You Don’t Need a College Degree in Safety to Succeed
What? A college degree in safety isn’t needed? But…but…don’t I need those papers that will make me easily marketable to companies? Yes, you do. But even without those papers, even without a degree in safety, you can still succeed and earn a lot.
So, let’s talk about the reality of getting a college degree in safety and the two things that you need before getting that college degree. And how to create an effective action plan to succeed and smash your safety goals.
The Harsh Reality of Getting a College Degree in Safety
Just to put things in proper context, I’m not against college education. In fact, I support it. It’s better for kids coming out of high school to immediately go to college.
But what I’m referring to here is people that have been put into safety by pure chance-people that have been promoted from within the company just because the company needs a safety person but needs to cut costs. These people that have been promoted to a safety role from within might even have no background in safety. They might even have a degree that really doesn’t have any relevance to safety like music or arts.
You might be one of these people. And when you’ve started to work in safety, you might have also realized like others that this is a great career. That there is a large potential to earn more. And you might immediately think that the best way to do so is to get a degree in safety. But for an accidental safety guy, it’s not the best option – yet.
The first reason why it’s not the best option yet is financials. To get a college degree you’ll need thousands of dollars. It will be even more expensive if you’re planning to get into a private university. And the question that you’ll have to ask yourself is, is it worth it? How long will it take you to earn back that amount with your current income?
And the second reason is that having a degree doesn’t secure you a better job. In fact, a lot of new graduates find it hard to land their first job, even a job interview.
So, a degree isn’t what you need now to earn more. Instead, you’ll need to work on two things that really matter: experience and network.
What You Really Need: Experience and Results
As I’ve previously mentioned, there are a lot of new college graduates that find it hard to land their first job. And the reason for that is safety is mostly managed by a team of one, so the HR department makes sure that the person hired for that job is skilled and experienced enough for them to be deserving that high salary.
So, instead of spending half of your time getting your degree as a safety professional in college, it’s better for you to really spend time learning the skills needed to be an effective safety manager and leader. Because if you do that, you’ll have a braggable record of experience and results that will establish your credibility, enabling you to land a higher-paying job in safety.
What You Really Need: A Large Network
A college degree in safety is a piece of paper that proves you’ve undergone intensive learning about safety-such as safety standards, procedures, and processes. However, a degree doesn’t prove that you have the skills of an effective safety manager. It doesn’t prove that you have the needed leadership skills. Because they don’t teach you that in college. And having a degree in safety in order to progress in your career is one of the myths about a job in safety management.
However, other people can do that for you. They can testify that you have the skills and that you produce great results as a safety manager. And that is why, instead of getting your degree first, it’s better to work on your network. Your connections can help you land the job that you want.
In summary, learning the necessary skills, producing great results, and building your network will enable you to become successful even without a college degree. In time, you’ll notice your salary will continuously increase as well as your position.
But, of course, it has its limit. In time, you’ll hit a wall where you need to get a college degree in order to progress. And that’s the time for you to get it.
Why You Don't Need A Degree In Safety To Succeed In Safety Management
Safety Brye: [00:00:00] Now that you've gotten your toe wet in this safety profession, you are likely looking at how you can succeed at it and credentials and certifications and safety degrees and all of that talk out there. But I'm here to tell you that you do not need a degree in safety to be successful in this career.
Let's talk about this and maybe I can save you $35,000. Let's get to it.
Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to the Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent CSP and 20 years safety professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again. I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you. At the Safety Geek, you will learn how to manage an effective safety program that
[00:01:00] increases your management support, and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer and leader, you're in the right place.
Let's get to it.
Hello. Hello. Hello, my safety friends, and welcome. Welcome to today's episode. It's gonna be a doozy because I wanna talk about higher education. Many people come into this profession by chance. A high number come in without a college degree, and lots come in with a non-related degree, like third degree is in something else.
Only a small percentage actually enter the profession from the get-go with a safety degree. But for some reason, once you're in it,
[00:02:00] the very first thing people think that they need to do is run out and get a degree in safety. And I do not believe that this is true. I believe that you can earn a high salary without it.
In fact, there are two other things that are more important than that degree and that piece of paper saying that you've gone to school for safety. So full disclosure here, I am a huge advocate for a college education. It is actually an expectation that I set for my children, and I've done all the research about Ivy League versus private school versus state school versus community college because I wanted what was best for my children.
All right? So it's not that I am against a college education. I truly believe that coming out of high school children should go off to a university. And from my research,
[00:03:00] I think that depending upon your state, like where I live, my kids get a free ride at a state university, then the state university is a good choice because you're not having to pay for tuition when you go straight out of high school and it gives them the best chance
in their future. You know, I can go on and on about colleges and college educations and like literally we started doing college tours with my kids in their freshman year of high school. That's how into college education that I am, and I'm a hundred percent against going to community college right out of high school as well.
But that is a whole another rant. So I don't want you to think that this conversation is going to be because I'm against college education, I'm not. My daughter is currently enrolled. My son is kind of taking the same path that I did, which just kind of proves my point as to why you wanna do it straight out of high school. But I want you to understand where I'm coming from. The thing is, is that the way that most people
[00:04:00] come into safety is that they are working another job. It's already past their early twenties, right? And they either never went to college or they went to college and dropped out like myself and my son. Or they're coming from the military and they don't necessarily have a college degree.
That's how most people are coming into the field. So it's well past their early twenties and past that, I'm just outta high school, let me go to college type of thing. So at this stage in their lives is going back to school, going to be the best action. And think about somebody who is in this stage of their life, they're in their late twenties, early thirties, or maybe even into their forties, is jumping right back into a college education, going to be the best choice for them.
The way that most people are coming into safety is that they are promoted into it. They're either given some safety
[00:05:00] responsibilities and they're starting off at maybe a low level safety job in an organization that maybe values safety or they're at an organization that maybe never had a safety person, or they just need a safety person and they're promoting somebody from within.
And here's the thing is that safety is an amazing opportunity, right? And this is how people get into it. And you don't understand the gift that this employer that promoted you into it actually gave you. But unfortunately, because they're promoting from within, they're trying to get off cheap. They are trying to go, well, I can't afford to hire a safety professional because they make over six figures.
But I can promote, you know, Sally here, and just pay her 35 or $40,000 a year. So you're not literally getting paid what you are worth for the job that you are doing
[00:06:00] when you're at this stage. So once you've actually experience safety, that this is a career that you wanna pursue, that this is something that you want to expand on, you wanna make sure that you're taking deliberate actions.
So that way you get the most out of this career, and you may think that that deliberate action is to go to school to get the degree, and that once you get the degree, you'll get that higher paying job and that you'll just get snatched up by some corporation that's gonna pay you $120,000 a year. But that's not the case.
And this is actually the reason why my inbox fills up with people who have graduated with their safety degree or got their fancy certification and they're still submitting hundreds of applications and they can't even get a call for an interview. And on top of that, at this stage in your career where you got promoted into it and you're not being paid your worth, putting out
[00:07:00] $35,000 for a college degree, and that's a low end for a private school. I went to a university, a state university, so it was a little bit less for me, but my degree's not in safety. On top of that, at this stage in your career where you aren't being paid your worth, committing to putting out $35,000 for a college degree or racking up student loans may not be the best financial decision for you.
And hint, once you actually do work for a more reputable company that has better benefits, you may actually have college reimbursement as a benefit down the road. So that may be a better option for you to look for, but at this stage in your career where you're just getting started, you know that you want this to be your career, there are actually two other things that are more important to your success in this career than that college degree. And that first one is knowing how to do the job and building up a track
[00:08:00] record of results and leadership experience. This is why those recent college grads with very little experience are still waiting to be called for interviews. In order to earn the big bucks and to get those higher salaries, you need to be able to demonstrate that you can handle the work with little to no supervision.
And that you know how to do the job because most safety departments are a team of one. It's just gonna be up to you to get all the work done. And maybe if you're working for a business that has like a corporate office, you'll have a corporate team to lean on. But most cases you're gonna be on your own.
So the hiring managers, they're looking for people that can handle it on their own, people that know what they're doing, that have a track record of results that can prove that they know what they're doing. And people that they can have confidence in that they can get the job done. They want more than just education. They want experience, and you have to be able to prove your
[00:09:00] experience by demonstrating that track record of results. This is why being selective in your continuing education is so important. You wanna make sure that you're taking classes and courses that are actually gonna help you build that track record of results, and not just give you that slip of paper saying that you have a degree.
You need to learn how to do the job so that you can practice it in your current role. And not just learn the boring regulation stuff that most college degrees are going to start with and teach you. You need to start building that braggable track record of results so that way you can come in already knowing the processes and systems to set up, and it just makes you more valuable to potential employers.
Now we're gonna talk more about continuing education in the next episode, but just keep that in mind that our number one thing that you need at this
[00:10:00] stage in your career is that Braggable track record of results and leadership experience more so than college courses. And number two, the second thing that you need is that you need to build up a network of professional contacts.
When companies are hiring for higher paying positions, they will look to their network first. And applicants that have a connection to their network are always going to bubble up to the top. This is why you may find like a corporate executive who's making like $300,000 a year, but when you ask about their education, they might have a degree in music. And I bring this up only because
I actually worked for an operations manager whose college degree was in music and nothing against a music degree. I'm just saying that that is why we see that is that they likely use their network to promote their other skills that they have their more marketable
[00:11:00] skills to move them up in their career. And networking is one of the most important things that you could do to help your career advancement.
And I will do an entire series on networking in the future. But the whole thing that we've heard growing up is that it's not what you know, it's who you know is fact. And it is true. You do have to have the skills and the experience to back that up, that you do know how to do the job, but really who you know is just as important because that's what's gonna get your foot in the door.
And this is why I believe that once you've decided that this is the career choice for you, jumping into a college degree program without a plan to fast track your career first is not necessarily the best idea. Rarely do those college courses come with real world experience that the hiring managers are looking for. And I've actually interviewed many
[00:12:00] of the college graduates that went into it with no work experience. And said, did it give you the skills, like when you actually went from college to real world? And they're like, no, it didn't really prepare me at all because it's totally different. It's way different when you learn like the background of a lockout tagout program and why it's in place and all the engineering stuff that goes along with it, and how the law was created.
Based to going, all right, here's my program, and you go to implement it. The people that you're trying to influence to follow that program, don't listen to you. They're not teaching you those soft skills that you need in the real world to actually get your programs to work. So I wanna make sure that I'm clear here.
I'm not saying never to a degree. Because there will come a time that not having a bachelor's degree will stop your progress. You'll hit a brick wall where a lot of head
[00:13:00] hunters and talent acquisition people will basically say they can't even talk to you unless you have a degree, or the competition that you're up against is so steep because everybody has their master's or their doctorate.
There will come a time with that. But if you're sitting right now in your newly acquired safety position, you've been at it for, you know, one to three years and you're making 55, $65,000 a year, and you're wishing to be making the 120, 150, there are ways that you can fast track your career that don't involve a degree, and that's getting that braggable track record of results, and that's also building that network.
What I'm saying is that I don't want you to jump into getting your safety degree without a realistic career plan and maybe holding off a few years on formal education to give you the time to take classes on how to actually
[00:14:00] do the job and to learn the practical skills first before you start applying and doing the university courses. Now full transparency about myself here, and I know that I've talked about this on other episodes, but for those of you that don't know, when I was right outta high school, I was not given the opportunity to go to college other than community college. So I had gotten into some universities, but I was told no by my upbringing.
And I was forced into community college and basically dropped out multiple times in my twenties because it wasn't what I wanted to do. It wasn't the fashion school that I had gotten into. Right. So, yeah, believe it or not, I wanted to be a fashion designer. So I tried to go back in my thirties after I found myself in safety and realize how much I loved it and that it was a perfect fit for me. And I tried to go back to college in my thirties to finish my degree, and I
[00:15:00] ended up getting pregnant with my daughter and going to college, working full-time and being pregnant. They just do not go together, especially having a newborn. So I ended up dropping out again. So then I went back in my forties and what I will tell you is it going to college in your forties?
Absolutely sucks. It is just really, I mean, I got it done, but it was just, it was bad and it was hard. So what I like to see people do is go right outta high school. That's one is the easiest. But then once you've decided like this is your career choice, let's get you on that fast track. Let's get you the skills that you need to move up in your career.
Let's get you that network built and then start working towards your degree so that way you're in your thirties doing it and not in your forties. But I did go back in my forties. I did end up finishing and I actually ended up going full-time to get it done as quick as possible. So I was working a full-time job plus going to college full-time, plus being a single mother, very difficult, but my degree is not in safety,
[00:16:00] so a lot of people think like you need a safety degree in order to work in safety. My degree is in psychology, and the reason why I chose that, there's two reasons, and one was that at the time of me going back to school, I'd already been doing safety for nearly 20 years. Did I really wanna sit through a PSM class, or anything like that when literally, I've been doing it for 20 years, but at the same time, I like to look at things as an investment and getting a return on my investment.
And in the state that I live in, none of the public universities offered a degree in safety, so that would've meant that I would've had to go to a private college. And the difference in cost from a state university to a private college was enormous. And yeah, I couldn't guarantee I was gonna get a return on my investment for that. So I decided to go to the community college, finish my two year degree, and then transfer to something that was usable
[00:17:00] within my career in safety at my public university. And for me, that was psychology. Looking back on it now, I mean, I love psychology. I definitely probably would do the same thing, but there's other degrees that you can get that are just as useful in safety that maybe your public university offers as opposed to paying the higher price for a private school.
There is a private school here in Florida that has a master's degree in safety, and for me to go and do that right now, it will cost me about $45,000. And I'm just like, I don't know if that's really worth the investment. How many years would I have to work to get that money back and how much really would it increase my salary?
So you do have to definitely go back and listen to, I did an episode on certifications one time. I would definitely listen to it cause I talk a lot about return on investment and stuff like that. I just want you to understand where I'm coming from. And where I see a lot of people entering safety where they are maybe later in
[00:18:00] life and going back to school later in life. Maybe it's not ideal, but you can build up skills and build up a network and still end up earning a really high salary. And maybe that's your goal. Maybe your goal isn't to make $250,000 a year. Maybe your goal is just to make 110, and you can do that without the degree. Now it's getting harder and harder because there are so many people in the field with their masters and doctorates and things like that.
So starting earlier is definitely better, but I just don't want you to think like a safety degree is the end all, be all for your continuing education. There's a lot of ways that you can get around that if you don't have the degree. I mean, I have a friend right now who makes 180 and he has a two year degree in, I believe his two year degree is in safety, but still it's not even a bachelor's degree and he doesn't have a CSP. So it's definitely possible. So the fact that there are people like that,
[00:19:00] I actually know a whole bunch of people like that. It's possible for you too. If they could do it, you could do it too. And what it comes down to is just skills and network. That's what I have for you today. If you are liking these discussions about career planning, you know, be sure that you subscribe to the podcast because I have a whole series planned out that that's what we're gonna be talking about over the next several weeks.
And while you are subscribing to the podcast, if you can also leave us a review that would really help people find the podcast. I also love to hear your thoughts about it. All right. That's what I got for you. Bye for now.
Hey, if you're just getting started in safety or you've been at this for a while and are hitting a roadblock, then I wanna invite you to check out Safety Management Academy. This is my in-depth online course that not only teaches you the processes and strategies
[00:20:00] of an effective safety management program, but how to entwine management support and employee participation throughout your processes. Are you ready to finally understand exactly what you should be doing and ditch that safety police hat forever? Then you have got to join me and your fellow safety scholars over at Safety Management Academy. Just go to thesafetygeek.com/sma to learn more and to get started.
That's thesafetygeek.com/sma and I will see you in our next students only live session. Bye for now.
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Highlights From This Episode:
- You Don’t Need A Degree In Safety To Be Successful In This Career
- How People Get Into The Safety Industry
- What Are The Two Things That Are More Important To Your Success Than A Degree
- How To Be Selective In Your Continuing Education
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
If you’re liking these discussions on career planning, be sure to subscribe to the podcast because I have several others coming out over the next few episodes.
And while you’re subscribing, please leave a review. I love to hear your thought about it.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.