Training + Education = Balanced Safety Professional

Yorlanda Fisher, President of Warriors 4 Safety, writes about the divide found amongst safety professionals when it comes to training versus education.

Sometimes there is a bit of divide amongst safety professionals that are formally educated but lack experience and those that have been trained by experience and have limited formal training. Sometimes it is a deal breaker for the employer and the professional.

One industry veteran said to me, "Darling, if you have enough time to go to school, then you aren't working to earn a living. Focus on learning in the field while earning.”

I have had the pleasure of working with those fresh out of college and the "appalled" look they have on their faces when they are told that training is necessary prior to working in the field alone. I have also had the pleasure of working with those that are experienced in the field or had a career as journeymen and that exact same "appalled" look appears when they are tasked with preparing documentation.

I feel bad for those with no experience who get "certified" and believe the minute they receive that piece of paper all their troubles are over, and the opportunities are going to flood into their inboxes. Then there are those who state on their resume that they have 25 years of experience with no continued education during those years of working and believe the phone will never stop ringing once word is out that they are available.

Performance consultant Dana Pratt believes this differentiation between those professionals (in all fields) that are formally educated versus those who learn their craft along the way is impacted by the company culture, the content of the work, and the individual manager.

Pratt believes that as formal education becomes more expensive and more folks are unable to access it, the term "or equivalent experience" becomes more important in job descriptions. There are many ways to learn professional skills and team members should be encouraged to appreciate the differences the education versus "school of hard knocks" approach can bring.

Others, like training professional Kody Messenger, agree that there’s a snobbishness of certain professionally educated safety pros.

Messenger finds himself in a bit of a middle ground. While he’d never really look down his nose and not consider a practically experienced safety person over of a formally educated one, he’s yet to run into any formally educated safety people who really impressed him.

“If any of my team aren’t formally educated, we try to help them get formally educated to help round them out a little bit, and help them build a bit more confidence in their skills and abilities,” said Messenger.

“The topic of training/education is a good one as both are chicken-egg topics,” said recruiter James Kemper. “How can you get the experience if you can't get higher education?”

Kemper believes that companies want people that can learn, grow and succeed. No one hires someone wanting or expecting them to fail. The degree only shows that the person had the diligence, discipline and commitment to get what they wanted. It guarantees nothing beyond that.

I continued to work and progress with formal training. I think that is one of the strengths I tend to tap into when approaching an opportunity for improvement. I respect the people that taught me so much, so I still lean on them when it comes to finding achievable and realistic solutions to eliminating and/or minimizing hazards. I don't think that we need to know everything as safety professionals, we just need to know how to get the solution.

“We are in trouble with the way safety has been taught. If we could just go back to the 90's that's when it was good with VPP and insurance companies backing,” said Steve Bell, Owner at Employers Health & Safety, LLC.

“When I started looking for a job, everyone requested work experience. Five years later it went to a college degree just to get you in the door," Bell said. "The school system made big bucks on safety certification, heck it funded OSHA for years. It separated qualified safety people from the fakes. It proved you were well rounded."

“I have always been a fan of experience, even if it is someone else’s,” said OSHA Authorized Trainer James Harrald. “All too often, however, we see people with credentials that lack application. Or, and sometimes worse, we see someone with tons of experience but they lack the formal training to accurately teach the subject matter. There are certainly egos in the safety world, but I think worker comprehension needs to be the goal, not atta-boys and accolades for the trainer.”

Either way, in today's world of EHS you will need education and training to compliment the other to afford you more opportunities during your career journey.

Balancing the experience gleaned from working in the real world with training received in a classroom or more formal setting is the ideal situation. For those who are new in their careers, looking for mentorships or internships is one way to get started. Later, courses can always be taken as learning is an ongoing process even for those with 20+ years of experience.

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