For over 50 years, the occupational environmental health and science professional (OEHS), also known as industrial hygienists, have operated behind the scenes and their roles and value to the workplace commonly have been misunderstood. A lack of exposure to STEM jobs in the field and career resources are factors that have, in the past, impacted the limited number of middle school and high school students expressing interested in the STEM profession. However, things changed when COVID-19 catapulted OEHS STEM careers into the spotlight and more students than ever before were exposed to jobs in the field during the pandemic, piquing their interest. According to the British Science Association, young people are more interested in a science career as a result of COVID-19. Findings from the BSA's recent survey revealed a marked uplift in young people (14-to-18-year-olds) who would now consider working in a scientific field as a result of COVID-19 – with 37% of young people now more likely to consider a scientific career (BSA, June 19, 2020).
STEM Careers More Visible and In Demand
The repeated exposure to OEHS “PPE and ventilation” experts who were keeping people safe during the pandemic, generated more awareness of the once invisible OEHS STEM professionals and career opportunities. As a result, career resources for middle and high school students highlighting dynamic job opportunities in the field, such as OEHScareers.org, grew rapidly and are now helping career counselors guide the next generation of students interested in a STEM profession.
Counselors with students who are are interested in the following careers may notice a fit with OEHS careers:
The demand in STEM jobs is expected to outpace that of non-STEM jobs in the upcoming years (Fry et al., 2021). In fact, labor projections show strong growth for many STEM occupations in the United States, particularly epidemiologists, medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists, and biological technicians, among others (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Employment is projected to grow from 153.5 million to 165.4 million over the 2020–2030 decade, an increase of 11.9 million jobs and healthcare as one of two fields projected to add the newest jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). For individuals looking at a career in STEM, the opportunities are endless. Having age-appropriate access to educational resources about STEM jobs is critical for career counselors working with students K-12.
Benefits of STEM Careers
Career counselors will find numerous benefits for students interested in a STEM career. For example, OEHS careers offer generous benefits, including little to no tuition debt and full scholarships thanks to federal incentives, generous private scholarships from organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Foundation (AIHF) and special bachelor’s and masters’ programs. Plus, this growing profession promises a near-certain job placement after graduation, with internships in business sectors such as natural resources, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, oil and gas companies, mining, federal and state government departments, national energy labs and chemical manufacturing, among many others. Pursuing a degree in the field appeals to many students because STEM careers often pay wages far above the national average and continue to rank higher on the pay scale, with the typical worker earning more than those in other occupations (Occupational Outlook Quarterly, 2014). For example, the average starting salary for young OEHS professionals is $58,300; after 10 years with their certification, the reported annual base salary in the U.S. was $113,641 (AIHA’s Salary & Compensation Survey, 2019).
Resources for STEM Career Exploration
To aid in the exploration of STEM careers, career counselors can share videos from STEM professionals talking about a day in the life of the profession. Commonly referred to as "IH" and "OEHS," these STEM-oriented jobs are in demand - and can be quite lucrative. Visitors to OEHScareers.org can meet Vishal Nathu, the Senior Manager of Workplace Health & Safety at Amazon Logistics. He says his job as an IH/OEHS is very diverse:
Some of the subjects we deal with at hand are chemistry, biology, physiology, toxicology, engineering, chemical engineering, it’s truly endless and no two days are the same. I’m never stuck behind a computer all day. An average day for me is traveling, seeing my sights, listening to our associates and team members and learning pinch points and thinking backwards to learn how we can prevent this in the workplace. Sharing a passion for science while protecting people from work-related health risks – that’s the power of a career in the fields of IH and OEHS. (OEHS, n.d. 03:13)
Career counselors can also assist students in learning about the future of STEM professional pathways with guidance from STEM associations and industry groups dedicated to careers and employment such as AIHA’s Career and Employment Services Committee (CES). CES developed the CareerAdvantage Center to assist with identifying employment/career opportunities and provides forums such as the Development Fair, online job board, career counseling, and webinars to enhance career transition skills. This powerful new job board makes it easier for IH/OH professionals to advance their careers and for companies to attract the best and brightest of the IH/OH field. The new platform provides a variety of employment resources, tools, and services for IH/OH job seekers and employers throughout the country.
Career counselors may start by assessing personality traits to see if students possess some of the common OEHS traits such as:
Students with a Future in STEM
Students interested in STEM and looking for a career with a sense of purpose, , a higher-than-average starting salary, and opportunities for advancement will thrive as OEHS professionals. School and career counselors supporting students excited about STEM can learn more about opportunities and receive free multimedia resources from industry experts, such as those at OEHSCareers.org While the covid pandemic has altered careers for many people, this positive change for students may aid the STEM field for years to come.
AIHA. (2019). Making career decisions with AIHA’s salary survey. The Synergist. https://synergist.aiha.org/201911-making-career-decisions
British Science Association. (2020). Young people are more interested in a scientific career as a result of COVID-19. BSA Blog. https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/blog/young-people-are-more-interested-in-a-scientific-career-as-a-result-of-covid-19
OEHS. (n.d.) Vishal Nathu: What exactly is IH? OEHS? [Video]. https://www.oehscareers.org/
Fry, R., Kennedy, B., & Funk, C. (2021). STEM jobs see uneven progress in increasing gender, racial and ethnic diversity. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2021/04/01/stem-jobs-see-uneven-progress-in-increasing-gender-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014, Spring). Stem 101: intro to tomorrow’s jobs. Occupational Outlook Quarterly. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2014/spring/art01.pdf
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, February). Employment projections in a pandemic environment. Monthly Labor Review. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2021/article/employment-projections-in-a-pandemic-environment.htm
Susan “Sue” Marchese, MS, CAE, is AIHA’s Managing Director, Strategy and External Affairs. She started as Director of Marketing and Communications with AIHA in 2014 and is responsible for developing strategies and directing all marketing and public relations campaigns for the association, its LLCs, and foundations. A few hallmark projects she has led are: AIHA’s rebranding and public awareness campaign, as well as the Back To Work Safely initiative. Her career in non-profit marketing and communications has spanned over 25 years and she recently earned her certification with the American Society of Association Executives. With her wide range of experience, including running the international marketing department in the auditory division of Boston Scientific, serving as executive director of Hearing Health Foundation and The National Campaign for Hearing Health for 5 years, Sue continues to bring innovative, engaging, and impactful ideas to grow AIHA. She earned a BS in Political Science and International Relations from Fairfield University and holds a Master of Science, Organizational Development degree from New School University. She is a Certified Association Executive (CAE). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org