Over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has given far greater prominence to health, safety, and environment (HSE) within the manufacturing sector. In 2022, organisations have been devoting more resource and strategic consideration to the HSE function than ever and carrying out the hiring drives which many expected at the outset of the pandemic. 

However, in this candidate-short market, attracting top HSE talent is hard. Here, we discuss the talent shortage, and how current and aspiring professionals can benefit from their enhanced value in this landscape. 

Why is there a candidate shortage?

Many anticipated a major recruitment surge for HSE professionals during the pandemic, especially given the need for so many manufacturing professionals to continue working in physical locations. Instead, we saw many business leaders becoming directly involved in HSE themselves, a trend which has given the function greater prominence in the post-pandemic manufacturing sector, since so many senior stakeholders now recognise its importance, and the need to bolster it with top talent.

But candidate scarcity, which has posed big challenges for employers in recent months, is hitting the HSE function hard. One major reason for this is the number of experienced HSE professionals leaving the manufacturing sector to explore other industries, opening up hard-to-fill vacancies. 

Joe Walton, Director for Michael Page Manufacturing, said: 

Many of the candidates we work with have enjoyed the increased mobility between sectors which has characterised the post-pandemic job market and have seen their careers benefit from the exposure to these new environments. As well as providing new paths for those candidates, this trend has created exciting new opportunities for HSE professionals within manufacturing and made those individuals’ skillsets more valuable as well.

Another factor contributing to the candidate shortage would be the lingering effects of Brexit - specifically the ending of freedom of movement between the UK and European Union member states. While the process itself does not tend to be excessively difficult for most HSE professionals, the added barrier has nonetheless further thinned the candidate pool.

Why the shortage has put candidates in the driver’s seat

With a renewed focus on hiring for HSE roles and so few qualified candidates on the market, employers have found themselves in a difficult position. Apart from the ongoing need to manage the wellness and safety of their own staff, the reopening of the economy and lifting of social distancing measures has significantly increased the number of the contractors visiting sites. There is now far greater urgency when it comes to onboarding professionals capable of facilitating this.

Moreover, as of February 2022, the UK government lists HSE roles, including environmental professionals and health and safety officers, as eligible occupations for a Skilled Workers Visa. Clearly, the need being is recognised at the highest levels. 

Natalie Hudson, Business Manager for Michael Page Manufacturing, commented:

Salaries for HSE roles have been on the rise for years, as the profile of the function has grown. But the acute shortages of the last year or so have accelerated this process, with top end salaries for NEBOSH Diploma (or equivalent) qualified candidates rising from around £50,000 in 2016, to around £58,000 in 2022. In-demand candidates stand to benefit massively from the current market.

For the latest average salaries in the UK engineering and manufacturing sector, check out our 2022 Engineering and Manufacturing Salary Guide. 

HSE is changing - for the better 

Health, safety, and environmental, as well as associated functions like quality and sustainability, are rewarding and fulfilling careers, and professionals in these fields tend to have a high degree of job satisfaction. However, some organisations have traditionally treated these functions as ‘box-ticking’ exercises and failed to allocate suitable resources to them. 

As a result, many businesses have clustered these functions together under HSEQ/SHEQ/QUESH roles. The quality function has pulled itself away from the HSEQ family over time, however, and we are now seeing the next evolution of these compliance and technical specialisms with the rise of sustainability initiatives and carbon net zero targets, both of which hinge on HSE expertise. Within the health, safety, environmental function, ‘environmental’ has rarely taken precedence. But the opposite is now true, with myriad opportunities arising for professionals to specialise in environmental and sustainability projects and initiatives within their businesses. 

This is something we are seeing across the board at Michael Page. As the importance of HSE grows, more and more organisations are breaking the function down into its constituent parts, opening up more specialist roles. This means that candidates who are especially passionate specifically about health and safety, or environment, will have the opportunity to focus on these more niche areas. 

We also expect to see more and more SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) hiring their first in-house HSE roles with a focus on sustainability, the candidates likely arriving from larger corporate settings. This will create a further need for qualified professionals, as well as an exciting opportunity for experienced candidates to advance their careers in new contexts.  

Why there’s never been a better time to enter HSE

Of course, HSE needs more qualified professionals to grow its prominence in the business landscape, and to enable further specialisation. Luckily, this is one of the most exciting job markets we have ever seen for specialists in this function. Today’s HSE professionals can expect impressive salaries, great long-term specialisation opportunities, and highly respected positions within their organisations. The function also offers an opportunity for truly meaningful work, protecting the health and wellbeing of co-workers as well as driving positive business and organisational outcomes. 

Joe said: “The HSE professionals we work have some of the highest levels of job satisfaction of any of the candidates we place. If you are considering a career in HSE or are already in HSE and are looking for a new challenge, this is the perfect time to take advantage of a buoyant market and land your dream job.” 

At Michael Page Manufacturing, we source top talent across a wide range of roles, from operations to technical and compliance. Health, safety, environment, and quality roles are an essential part of our offering, and we are delighted to be able to help ensure the safety and wellness of all workers in the organisations we work with. 

If you are looking for new opportunities in the Health, Safety, Environmental and Quality space, browse our open roles here. Or, to learn more about Michael Page Manufacturing, follow us on LinkedIn here

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