Several years ago, a crusty, veteran, environmental consulting executive said to me, with a sparkle in his eye, “da riches is in da niches.” At the time, I dismissed the comment as not being applicable to an inside guy like me (i.e, EHS manager in a large corporation) and only relevant to the true-blue, hardy consultants out there, in particular an entrepreneurial executive who was eyeing another acquisition of a specialty firm. Now, I am not so sure.
The traditional model for EHS career progression was to develop a technical expertise to establish your credentials and, over time, acquire a broad, basic knowledge of EHS subject matter while simultaneously learning about business management. Thus, one would become a good generalist capable of moving up the management chain. But today, with the number of EHS management positions shrinking (due, I think, to our success establishing EHS management systems, integrating EHS into operations and deploying pollution prevention practices) and a plentiful supply of well-qualified generalists, this model may be going the way of the main frame computer.
I know several people who are so expert in their niche’ that they command $350/hour rates serving as expert witnesses in trials related to lead poisoning and asbestos. I know others who make a good living consulting and training people in very specific, narrow subject areas, such as TSCA compliance. I’ve worked with plant-level air emissions experts and corporate-level ergonomists who made a darn good living.
What’s been your experience? Are generalists going the way of the pterodactyl? Are the riches in the niches?