It just screams you are too unprofessional and impatient to send an email to just me or just them and not bothered about “looking good”. What is so wrong with sending out hundreds of individual applications? Yeah time consuming but worth it at the end.

Now this next 2 points are built upon some of the stuff I have written in previous posts such as 5 things you need to do to excel in Health and Safety and Can you be your own Safety Officer? But here they are again anyway.

3. Work like you are being paid top $

Your first role might not yield much by way of salary but it is your first break and should not be toiled with. Sometimes you can get lucky and have a really good first role like the lucky few who get into multinationals. Your actions and how you do your job will either make or break your career. Don’t complain about management strolling into work at 10am when you got there before 7am. They were once like you and have really paid their dues and deserve to be king. Whether you choose to believe it or not, management have more stress than you can imagine so don’t envy them too much. Just get on with the job. One day you will look back and just smile.

Do more than is required if you are given the chance whether volunteering or not. Like I did, be willing to go on visits with and learn from the Senior Safety workers. Watch how they talk with customers, the questions they ask and how they go about their tasks. Take notes and ask them questions afterwards. Don’t be afraid to ask why they did something in a certain way or why they asked the customer that question.

I also read alot. Although I like to learn things my way and usually question the norm, that doesn’t stop me from reading what is out there and learning new stuff. If you are in a job and you are not learning anything new or getting better at the job then you are wasting your time. One way you can learn is by asking the older member of staff for tasks you can help them complete. Make sure you do it well and with time you will be given more important tasks to complete. Make sure that as you do it, you ask questions to make sure you are doing it the right way. You don’t want to spend hours on a task only to have it thrown in the bin.

4. Challenge yourself

Push yourself to learn things yourself. Google is your friend and has lots of free resources. I remember the first time I came across HAZOP. I didn’t have money to go on the course. I had just finished my masters and knew I needed to get better. I went online and found many resources and began to study it. I wrote things down as I learnt them. I have done this with other topics in Health and Safety and even created courses out of what I learnt online and my experiences.

You might not have the funds to do what you really need to do but there is always a way out. Learn something new as often as you can. Remember Safety is so wide, no one person knows it all but you can become an expert in your chosen area and grow in it. Even if it’s just designing Safety courses – a field I have much love for and trying really hard to grow in.

5. Follow me

Now this looks like a joke but it isn’t entirely a joke. I write often about stuff like this and you will be “HSE wise” or even wiser 😉 to subscribe to receive notifications of new posts and all the special emails I send out.

To subscribe, just enter your email in the box below and hit send. Great stuff!

Here’s my disclaimer.

I am not guaranteeing you will get paid work if you decide to volunteer. Even when you volunteer and do all Jesus would do, employers might not care about it enough to keep you on. All other points should work for you if you are diligent and do them to the best of your ability.

Got any questions? Ask away.

#BeHSEWise