Pros and Cons of Being an Environmental Health Consultant
Environmental health professionals are charged with the important task of protecting communities' health. It is important to consider both the pros and cons of a career in environmental health consulting to make a more informed decision about your future.
|Pros of an Environmental Health Consulting Career|
|Above average salary ($66,000 median annual salary in 2014)*|
|Job opportunities (40-50% of environmental health government workers are approaching retirement age)**|
|Strong job growth in private consulting firms*|
|Various work settings (both in the office and in the field)*|
|Make a living protecting people**|
|Cons of an Environmental Health Consulting Career|
|Long and irregular hours in the field*|
|Physically demanding fieldwork*|
|Tedious administrative tasks (e.g. staying on top of changing regulations; drafting technical reports, etc.) *|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs
Essential Career Info
Job Description and Duties
Environmental health professionals are first and foremost concerned with environmental factors that threaten human health. They also focus on the health of ecosystems as it relates to human health. Environmental health consultants inspect organizations for governmental regulatory compliance to ensure food, water, air and everyday products meet environmental safety standards. They also plan and implement environmental safety and health programs to help organizations meet these regulations.
Specific tasks could include anything from advising companies on the conditions of work areas to developing programs aimed to increase awareness of environmental hazards. Their work often involves some travel to meet with clients and visit facilities for inspections. They may also be involved in collecting environmental data, reviewing permits and educating groups on environmental safety practices.
Environmental health consultants often work both independently and collaboratively with various types of organizations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), state government agencies are the largest employer of environmental scientists and specialists (www.bls.gov). Other common employers include federal governmental agencies, public health departments, non-profit organizations, private consulting firms and environmental health associations.
Job Growth and Salary Statistics
Environmental issues are gaining momentum in the eyes of the public, with more people becoming concerned about environmental hazards and degradation. In response to the ever-increasing demands placed on the environment through population growth and development, environmental laws and regulations are constantly changing and often need updating. In response to these increasing concerns and risks, employment of environmental scientists and specialists was expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 15% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS.
The amount of technical information an environmental health consultant must possess, along with the communication skills and multitasking abilities required to guide a company toward understanding such information, can translate into a strong earnings potential. The median annual salary as of May 2014 for environmental scientists and specialists, including environmental health scientists, was slightly more than $66,000, with the top ten percent earning roughly $115,000 or more, according to the BLS.
What Are the Requirements?
To qualify for jobs in environmental health consulting, you'll need at least a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental science or a related field in the natural sciences. A degree in industrial, safety, chemical or environmental hygiene can also be good preparation for a career in environmental health consulting. Employers often require some work experience as well; completing an internship while in school can help towards meeting this requirement.
While a bachelor's degree is often sufficient to enter this field, the BLS stated that a master's degree is typically necessary for advancement. The National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council provides accreditation for undergraduate and graduate degree programs in environmental science (www.ehacoffice.org). Among the skills and qualifications beneficial in this area of work are:
- Technical knowledge of environmental regulations
- Public speaking skills
- Project management skills
- Ability to work with a variety of people
- Ability to solve complex problems
What Employers Are Looking For
As an aspiring environmental health consultant, you'll need at least three years or more in an industry-specific role to qualify for many consulting positions. Knowledge of your state's environmental regulations, as well as federal regulations, is also necessary. To help give you an idea of the kind of skills and experience employers often desire, here are some job postings that were advertised on national job boards during April 2012:
- A private consulting company in Ohio was looking for an environmental health and safety consultant with a Bachelor of Science in an environmental, health or safety discipline with 3-5 years of experience in asbestos preferred. The candidate would perform tasks such as conducting assessments and evaluating laboratory test results against industry standards. The posting stated that relevant state or industry-related certifications are preferred as well.
- An environmental services firm in Massachusetts sought an environmental compliance consultant with experience working with pharmaceutical firms, academic institutions and healthcare facilities. The consultant would perform environmental audits, manage projects and train personnel on safety and health issues. The job advertisement also specified that the candidate should possess knowledge of state and federal regulations, have 3-5 years of relevant experience and hold an environmental degree.
- A management consulting firm in California was looking for an environmental health and safety professional with at least seven years of consulting and program management experience. The consultant would work with existing and new clients to help build health and safety programs. The position also required Certified Safety Professional (CSP) certification. Prior experience with high technology industries, like biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies, was preferred.
How to Stand Out in the Field
While not mandatory for entry into this field, employers commonly seek candidates with relevant certification in environmental health. Several organizations offer professional credentials that may be of interest to both aspiring and experienced environmental health consultants. By earning certification, candidates can demonstrate their ability to address increasingly complex issues in environmental health.
The National Environmental Health Association offers several credentials, such as the Registered Environmental Health Specialist and the Registered Hazardous Substances Professional, to assist candidates in their job search and facilitate advancement in the field (www.neha.org). In addition, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals offers the Certified Safety Professional credential to those who meet the education requirements and pass an exam covering knowledge and skills required in the field (www.bcsp.org).
Specialization in a particular area of environmental health can demonstrate expertise and more specialized knowledge that clients may look for when hiring consultants for particular cases or projects. According to the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs, specialties in the field include toxicology, air pollution, drinking water, food safety and emergency management (www.aehap.org). You might want to incorporate elective courses in one or more of these areas in your program of study. In addition, knowledge of computer systems and data analysis methods can be beneficial in this career. Consider taking courses in environmental modeling and geographic information systems.
Other Career Paths
If you're passionate about the environment and human health, but not sure that a consulting career is for you, alternative career paths exist. If you'd like to be more involved in developing solutions to environmental problems, and earn a little more money while doing so, then a career in environmental engineering might be for you.
Environmental engineers could expect an above average job growth of 22% between 2010 and 2020, due to increasing concerns about water usage and hazards from contaminated sites, according to the BLS. As an environmental engineer, you may have a higher earning potential. The BLS reported that the median annual salary of these workers was approximately $79,000, with the top ten percent earning nearly $120,000, as of May 2011.
If you'd like a career that focuses on the environment, but less on the human health aspects, then you might consider a career as a conservation scientist. These professionals study how human activities impact the environment. For instance, they may develop mitigation plans to control pollution from industry and minimize adverse impacts on natural areas and wildlife populations. Conservation scientists work in similar capacities to manage the supply of natural resources and promote environmental quality through preservation and restoration projects.
Employment growth in this field would increase by only 5% during the 2010-2020 decade. Conservation scientists averaged $62,290 in 2011, while those working as consultants earned $67,600.