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Sustaining the Pipeline of HSE Professionals in the UK

Written by Zac Wilson, Founder & Director at Search² (www.search-recruitment.co.uk)

Sustaining the pipeline of HSE talent - Zac Wilson @ Search²

In this article we explore the current and future pipeline of HSE professionals in the UK, the supply & demand now and in the future and how knowledge transfer can help sustain the pipeline of HSE professionals in the future. Highlighting initiatives that encourage new entrants in to the sector and considering the evolution of the role of the HSE professional as we know it today.


Current market of HSE professionals in the UK (via LinkedIn.com)


  • There are currently 55,000 HSE professionals in the UK with 10+ years of experience (77%)

  • There are 11,000 HSE professionals in the UK with between 6-10 years of experience (15%)

  • There are 4,500 HSE professionals in the UK with between 3-5 years of experience (6%)

  • There are 2,250 HSE professionals in the UK with between 1-2 years of experience (3%)

  • There are 581 HSE professionals in the UK with less than 1 year of experience (<1%)

Bar graph showing distribution of experience levels of HSE professionals on LinkedIn

A few important data limitations to consider:

  • User profiles may be out of date

  • User profiles may contain incorrect data

  • The data doesn't include HSE professionals that don't have LinkedIn profiles


Despite the caveats, we have 70,000+ HSE professional profiles to draw some conclusions from, as well as my own experience in recruiting in HSE for the best part of a decade.


Let's compare the LinkedIn data with current HSE vacancies in the UK to understand the current demand from employers.


For consistency, all job postings researched include the terms ("Health and Safety", H&S, HSEQ, HSE, QHSE, SHEQ, EHS, SHE, SHEQ). All vacancies have been posted in the last 14 days at the time of writing.


HSE Job advert data in the UK

  • Director titled roles - 9 vacancies (<1%)

  • 'Head of' titled roles - 25 vacancies (2%)

  • Manager titled roles - 600 vacancies (71%)

  • Advisor titled roles - 200 vacancies (23%)

  • 'Entry level', 'Junior', 'Assistant', 'Coordinator', 'Administrator', 'Apprenticeship' titled roles - 25 vacancies (3%)


If we combine the datasets together, it becomes clear that the supply and demand of HSE professionals is centred around the Manager and Advisor level professionals - great news if you are an experienced HSE Advisor / HSE Manager!


It's a 'middle-heavy' profession currently, which is consistent with my experience of recruiting in the industry & networking with HSE professionals for the best part of a decade.


Most HSE vacancies are usually direct replacements of experienced team members that are leaving, or are a reaction of growth / work / projects being won and therefore employers need a certain level of experience for the candidate to "hit the ground running".


As it stands, it's a recruitment merry-go-round that is self-sustaining because of the level of experience that exists within the profession.


How sustainable is the pipeline of HSE talent in 5,10,15,20+ years?


  • Is there enough development happening within the profession to future proof future demand?


  • How can organisations encourage operational workers to move in to HSE roles / functions?


  • Are there enough new entrants to sustain future demand?


  • Will we begin to see large gaps appearing in experience levels and competence as people leave the profession?



I have met with, spoken to and interviewed thousands of HSE professionals over the years and am yet to meet or speak with a HSE professional that knew that HSE was going to be their 'calling'. If I had a pound for every time someone told me they 'fell in to the profession'!


A career in HSE, unlike being a vet, doctor or teacher isn't high on the list for a lot of young people.


If the profession continues 'converting' people from non-HSE professionals this will negate some of the need for new entrants in to the sector. However, a reliance on this alone is unlikely to prop up the future demand itself.


So how can organisations ensure that they are maximising the knowledge and experience of the current crop of HSE professionals, and continue building the pipeline for the future?


Knowledge transfer

The opportunity for knowledge transfer is a huge opportunity for developing HSE and non-HSE professionals to learn from those more experienced.


Any industry initiatives that encourage mentoring like IOSH's mentoring programme are going to ensure the retention of years of experience & knowledge.


Succession planning and promoting internally

By proactively & constantly succession planning within their HSE teams.


For larger organisations this will be much easier as there is likely to be defined structures in place, for smaller organisations this may include buddying up & exposing keen non-HSE employees with the HSE function to provide a potential option if a member of their small HSE team decides to leave the organisation.


An extension of the point above is looking to internally promote wherever possible, and backfilling the promoted candidates' role with a more junior member of the team / new entrants.


Maximising apprenticeship schemes

Raising awareness of apprenticeship schemes such as Safety,Health and Environment Technician scheme.


Companies creating openings for HSE (or in this case SHE) apprenticeship roles.


Encouraging non-HSE professionals to transition in to HSE

Organisations need to ensure that there is healthy encouragement and incentive for non-HSE professionals to transition in to HSE roles


  • Attractive salaries for entry-level roles

  • Job opportunities

  • Development opportunities

  • Qualification funding and support


Career development schemes for high volume HSE recruiting organisations


For larger companies with larger safety teams and a higher volume of recruiting in HSE, providing clearly defined progression schemes for less experienced HSE professionals. See Citation's 'Tech2Grad' scheme as an example.


Continuing to encourage service leavers to enter the HSE profession


Raise awareness and encourage service leavers to make the most of their ELCAS funding, by becoming NEBOSH Qualified.


Companies creating initiatives to encourage service leavers to apply for their roles.


Summary

There is a growing feeling among many HSE professionals that we are witnessing an evolution of the HSE practitioner as we once knew it.


Increased organisational focus on ESG (the theme of World Health and Safety day in 2024 was centred around 'Climate Change and Safety and Health at Work') means that we are likely to see HSE responsibilities absorbed in to ESG or similar functions, and less specialised H&S roles in the future.



Combine this with an increased focus on workplace wellbeing and mental health - it is going to be fascinating to see how the landscape of the HSE profession responds to the changes in demand.


If there continues to be a lack of fresh health and safety specialised talent entering the pipeline, it is likely to further perpetuate and accelerate those changes.


Despite all of the above, one thing will never change.


The need to ensure that employees return from their places of work safe and healthy.


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