Having placed Julie North 5 years ago with her current company, System Concepts, I was keen to catch up with her to see how her career has developed since she joined the business. System Concepts provide health, safety, and ergonomics consultancy services to a range of clients across multiple sectors. Julie is now a Senior Consultant and speaks enthusiastically about all she has learnt since she joined the business. Does this include both technical skills and also the softer skills required when working with a variety of clients that have different requirements?
During the past 5 years, Julie has achieved CMIOSH status and is now part of the peer review panel for IOSH, helping to support others to achieve the same.
What attracted you to a career in Health & Safety?
“I took a while to decide what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help people and make things better so I did a Health & Social Care course, but it didn’t hit the spot of what I really wanted to do. My Mum always thought I would be a nurse but I knew there was another career out there for me that would match my skills and desire to help people. After I finished the course, I went to work for a Law Firm in an administrative role. There was an opportunity for me to become a Health & Safety rep and, to be honest, at first I only did it because I thought it would look good on my CV! The role involved hazard spotting, manual handling and DSE. I finally had my lightbulb moment - This was something I wanted to do full time and was the career I wanted to pursue!
So, with no qualifications, but some experience under my belt, I set a goal of securing a role in Health & Safety. I got lots of interviews but was pipped to the post by people with qualifications. I kept going, which if anything was good interview practice. Then I interviewed at a large financial services company, but again I got the dreaded call to say I “wasn’t right for the role,” due to my lack of qualifications. However, they had recently decided to bring their DSE programme in-house and asked if would I be interested – I jumped at the chance. This was the break I had been looking for! The company supported me through my NEBOSH Certificate and soon after I was taking on more and more H&S responsibilities. I also completed the NEBOSH Fire Safety and Risk Management Certificate and eventually the Diploma which I gained with credit. One of my proudest moments was achieving BS OHSAS 18001 with them, it was hard work covering multiple sites across the UK but I did it!”
What qualities do you bring to the profession?
“A genuine desire to want to help people; my initial driver for moving into Health & Safety. This is coupled with a desire to learn and to develop myself as a Health & Safety professional. I keep on top of any changes in legislation and translate them for my clients to help them understand what it means to their business and ultimately their people. I am also very organised, which is essential in a consultancy role as you are working with multiple clients with very different needs. Lastly, working in a consultancy has taught me to think outside the box to find solutions that meet the clients' needs. I see my role as an enabler rather than a preventer.”
What do you most enjoy about the work you do day to day?
“The variety - for 50% of my day I know what is going to happen, the other 50% is a surprise every day. I could go to a client site and could walk in to find the fire alarm not working, a flood or ceiling fell down (all these things have genuinely happened to me!). I have to go in and resolve the issues quickly, think on my feet and I love the buzz this gives me. I get great satisfaction from helping my client.”
What advice would you give someone looking to join & succeed in the profession?
“Things are changing in the industry, this role is no longer a ‘tick box exercise’, and the use of IT in Health & Safety is increasing as innovation becomes top of people’s agendas. My advice would be to get your Certificate under your belt and get some experience. Attending your local IOSH branch will help you to network with other Health & Safety professionals. Ask them if you can do any job shadowing or work experience with them - textbook learning is only part of your development. Also, think about developing your softer skills, such as relationship-building, influencing and negotiation, which are all very useful in a Health & Safety role. Try and gain experience across a variety of sectors as this will help you decide which sector you want to work in. Furthermore, recalling the knockbacks I experienced at the beginning of my career, I am now grateful for those and don’t let anything knock me down. Persevere and keep going - your perfect role could be just around the corner!”
Has anything surprised you about the work you do?
“I am always pleasantly happy in all the work I do. Many of the reports I produce are used at the Board level, demonstrating how far Health & Safety has come over the years and how significant it is now from the top down. Health & Safety touches wider parts of the business including procurement, diversity, recruitment and making sound business decisions. The impact my work has on a business is very satisfying. Clients take a more holistic approach to safety now. Earlier in my career, I felt Health & Safety was separate from the workings of the business. People only came to me when something went wrong - they now come to me in the early stages of planning. It is a much more proactive approach.”
What would you like to achieve next in your career?
“I would like to progress to a higher position within System Concepts and take on more client management duties. The release of 45001 is exciting and I look forward to working with my clients to implement this. I am also enjoying my role on the IOSH peer review panel, which is supported by System Concepts and look forward to continuing this. I like giving something back and being a representative to those people coming through. The next generation of Health & Safety professionals is inspiring and encouraging, as they bring new skills and ideas – and this is ultimately how we’ll evolve as an industry. I always want to learn so will also enjoy developing my professional qualifications further to ensure I am continuing to provide the best service I can to my clients.”
About the Author
Julie North is a Senior Consultant at System Concepts Ltd. You can find her on LinkedIn here.
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