The IH Route Planner
Navigating a New Career
Welcome to the wide world of industrial hygiene, a profession comprising people who are passionate about protecting worker health. Perhaps you’re still a student, or maybe you just landed your first internship. It’s possible that you’re out of school and working your first job. Maybe IH is your second calling. Whatever the case, the first steps toward a career in IH or OHS can be daunting. But you’re not alone on this journey.
Venturing into IH and OHS means joining a vibrant community of professionals who are eager to share what they’ve learned about building a rewarding career. The Synergist spoke with three established IH and OHS professionals of varying backgrounds to collect advice that early career professionals can use to meet some of the challenges that come with being new to the field.
STEP UP AND STRETCH YOURSELF Ryan Moon, CIH, CSP, senior industrial hygienist at the research and development company Battelle, recalls how intimidated he was the first couple of times he dialed in to AIHA committee phone calls. He found himself in the company of many experienced, certified IHs, and nervously wondered how he, with his “bachelor’s degree and no real-world experience,” would be able to contribute to the group.
Moon soon discovered that the committee leaders were generally more than happy to help him identify ways to participate and opportunities for professional growth. This year, he became chair of the Students and Early Career Professionals (SECP) Committee, whose mission is to support students and those new to the profession by improving their engagement with AIHA national and local sections and providing opportunities to grow professionally. (Learn more about the SECP Committee on the AIHA website.)​
Looking back, Moon believes he may have missed out on networking, mentorship, and job opportunities by not getting involved sooner.
“It’s one of those hard things when you’re new,” he says. “But don’t be afraid to reach out to AIHA members if you want to be involved.”
When she was new to the profession, one of the first things Cathy Hovde, CIH, CSP, did was to start volunteering with AIHA national, AIHA committees, and the Upper Midwest Local Section. Hovde, who is global industrial hygiene manager for Caterpillar Inc., says that her volunteer work helped her build a valuable network of professionals who she could turn to for advice.
Volunteering not only helps new IHs jump-start their networks, Hovde notes, it also provides opportunities to hone leadership and project management skills that early career professionals may not otherwise get.
“Don’t be afraid to step up and stretch yourself,” she says. “You’re going to find that you can do it, and you’re going to acquire really valuable skills along the way.”
AIHA Fellow Mike Harris, PhD, CIH, is another strong believer in the importance of networking and communication among the IH community. Harris, who is president of the IH consulting firm Hamlin & Harris Inc., likens industrial hygiene to a team sport.
“There is a no such thing as just one single industrial hygienist,” Harris said during his Donald E. Cummings Memorial Award lecture at AIHce 2014. “This is a team sport with many players, all possessing unique abilities and bringing something different to the ballgame. None of us can know it all or can do it all.” Many people who are new to the profession may not be aware that constant communication with colleagues is key to completing tasks that lie beyond their comfort zone, Harris says. This combined with the aspect of the profession that requires IHs to be generalists, and the reality that IHs often find themselves to be the only scientists at a work site, makes it easy for industrial hygiene professionals to feel like they’re on their own. “We need to let go of this idea that we’re supposed to know everything about industrial hygiene,” Harris says. “Once we accept that, we can let go of that feeling of guilt we sometimes get when we have to ask for help. Remember, next week, somebody’s going to ask you.” FIND A MENTOR Finding a professional mentor is another item that should be high on the to-do list for early career professionals, Moon says. He continues to rely on his mentor, a previous supervisor, who helped him develop his leadership skills early in his career when he worked at Safex, a consulting firm. Over seven years, Moon worked his way up from an IH to a project manager and then a team leader. “My mentor put me into a leadership role, and I made a few mistakes, but she helped me walk through those and identify what I did wrong,” Moon says. “Mentors can really give you a good reality check and help you build those types of skills.” Moon was lucky enough to find a mentor in his early days as an IH, but for those who have trouble identifying a mentor or who’d like to reach out to someone outside of their immediate work circle, he recommends working with the AIHA Mentoring Program. Harris, who was 42 years old with a degree in environmental science when he first heard the words “industrial” and “hygiene” together in the same sentence, stresses that mentoring should be “bidirectional and irrespective of age.” He disagrees with the common notion that more seasoned professionals already know what they need to know. “They do have more experience in some areas—there’s no doubt about it,” he says. “But somebody who’s newer brings their experience to the same table.” Younger professionals are sometimes reluctant to speak up and offer ideas to more experienced professionals, which Harris considers unfortunate. “[Younger people have] a number of things going for them that [those] a generation ahead of them don’t have,” he says. “One of those things is that their university education is fresh. It’s important for experienced industrial hygienists to recognize that the new people coming in have tools that we don’t have.” It can be difficult for early career professionals to discuss or suggest new tools, processes, and ideas with seasoned IHs. Harris suggests that new professionals frame their thoughts or suggestions with a question, inviting their colleagues’ input. He warns against using the phrase “Why don’t you...” because it implies that the process, tool, or solution that’s currently in place isn’t the best one. “Say you know of a great new app that would be helpful in the workplace,” Harris says. “Try approaching a more experienced IH by saying, ‘You know, I don’t know how familiar you are with this stuff, but I just learned about this really cool app. Want to look at that with me?’ It’s like an invitation to participate in the younger person’s world, and it’s pretty hard to turn that down because no matter how long you’ve been in the profession, you still like to learn.” New IH professionals have come up in a fast-paced world, and Hovde knows that it’s easy to come out of college or grad school in a hurry to get going in the working world. She advises early career professionals to slow down and listen. “Listen to the workers, listen to the engineers, and especially listen to the experienced industrial hygienists who have come before you and shaped the field,” she says. “It’s important to slow down and give those people the time to tell you what they have to tell you.” DEVELOP “SOFT” SKILLS While many universities offer some education regarding “soft” skills such as communication and leadership, many industrial hygienists find that they mostly develop these skills on the job. Employers may provide some training in “soft” skills such as communication courses on critical conversation, Moon says, but joining professional committees and project teams is one of the best ways to develop leadership skills. Moon participated in AIHA’s 2014 Future Leaders Institute (FLI), a program that helps IHs and OHS professionals with less than 15 years’ experience become successful leaders. “FLI is an amazing program,” he says. “I would highly recommend anybody who’s available to apply. It helped me develop great leadership and communication skills, not just within AIHA, but also personally.” The next FLI class is scheduled to be held in 2017. Harris is not someone who’s afraid to speak in front of a crowd, but even he sympathizes with those who experience anxiety when faced with the prospect of public speaking, an important part of many IHs’ jobs. One thing that can help ease anxiety is for the speaker to be open about being nervous. The audience isn’t “the enemy,” Harris says. “They really want to know what we have to share, and they’re sympathetic with people who get a case of nerves in front of an audience. I still get nervous, and so does everyone with a pulse.” While it’s important for early career professionals to learn to talk to and with other industrial hygienists, it’s also critical for them to step outside their circle at work and attend meetings on business or production plans, Hovde says. “These meetings aren’t about IH, but they are about what’s impacting your workers and your business,” she continues. “You need to have an appreciation for the wider business to understand where you can have an impact. If you want to have a seat at the business table, you need to show up.”
SEEK OPPORTUNITIES Each opportunity to present, write a report, and interact with workers is a chance to build a reputation, and it’s important for early career professionals and experienced IHs alike to put their best foot forward every time, Harris says. “Every task is best viewed as an opportunity to excel,” he continues. “Our work is our calling card, our work is our reputation, and our work is a sales tool.” All three IHs who spoke with The Synergist agree that actively seeking new opportunities and new experiences is a must for early career professionals. Harris and Moon, who both have consulting experience, note that new opportunities will present themselves in the normal course of business as consultants work with different clients. “If you don’t know where you want to focus or work in your career, consulting is a great opportunity to see a little bit of everything—anything from hospitals to steel mills to chemical manufacturers to municipal facilities groups,” Moon says. “Internships are another way industrial hygienists can find their ‘right place to work.’” Harris notes that consulting isn’t the only way to acquire a range of experience. “If you work for a single company, make it known that you like variety, and new opportunities will spring up,” he says. “Why? Because many other people want to stay in their comfort zone, and their limitations create room to grow for you.” Having a wide breadth of experience and strengths in many areas of practice can make an IH professional more likely to be tapped for career-shaping developmental assignments. And certain competencies can help all professionals be the “right person for the job,” Hovde says, including the ability to manage uncertainty, wear several hats, and work well as part of a team. Obtaining certifications is another way for early career professionals to get a leg up in the field. Moon, who holds both the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and Certified Safety Professional (CSP) credentials, saw his job opportunities and earning potential increase once he’d earned those certifications. An expansive EHS industry salary survey recently conducted by AIHA and collaborators supports his experience; the results indicate a growing recognition of the value of licenses and credentials in the industrial hygiene and safety fields. Moon encourages early career professionals to go after these certifications sooner rather than later. “I waited a little long to get my CIH, and it took some extra studying to get prepared to take the exam,” he says. “The sooner you can get those [certifications], the better off you’ll be career-wise.” “LOVE WHAT YOU DO” Moon, “a rare nerd,” is one of few IHs who began his undergraduate education having already declared his major in industrial hygiene. Today, he’s glad that one of the professors at Ohio University sold him on the industrial hygiene program. Industrial hygiene is a good fit for Hovde because it blends her analytical side and her passion for helping people. “I get to work with amazing people, and I get to make a positive difference in their lives,” she says. “That’s very rewarding.” People who want to make a difference in the world with science become industrial hygienists, Harris says. Most of all, he encourages early career professionals to “remember to love what you do. Industrial hygiene is an important profession, not just a job.” KAY BECHTOLD is assistant editor of The Synergist. She can be reached at (703) 846-0737 or
THE PROFESSION NEEDS YOU The Students and Early Career Professionals Committee, the Local Sections Council, and the Fellows SIG are working together to inform students and others about industrial hygiene and to get potential IH professionals into the career pipeline. “One of the most important things that industrial hygienists can do is to reach out and let people know who we are and what we do,” says Mike Harris, PhD, CIH, who has participated in the recent efforts. “Our youngest and newest professionals are the people who are best equipped to do outreach in our schools.” For more information on these efforts, see the article "How to Harness IH Energy" in the June/July digital edition of The Synergist.
The Synergist spoke with Ryan Moon, CIH, CSP, chair of the Students and Early Career Professionals (SECP) Committee, to get a sneak peek at the activities and projects the committee has planned for the upcoming year. The committee has set its sights on providing support to professionals who are preparing to take the CIH exam this fall, and plans to organize “CIH prep talks” on exam topics as part of their calls. Moon said that the committee is also looking at ways to provide other types of support for CIH seekers. “As you’re working toward the CIH, you spend hours on weeks on months studying for the exam,” Moon said. “You kind of get burned out and you need some motivation, so we’re looking at ways to try and help with that.” The SECP Committee’s communications project team is active online and on social media, Moon said. The team maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and the committee also has its own blog. The project team is always looking for volunteers to help develop material, Moon said, and their goal is to push out new information on a weekly basis. Another project team that “gets to the core of what [the SECP] Committee is” is the Student Section Synergy, or S3, team, Moon said. The S3 team is working to improve the communication and interaction between student sections at universities and local sections and AIHA national with the goal of connecting AIHA student sections with resources and support. “If we can get students more involved and interested and interacting with local sections and [AIHA] national, we’re going to be able to grow our membership and keep new professionals engaged in the profession,” Moon said. He also discussed the SECP Committee’s outreach team, which has partnered with the Fellows SIG to develop communication materials to help introduce the IH profession to students of all ages—especially middle school, high school, and college students. SECP Committee member Andrew Burgie, MS, discusses his experience with student outreach below.
By Andrew Burgie
Student outreach is an important part of recruiting future industrial hygiene professionals and introducing the industrial hygiene profession to those who may not be familiar with it. As the Outreach Team Leader for the Students and Early Career Professionals (SECP) Committee and a lead initiator in establishing the Metropolitan New York AIHA/OSHA Alliance, I have participated in career days and general OSHA awareness programs for several New York City schools over the years. I recently conducted a 10-week project in industrial hygiene for a program called Citizen Schools, which targets middle schools in underserved communities and pairs them with professionals from a variety of disciplines. The goal is to actively engage students in miniature apprenticeships after school and teach them a skill set that can be demonstrated to a mixed audience of peers, parents, and professionals. Professionals work closely with staff and teachers from the program, and Citizen Schools staff members conduct weekly briefing sessions on teaching tips and techniques following each class apprenticeship session. At the Bronx Writing Academy in the Bronx, N.Y., I helped nine seventh-grade students conduct an indoor environmental assessment using both indoor air quality and lead-based paint assessment techniques. At the conclusion of the 10-week project, the students used both PowerPoint and hands-on demonstrations to present the skills they learned to an impressed and receptive eighth-grade class. Not only were the seventh graders able to learn about the IH profession, they were able to demonstrate their knowledge to another class, introducing even more students to IH. Targeting underserved schools through the Citizen Schools program created a great opportunity to expose students to a new and unfamiliar profession and teach them about the possibilities within our profession using activities that encourage both the hands-on and academic knowledge aspects of our field. The Citizen Schools program is expanding across the country, and this effort could be replicated in other cities using the training template created for this project. For those interested in other student outreach materials, two “What Is Industrial Hygiene?” PowerPoint presentations—one targeted for high school students and another for elementary schoolers—are available from the SECP Committee.
Andrew Burgie, MS, is the co-director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at CUNY School of Public Health and past president of the Metro NY AIHA. He is also a member of the AIHA Students and Early Career Professionals Committee.