HSE job market: senior-level professionals in high demand

There has been a strong start to 2024 for the national HSE job market, with a 12.5 per cent increase in contracting opportunities and high demand for senior-level HSE professionals, according to recent research. While there was an expected seasonal slowdown over the Christmas period, employers began their hiring processes much earlier than usual after the break.

In January 2024, there was a notable shift towards contract roles over permanent positions, according to The Safe Step’s latest HSE job opportunities index, which found that contracting opportunities currently comprise nearly one in every four HSE opportunities advertised.

Recent changes in demand have also led to a redistribution of job opportunities across regions, with Victoria seeing a decrease and the resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland experiencing increases.

Mining is one sector that has experienced a significant change in demand for HSE professionals, rising 80 per cent in two years. Demand within the public sector has also increased, with HSE job ads rising 208 per cent in two years.

“Despite a challenging economic environment, the demand for HSE professionals remains strong, with an emphasis on leadership roles and specialised expertise,” said Aaron Neilson, CEO at The Safe Step.

“HSE professionals will continue to play a critical role in shaping safe, healthy, and sustainable work environments.”

With anticipated churn at the senior HSE level, Neilson said employers can look forward to fresh energy and vision but should also be prepared for potential changes in the design of their HSE functions. 

“Rightsizing and restructuring will likely have ripple effects that extend to all levels of the function,” he said.

“Utilising interim contractors can be an effective strategy for fulfilling short-term needs and controlling costs without adding to permanent headcount. At the same time there is an opportunity to solve for either capacity or capability challenges that exist within your current structure.”

The HSE talent market remains challenging for employers, according to Neilson, who said that while demand for HSE professionals may have cooled somewhat, the supply of available talent (including both active and passive candidates) has dropped more. 

“This imbalance between supply and demand is likely to persist until market confidence improves, making it difficult for companies to find and hire the HSE talent they need,” he said.

For candidates, Neilson said that it is a good time for executive-level HSE professionals seeking fresh challenges and perspectives to make a career move. 

“While there are some opportunities for a ‘step-up’ role, the majority of organisations are looking for a safe and experienced pair of hands to help guide transformation and change,” he said.

Neilson also said that an increase in interim opportunities makes contracting a more inviting prospect for those in between permanent roles, wanting expertise in a new sector, or seeking greater flexibility. 

“Some HSE professionals are also capitalising on the current climate to start building a portfolio career,” he said. 

“This is where someone focuses exclusively on contracting/consulting opportunities and is favoured by those looking to balance priorities and interests outside of work with the ability to scale income up and down as needed.”

As the job market shifts, Neilson said organisations focus on optimising the value their health and safety teams deliver. 

“Organisations are evaluating their HSE teams’ capacity and capability to support strategic objectives,” he said.

“This presents new opportunities for HSE professionals to expand their roles and responsibilities. By embracing continuous learning and enhancing their own skills and capabilities, HSE professionals can increase their value and contribute to a wider range of areas within their organisations.”