DANIEL H. ANNA, PhD, CIH, CSP, is president of AIHA and senior industrial hygienist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. He can be reached at (240) 228-1980 or
What Did You Say You Do?
Many AIHA members participate in “career day” events. When describing the profession to a group of fifth-grade students, industrial hygienists face a much more daunting challenge than run-of-the-mill lawyers, doctors, and police officers. But if we use vivid descriptions and engaging stories about how we keep workers healthy and safe, we encourage students to see us as people who protect their own family members. In this way, we can generate interest and excitement no matter the age of our audience, whether we’re addressing children in elementary school, students in college, or even adults. Over the past several years, the “typical” industrial hygiene position has become even more variable, as normal duties and responsibilities have expanded into a wide variety of roles. This concept of an expanding job scope permeated discussions during development of the AIHA Strategic Direction (see my column in the November 2015 issue), the IH Professional Pathway, and the Core Competencies document for the profession (PDF). As our role in protecting worker health continues to evolve, our descriptions of who we are, what we do, and how we do it also need to evolve. Imagine a full-day career fair that included only industrial hygienists: students might think they were hearing about several different professions. Conducting that all-IH career day, using only descriptions of what we do, would be an interesting experiment.
Imagine a full-day career fair that included only industrial hygienists: students might think they were hearing about several different professions.
THE CHALLENGE So let’s conduct that experiment. I challenge everyone reading this to answer the question, “What do you do?” Describe your job to a school-age child or to a non-practitioner in the general population. But here’s the catch: do it in less than 200 words. Submit your answer on the AIHA website. Along with your description, please include your career stage and industry sector. For an advanced challenge, tweet your answer in 140 characters or less to @aiha using #IHProPath. We will share the results in a future issue of The Synergist but will not disclose names or companies without obtaining permission. THE REASON These descriptions will serve as an initial, informal step toward validation of several initiatives. As elements of the AIHA strategic plan are implemented and communicated broadly, it’s important to calibrate against member needs. The Career Stages Infographic was well received within the profession and has already started to spread outside our normal reach. For that information to have a positive impact on both future and current IHs, it needs to be regularly assessed against the actual activities that are part of each career stage.
At a minimum, your responses might help spur more thorough analysis of current initiatives, such as the upcoming review of the Core Competencies document. One goal of this project is to validate that the competencies are correctly aligned with practitioners’ experience and career stage. In theory, core competencies are necessary skills that never change, but they need to align with the range of practice of the profession. 
I look forward to seeing the descriptions, learning about the breadth of what our members actually do, and incorporating your thoughts about the industrial hygiene story into the next career day presentation.