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Health and safety is back on the agenda, but professionals remain wary



It has been over a year since the EU referendum and, despite a nervous few months in the immediate aftermath of the nation’s vote, business confidence is back to previous levels amongst health and safety employers.

Whilst the UK’s exit from the European Union will undoubtedly have an impact upon our health and safety regulations and legislation, for now there is a prevailing sense that the focus should remain on current business objectives and the urgent health and safety work which needs completion in the present. As in previous years, there is a greater focus on hiring permanent employees than temporary staff in order to meet these needs.

Furthermore, the subtle differences in the recruitment markets across the health and safety spectrum have also remained the same. Within the construction and property sphere, the function continues to experience increased staff turnover rates as well as greater demand for skilled professionals, often a result of the project nature of much of the work and heightened competition for skilled professionals leading many to move organisations in pursuit of better benefits and salaries.

Conversely – but not a departure from the norm – the health and safety recruitment market for the manufacturing and industry space remains less busy, with many employees choosing to stay in their current roles for longer periods of time and employers appreciating this loyalty and looking to retain talent.

Perhaps the only change to the health and safety function has been seen in the commercial sector. There is still limited staff turnover due to the good remuneration packages and benefits on offer, and the consequent reluctance by employees to give these up. However, after a long lull following the global financial crisis, we are once again seeing a greater demand for professionals with wellbeing experience – indicative of the renewed focus organisations are placing on talent retention strategies.

Yet despite a return to ‘business as usual’, there are still a number of challenges facing this function.

1. Candidate uncertainty

There is high – and increasing – demand for skilled health and safety professionals. However, whilst employer confidence has picked up, the same cannot be said for all employees. Despite being spoiled for choice when it comes to the number of roles currently on offer, many potential candidates remain uncertain about market conditions – what will these roles on offer look like in a year or two? As a result, many are prioritising job security and adopting a ‘sit tight’ approach for now.

2. Leading to skills shortages

Whilst there are many skilled health and safety professionals, not all have immediate plans to leave their roles. In particular, there is a shortage of environmental health professionals.

Health and safety advisors are perhaps the most acute area of shortage. This has been exacerbated by an upward spiral in demand for skilled professionals to fill these roles. The reasons for this particular shortage are two-fold; not only are these professionals susceptible to the same uncertainty as we have seen amongst many health and safety individuals, but in the years following the global financial crisis there was a notable lack of investment in the development of skills for health and safety professionals, meaning fewer advisors today.

Implementing strategies to attract top talent

In light of a challenging recruitment market for organisations looking to fill health and safety roles, employers need to rethink and enhance their hiring strategies. They should endeavour to demonstrate that their organisation has good engagement with the health and safety function, and that they are looking to implement strategic and innovate processes, particularly with regard to behavioural safety.

In addition, throughout the hiring process employers need to highlight and demonstrate professional development and career progression. Rather than simply listing what an employee will be expected to do in their first year, they should stress the longer term plans for a role, and be open to the idea of funding a NEBOSH diploma – which will be hugely attractive to many candidates. This will also open the possibility of hiring more junior professionals, with a view to training them up over time.

In order to win the war for talent and be seen as an employer of choice, health and safety hiring managers need to gain a better understanding of what candidates want beyond a good salary, and be flexible enough to incorporate these factors into their attraction and retention strategies.

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs in this field, please contact your local consultant.

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