Editor's Note: In an effort to promote the growth of the environmental health profession and the academic programs that fuel that growth, NEHA has teamed up with the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs (AEHAP) to publish two columns a year in the Journal. AEHAP's mission is to support environmental health education to ensure the optimal health of people and the environment. The organization works hand in hand with the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) to accredit, market, and promote EHAC-accredited environmental health degree programs.
This column will provide AEHAP with the opportunity to share current trends within undergraduate and graduate environmental health programs, as well as their efforts to further the environmental health field and available resources and information.
Jason Marion is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health Science at Eastern Kentucky University. He is the current past-president of AEHAP. Timothy Murphy is an associate professor and chair of Environmental Safety and Occupational Health Management at The University of Findlay. He is the current past-president of EHAC. Anne Marie Zimeri is an assistant professor in Environmental Health Science at the University of Georgia. She is the current president of AEHAP.
The question of whether the job market can support future graduates of environmental health programs remains an important and difficult question for environmental health programs, current and prospective students, parents, and other stakeholders. Our previous report using 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrated anticipated growth and higher than average pay in the profession through at least 2022 for baccalaureate degree holders (Marion & Sinde, 2015). Growth in the profession does not necessarily translate into job availability if the market is saturated with job candidates. In 2013, U.S. News & World Report indicated that public health is one of the 11 hottest choices as a major for current college students (Gandel & Haynie, 2013). Some of the graduates of these popular public health pro grams could potentially influence the environmental health market, particularly in the public sector, if they do not obtain adequate skills prior to graduation.
While university programs produce graduates, local health departments (LHDs) have suffered tremendous job losses nationally. From 2008-2012, LHDs eliminated 44,000 positions (National Association of County and City Health Officials, 2014). From 2012-2015, nearly 8,000 more positions were lost nationally in LHDs, totaling almost 52,000 fewer positions since 2008 (Newman, Ye, Leep, & Zometa, 2016). Although there was a net gain of 850 positions in LHDs in 2016 (Robin & Leep, 2017), the U.S. has 50,000 fewer LHD employees today than one decade ago.
In terms of job opportunities in the public workforce, the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS) indicated that despite these major job losses over the last decade, turnover and retirement are likely contributing to an increase in future position availability. Specifically, 18% of all PH WINS respondents indicated intentions to leave their agency during the survey year, while an additional 25% indicated plans to retire by 2020 (Pourshaban, Basurto-Davila, & Shih 2015). Job satisfaction and pay were identified as the top two reasons why voluntary job departure was occurring in PH WINS. To fill positions, unless pay and job satisfaction issues are addressed by policy solutions, the quality of the incoming workforce might diminish and the demand for college graduates will decrease as communities with fewer financial resources cannot recruit highly qualified college graduates.
For monitoring potential changes in job availability, an annual survey is performed among the programs accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC). The annual survey provides a holistic perspective of the health of environmental health programs nationally with data being obtained from all undergraduate and graduate programs. A variety of data points, including...