Rhaynukaa Soni explains how having found a role within health and safety she made the decision to do an NVQ in health and safety as it suited the way she learnt.
When I left the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2011, for a health and safety role in construction I knew I’d finally found the career for me.
The new job allowed me the privilege of making a real difference to someone’s working life whilst being able to see a project take form right in front of me.
Working with experienced HSE inspectors gave me an insight and understanding that I may not have otherwise gained, like being part of an investigation following a serious incident which ultimately led to prosecution or sitting in on an interview under caution. However, one thing it didn’t give me was qualifications.
To be perfectly honest I wasn’t even sure what, if any, qualifications I really needed to be able to continue as a credible health and safety professional. After all, I had experience of working at the HSE, surely that was enough? As it turns out I was sadly mistaken.
I was fortunate enough to land my first client immediately after leaving HSE and they were more than happy with what I was delivering. However, after a few months they started to raise questions over my competency as I lacked any formal qualifications. So began my journey.
Having researched numerous providers, I found a company delivering the NEBOSH certificate course in London on day release. I thought once I had this I would be on my way and no more studying would be required. Again, I was soon put right.
What the NEBOSH certificate actually highlighted to me was how little I really knew about practical control measures.
My strengths lay in the legislative side, though as I’m sure many of you will agree you can’t simply talk to a client in legal speak. Telling someone: “You aren’t complying with Regulation 2 of the Management Regulation. You should put in suitable and sufficient measures as soon as practicable”, inevitably leads to people switching off and ignoring any advice you may be giving.
This is where my role on sites proved to be invaluable. They presented me with a fantastic opportunity to engage with everyone from operatives right through to senior management teams. I was able to understand what their issues were and consequently work with them to find a pragmatic and practical solution that worked for all: not an easy task by any means.
It was this approach that ultimately led me down the path of my City and Guilds NVQ Level 5 in Occupational Health and Safety. For me, NEBOSH was too academic and although it provided a lot of extremely valuable information, I could not see how it would help me gain further experience.
Personally, I do not like taking exams and the idea of more lengthy exams with huge essays to write, as well as remembering sub-sections of a Regulation filled me with dread. The more I looked the more I felt a NEBOSH Diploma was not for me.
The decision not to pursue a NEBOSH Diploma was not an easy one. I spoke to a number of recruiters, my mentor, colleagues and friends in the industry all of whom felt a Diploma was more highly regarded than an NVQ.
Even though the NVQ Level 5 is considered on a par, there was still a strong feeling within the industry you could only be considered credible if you held a NEBOSH Diploma.
Discussions on LinkedIn provided some mixed views though looking at any job advert the requirement was nearly always a NEBOSH Diploma, the words “or equivalent” were not mentioned.
However, what increasingly appealed to me about the NVQ route was the opportunity to demonstrate my skills, knowledge and experience.
Being an evidence-based course meant that it afforded me the opportunity to positively demonstrate to potential employers that I had experience of carrying out these tasks.
It also meant I would be in a position to speak to my manager, explain that I was looking at doing my NVQ and – as there were things on there that my role did not currently cover – I would like the opportunity to job shadow or even take on more where it was possible.
Not only did this route mean I could demonstrate what I could already do it gave me a fantastic opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience that I may not otherwise have had.
Ultimately, I had to make a decision, bearing in mind that whatever qualification I chose would need to form a sturdy foundation for developing my career. For me, all the evidence (and indeed my gut) pointed towards the NVQ and so that is what I did.
Looking back I feel it was one the best decisions I made. I have since gone on to become a Chartered member of IOSH and I felt the route to Chartership via the NVQ was less onerous than if I had done the Diploma.
Equally, I have not faced any adverse comments from potential employers or recruiters when reviewing my CV. I have even gone on to recommend the NVQ to numerous colleagues who have decided to do it, rather than the diploma route.
Choosing how you become qualified depends a lot on the way you learn. I found the NVQ route suited me, but for you NEBOSH, NCRQ, or even a postgraduate degree might be better suited to your style of learning.
Rhaynukaa Soni is a Director for RLS Consultants Ltd and is currently working as a Health and Safety Manager at MTR Corporation (Crossrail) Ltd, the train operator for Crossrail – the new Elizabeth Line. All views are her own.
For more information on the different routes into health and safety, review the careers zone on SHP.
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