A Tale of Two Generations

Stephen Evanoff

Stephen Evanoff

I recently participated in a discussion among senior environmental, health and safety (EHS) managers about how to attract recent college graduates and young professionals into the EHS management field.  It occurred to me that this discussion, like most others on this topic, consisted exclusively of a bunch of Boomers, whose perspective and assumptions may not reflect those of the Millennial Generation they were discussing.

The careers of the people in the room and the EHS management profession began at the same time and grew in tandem.  It as exciting for us.  There were new regulations.  Public expectations were increasing.  We had top management attention and support, and hefty budgets.  We were able to build programs, conduct research on and deploy new technologies, and establish new career paths.  Boomers have experienced the EHS profession as a growing, dynamic, and prominent discipline within our companies.  A career spent in EHS management had great appeal to us.

But, over the past decade, changes in our profession have been much more subtle and incremental.  I wonder, now that EHS management is a mature and recognized component of business management, does the Millennial Generation view our field as less exciting and innovative than we did?

Sure, society faces major challenges ranging from loss of biodiversity, global warming, deteriorating ocean ecosystems, deforestation and limited water resources.  But, when it comes to core EHS management programs, such as auditing, training, and compliance, have we lost our luster in the eyes of the Millennial Generation?

Should we begin to shift our EHS career paradigm to a model designed around bright, capable, young people who are more interested in mastering the basics of our profession and then moving on to careers in other parts of the business?  If so, it would have a profound impact on how we manage our people and programs.

Am I “out in the ozone” in my thinking, as we Boomers used to say when we were kids? What have been your observations and experiences?

About Stephen Evanoff

Stephen Evanoff is Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety for Danaher Corp. and President of NAEM’s Board of Directors. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveEvanoff.

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5 Comments
  1. I have witnessed EHS management fade into a shadow of its former self, both in the estimation of recent college graduates, and in the C suites.

    EHS management is a terrific occupation, still. Thumbs up. Go for it.

    But it no longer promises budding professionals the role in corporate evolution the once aspired to.

    Here is but one example: it is a blurb for an upcoming meeting of the US Business Council for Sustainable Development.

    “The US BCSD is pleased to announce that Daniel C. Esty, best-selling author and Yale professor, will be the keynote speaker at the opening lunch of our upcoming Spring Meeting.”

    Two points to note:

    A) Dan Esty is the commissioner of the state of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Once upon a time, that would be the headline attraction.

    B) Dan has no EHS management experience.

  2. Alex Pollock

    May 11, 2011

    Stephen this theme surfaced in a lunch conversation I had today with a seasoned IH professional. We concluded that the luster has certainly decreased compared to 30 years ago. The money to assess workplaces and invest in keeping IH’ers technically sharp has all but dried up. However this does not mean that the EHS issues have evaporated. We must search for new ways to contribute to business success..to be relevant.. while we serve our numerous clients by keeping them healthy. This is not a time to retreat.

    • Stephen Evanoff

      May 14, 2011

      Alex:

      Thanks for the inspirational reply. I hadn’t intended to suggest that we should retreat, but I can see how one might interpret my suggestion that way.

      As you suggest, it is indeed a time to innovate and find new ways to make an impact.

  3. Stephen,

    This topic really intrigues me and I’m preparing a blog post on this very topic on how we engage the younger generation into the field of EHS. But before I comment, I should mention that you were one of my instructors when I was a EPM student at DU in Colorado – thank you!

    Recently, on another forum, I solicited a survey on the “Young Guns of EH&S” and the response was interesting. The Young Guns responded “way to go” and several of the older generation responded “How dare you!” In fact I have one person call me up from a blocked phone number and started chewing me out for using a word that she didn’t think was “professional” in the survey. That’s o.k., after 26 plus years in EH&S I’ve become pretty tough skin and have been chewed out by the best.

    A couple of points here:

    – As you indicated, EHS is a mature and respected field. All of us have worked very hard to get to the same level of respect as finance, marketing, operations, and other main business functions.
    – The world has changed significantly since the early years of NAEM and GEMI. The younger generation expects an occupation to be not only financially rewarding, but also “fun” and our idea of fun is different from theirs. The younger generation expects real time access to data and having it all on their phone. At my company I hire interns to do a lot of the work. Sometimes they drive me crazy, but most of the time they’re provide insight.
    – We need to shed the ties and learn how to present. We are still stuck on bullet points. Read books like Presentation Zen, Presentation Zen – Design, and Slidology and you will see what I mean. Present with passion or don’t present at all. Last March I attended South by Southwest Interactive. A conference totally outside of the realm of EH&S, and guess what? It was awesome, over 20,000 attendees, great speakers, amazing presentations, great hosted parties (including the Foo Fighters as a guest band) and people that were thrilled about their future. I was definitely outside of the demographic, where 52% of attendees were under 35 years old. I could go on forever about the experience.
    – In my Young Guns survey with over 125 respondents, over 1/2 did not belong to any professional organizations. I suspect that this is because many of their organizations are not paying for memberships any more. Organizations, such as NAEM, need to figure out how to engage them.
    – This is a transition for us – the leaders in EH&S, we need to be open to the younger generations input.

    To view the Young Guns survey – go here:

    • Stephen Evanoff

      May 14, 2011

      Dean:

      I think your last sentence in your comment (“This is a transition for us – the leaders in EH&S, we need to be open to the younger generations input.”) is the essential point.

      Thank for the link to the Young Guns survey and for your comment about my small contributions to the EPM program at University of Denver.

      We have work to do to make EHS management an attractive field for the Millennial Generation.

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