To Diversify or Specialize

By Elizabeth Handler

Many educational and career options can make it difficult for students and early career professionals to choose a specific path.  There are academic programs that offer very specialized education in specific occupational safety topics, such as Industrial Hygiene or Fire Safety, while others may offer the ability to study multiple disciplines in safety. With so many options to choose from, how does one narrow down the option to diversify or become specialized in one discipline?

Studying the current career market may provide some information of what employers are currently looking for.  Depending on the size of the company, their needs for employees may differ. Large multimillion dollar companies may be able to employ larger numbers of safety professionals and can afford employees to specialize in one or two specific disciplines, where smaller or medium size companies cannot afford an industrial hygienist, safety engineer, or other specialized employees. Companies in these situations will focus on finding an employee that is well rounded and able to address different aspects of a safety program yet still be effective. This also can be difficult because it can lead to an employee that is a “jack of all trades, but master of none” and may lead to outsourcing for assistance on projects or situations that are more specialized and require an in depth knowledge on a specific topic.

When I started to look at programs for my Master degree, I decided to go with a program that provided me a broad spectrum of safety fields. My undergraduate degree was in journalism and I did not learn about careers in health and safety for a number of years until after finishing my degree program. I worked a variety of odd jobs and started volunteering with a local fire department. Through that work, I started to learn about safety as a career option and eventually was hired as a fire safety specialist. It was at this time that I decided to reinvest in a new career and attend school.  I did look at a few different programs that offered both a broad spectrum of safety related course work and programs that were more specialized in specific disciplines. I finally decided that, because of my lack of safety background, a program that provided more diversity was a good fit for me, and ultimately would make me a stronger candidate to prospective employers in my area. This may not be true for all prospective safety specialists and it is important for each individual to weigh their options before choosing a program.

Elizabeth Handler is currently a Master student at IUP majoring in Safety Sciences.

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