Higher Education Doesn't Necessarily Make Safety Professionals More Effective
We all know that degrees and other accomplishments in higher education look great on a resume, but do they actually mean anything when it comes to effectiveness?
People who work in safety come from all backgrounds. Some end up there by accident, and some seek to advance their skills and knowledge with degree programs and further courses. Some even pursue Masters degrees in Occupational Health & Safety. But two questions remain:
Does this type of education make safety professionals better at reducing incidents?
Should employers in high-risk industries pay these people more for their credentials?
If we look at it logically, one could say that someone who has spent thousands of hours studying safety on a very deep level would be better at maintaining a safe workplace. But what about those people who have spent thousands of hours on the job, learning by doing? Does the fact that they didn't spend thousands of dollars on higher education mean they should be punished by not being paid as much as someone with a Masters in safety? You can see where contention around this topic could build…
Credentials Get Jobs
It's no secret that people with higher education tend to get favoured in the resume pile, opening doors to more opportunities. Having a degree in safety could also open the door to better compensation if you're using your credentials as a negotiating tool. In fact, on average, people with college educations earn more than people without them.
So there's no question that having a safety degree can help you GET a good job, but will it actually make you BETTER at that job than someone without a degree? Many factors are at play when trying to determine whether or not higher education makes someone better at his or her job. The answer depends on the person and the quality of the program in which they enrolled, plus whether or not they also have actual job experience.
What About Street Smarts?
In a recent survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, many employers rated recent college graduates very poorly on the employability scale. Specifically, they noted that these candidates often didn’t know how to communicate effectively, and struggled with adapting, problem-solving, and making decisions–all skills learned with experience in the workplace.
Should these people get to budge in front of someone with a decade of real job experience? There's a big difference between someone who has read a book about how to do something vs. someone who has actually done it, over and over again, for many years. Common sense and street smarts are very valuable, especially in safety, and they can't be bought. In that regard, practical experience wins every time. It's just unfortunate that some employers can be distracted by the shiny credentials on a resume, while the candidate with street smarts has to be VERY impressive in order to make it to the resume pile.
On the other hand, a candidate with lots of work experience AND higher education to round it out has the potential to become a super human safety professional. So in conclusion, a fancy piece of paper won’t necessarily make you better at your job than someone who has years of actual job experience, but a combination of the two can be extremely effective.