What are the top HSE skills employers want?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 3 March, 2022 - 10:30
Industry news
National News

COVID-related challenges turbo-charged demand for work health and safety professionals in 2021, according to a new analysis of HSE jobs nationally.

Aaron Neilson, CEO of The Next Group, said employment opportunities increased as organisations put forward a people-first approach in place, while also dealing with shifting environmental factors such as changing legislation.

In just 12-month HSE job opportunities rose a massive 41.7 per cent, reaching an all-time high in November, and as the year drew to a close, Neilson said The Safe Step National HSE Job Opportunities Index achieved a new record of 171.

Demand for HSE support came from a broad range of employers, with noticeable increases in professional services, manufacturing and supply chain, and mining,” he said.

“Job ads were noticeably up on previous years, but a scarcity of people looking for new positions created a significant shortfall in applicants. Those looking for work had their pick of roles. Competition in some areas helped to drive up salaries.”

Contract roles in 2021 made up 22.5 per cent of all HSE job opportunities, and Neilson said this was a response to companies requiring immediate and additional support to augment existing resources, to assist in the management of Covid or to ensure BAU initiatives continued. “Pockets of work for unbundled consulting services are expected to continue into 2022 as employers continue to deal with the lingering impacts of the pandemic and return-to-work requirements,” he said.

There has also been increased investment by business in the areas of wellbeing and ESG (environmental, social, governance) through last year, and while these are not new trends Neilson said there was a noted elevation of focus in these areas where responsibility sat within the broader HSE function.

“Across our client base there was a clear imperative for business to bring in SMEs in both areas to drive a more informed, evidence and risk-based approach,” said Neilson, who predicted significant talent shortages will continue across most Australian industries and HSE job categories.

Record numbers of jobs were advertised on SEEK in January 2022 (up almost 40 per cent year-on-year), yet job application rates have dropped by half.

“Opportunities abound, but applicants are low. While borders are reopening, overseas visa applications are taking three times longer than prior to the pandemic,” he said.

“Relief is still some way off for sectors such as technology, healthcare and consulting/professional services. Employers across the board are seeking WHS people with professional expertise who can balance technical and commercial/relational capabilities.”

Neilson suggested 2022 is a great time for WHS professionals to look for a new role or a step-up in their career, and he said the job market will remain strong as businesses continue to deal with the ongoing pressures of the pandemic, while also returning to BAU.

“We expect a rise in both contract as well as permanent appointments in the year ahead,” he said.

Attracting and retaining staff will also be a significant challenge for employers, and given current talent shortages, Neilson said businesses will need to bolster capability through whatever means possible.

In certain segments, hiring managers are having to compromise either on remuneration or on expected capabilities in order to fill vacancies.

“In HSE there is certainly a semblance of a false economy being created which requires employers to think differently around their total offering. Hybrid and flexible ways of working, development opportunities and culture are often trumping salary in importance,” he said.

“Speed to market is also a key challenge for employers at the moment. Delays in engaging with talent or slow hiring processes can result in talent being snapped up elsewhere. An anticipated ‘sellers’ market’ will favour job seekers through 2022.”

Before changing jobs, however, Neilson said it is important to clearly understand why you are looking to move and what you hope to achieve in doing so.

“Merely moving for the money is not a good strategy. Our clients continue to seek professionals that can perform the role required, however also bring a thirst for learning and development and an ability/desire to contribute beyond the role itself,” he said.

“It is important to ensure that you continue to learn, to build knowledge and experience in areas you do not have depth (such as wellbeing/ESG) as business is always looking for informed practice and thinking.”

This does not necessarily mean going back to study (although for some this will be important), however, Neilson said it is critical to stay connected to the broader profession, to network and engage with peers and others, to understand the different thinking and approaches out there and challenge your own thinking alongside this.

“It is important to remember that 70-80 per cent of people identify their next role through their networks and therefore accessing these networks is key and crucial to not only your learning but also potentially your next employment opportunity,” he said.

“There are many groups online and as we head into 2022 in person where you can connect and we encourage you to explore these whether you are looking to make a move or simply to stay current and connected in your thinking.”