Millennials Make Their Mark in Health and Safety

Executives at the GDS HSE Insight Summit say they're hiring more millenials to push the industry forward with their technological knowhow.


It’s not uncommon when asking executives in most any industry what they find to be the most exciting changes in their field to hear the answer “Technology” in uniform chorus.

But what about the demographic age group that is perceived to be the force driving that exciting change? Yes, I’m talking about Millennials! We weren’t just brought up on cold brew coffee and farm to table fare. Millennials were raised on technology. Known as the first generation of digital natives, Generation Y grew up believing technology was made to adapt to them, catering to their every need.

Perhaps it’s one reason why this particular generation doesn’t always seem to garner the best reputation from their Baby Boomer or Generation X predecessors. Millennials are often referred to as the “Me” Generation. Routinely painted as self-centered and lazy, they’re mocked because they are perceived as the “peel me a grape” crowd. Much of the technology that Millennials embrace eliminates the work past generations had to struggle with, and rather than hear applause for newfound tech induced efficiency, we instead are likely to hear, “Well, if you didn’t always follow your phone’s GPS you’d know how to use a map.”

As someone who just eeked into the very last year of that generational category, I must admit the barrage of Gen Y bashing can get tiresome, especially when the commentary paints us as a scourge of laziness. So, I was pleasantly surprised when executives at the HSE Insight Summit saw the technological knowhow these Millies possess as a beneficial skill to help drive the HSE market forward.

“We’re in a world of young millennial people coming on,” says Kay Vanatta, Safety Manager at The Dairy Farmers of America. “They are hands on, electronic, forget the paper kind of kids.”

More than one-in-three American workers are Millennials, that’s adults ages 18 to 34 as of 2015, and this year they surpassed Generation X (ages 35-50) to become the largest share of the American workforce. If you couple that with fact that 10 thousand baby boomers are turning 65 every day, you get an HSE workforce landscape that’s drastically changing – and it’s changing the way the industry works as well.

“I think that’s the big thing with the changing technology.,” says Vanatta. “We need to get rid of that pen and paper, get more involved, and get instant data.”

In many ways millennials can be thought of as less an age group in this case and more a mindset – with a keen focus on being mobile, faster or in real time, always connected, efficient, and more intuitive.

“The safety culture and the climate for safety culture is increasingly being more refined and getting more diverse people into it,” says Hunter Hawa, Global EHS Director of PSRG.

While most any industry these days can benefit from taking the perks we get from technology in our personal life by applying it to our professional life, there’s a sense from those in the HSE industry that the market has been slower to change, making Millennials look like more and more attractive hires.

“What I see as a big breakthrough for health and safety over the next year is the use of technology,” says Jason Johantges, EHS Director, The Scotts Miracle Grow Company. “I think EHS was late to the game of using technology to its advantage, like with software or even using your phone or tablet to help you do things you typically did with pen and paper or spreadsheets.”

And lucky for those millennials looking for work in HSE, the global Health Safety and Environment market is expected to expand 12.0% from 2016 to 2024, with the U.S. expected to record the greatest growth rate of HSE implementation due to the development of end-use industry infrastructure across the nation.

“What amazes me within our organization,” says Steve Trickel, VP of HSE at Zachry Group, “is I just did a check on how many safety professionals we have working currently. It’s over three hundred fifty and growing. So that’s very encouraging because it says there’s a great need for health and safety within our market and it opens us up for more professionals, especially young professionals coming out of college that want a career in health and safety.”

I smell an HSE career fair in your community’s college campus real soon.