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Work experience: the only way is up

Published on: 24 Jan 2024

Getting vital experience in the workplace marks you as someone who is goals-orientated, with initiative, commitment – and is sure to make potential employers take notice.

How to get work experience in health and safety

When looking for your first job in health and safety or applying for a graduate role, one thing that can help you stand out from others is work experience. Having had some experience in the profession demonstrates that this is a career to which you’re committed, meaning you’re much less likely to decide it’s not for you.  

It also demonstrates initiative, as you’ll generally have put yourself out to land a position and go beyond the minimum that’s expected on e.g. a university degree. And it means you’ll have at least some understanding of what’s expected in a job, so you should be able to get up to speed more quickly. Those on apprenticeships should already have a good amount of on-the-job experience but this isn’t always the case with graduates or those joining the profession as a second career.  

Work experience could come in the form of week-long placements, or longer if you can find them. If you’re at university you could arrange a stint with a local employer, or if you’re working in another job you could ask to shadow a colleague. Some employers have volunteering policies, allowing you to take several days in a year to try new things. Emailing the company with your CV is a good way to make initial contact, but you should also follow this up with a phone call a few days later if you don’t hear back. If you know someone who works in a particular company, ask them if they can help or find out the best person to approach.  

Out of the shadows 

But this isn’t the only way of getting vital experience. Those at university could volunteer as a safety representative for their students’ union, a particular society or for a local charity, start-up or small business. If you’re already working, you could put yourself forward as a safety representative for that organisation, or step up as a fire warden or first-aider. You could also seek to shadow a health and safety professional in that business for a day or a few hours a week, and even make it known that you’d be interested in moving into that kind of position as a career.  

When you get a work experience placement, it’s vital you make the most of it. Here are some ideas about how to maximise your experience. 

  • Think in advance what you’d like to find out, and set goals with the person who is supervising you.  
  • Make it known that you’re keen to learn and would welcome as much on-the-job experience as possible. This can help build your soft skills, as well as wider OSH knowledge.  
  • Make sure you ask questions too. This will improve your own knowledge and demonstrate your willingness to learn to the employer.  
  • Keep a reflective diary, recording any new skills or experiences you have picked up, and any wider learnings. This will help when it comes to applying for a job, as you’ll be able to talk with confidence about what you got out of any placement.  

Next steps 

A work experience placement can help you stand out from a CV perspective too, so make sure you include it on there. Be sure to get a reference from the employer at the end of the placement, which can be sent to potential employers on request. You should also include any reference on your LinkedIn profile, and can start to build your own network here too by connecting with people you’ve encountered through work experience. 

Finding the right work experience placement can make you much more employable, and help you on your career journey. And with around 70% of jobs never actually being advertised, it’s even possible that making a good impression could open doors for you in the business where you’re done the placement.