AIHCE: Futurist Tells Hygienists to Think Globally

The changing demographics of the U.S. work force and the growing globalization of the marketplace will radically transform the industrial hygiene profession, according to James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures.

Canton spoke -- to mixed reviews -- at the opening general session of the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition (AIHce) on May 23 in Anaheim, Calif.

"There will be more change over the next 10 years," Canton declared, "than the previous 50,000 years."

One of the most significant changes identified by the San Francisco futurist was the transformation of the U.S. work force due to demographic trends and the effects of the global marketplace.

He predicted that the low birthrate in the United States, combined with the declining number of American students studying science and engineering, means that the survival of entire industries and professions will depend on attracting sufficient numbers of qualified immigrants.

"Without that, I fear many industries will just go away, for you won't have the bodies," Canton said. "Where are the future engineers going to come from for your industry if kids would rather go to business school?"

Canton then identified four fields where growth will be the fastest and where these new workers will therefore be most needed:

  • Nanotechnology
  • Biotechnology
  • Information technology
  • Cognitive science or "neurotechnology."

Canton's predictions about the imperiled future of the industrial hygiene profession in the United States made the deepest impression among attendees interviewed about his presentation.

"The most important thing I got out of the talk was that given the declining interest in industrial hygiene in the United States, for the future of our profession we need to make a connection with people overseas who want to enter industrial hygiene," commented Karen Gunerson.

"I found it scary that we won't have enough trained people in math and science," said Kathy Johnson of Owens Corning, who added she spoke for herself and not her company.

Several attendees criticized Canton for paying too little attention to the specific challenges and opportunities in industrial hygiene's future. For some, the talk was interesting from a personal point of view, but of little value from a professional perspective because Canton's presentation was too general.

"This was a repetition of the clichés in corporate leadership talks we've had year after year at these conferences," commented Jonathan Rosen of the New York State Public Employees Federation. For Rosen, the talk was more about professional survival from a self-interested, corporate perspective. "I wanted to hear about how industrial hygiene might grow by paying attention to the future of the profession's mission: protecting workers."

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