Author: Fabian, Nelson
Date published: June 1, 2012
As anyone who has been reading my columns lately knows - my focus has increasingly become centered on the future and more specifically, on what NEHA can do to help our profession (and its practitioners) succeed in that future.
To quickly recap how NEHA is seeing the world these days -
* Local government (where many of our members practice) has restructured itself to live within smaller budgets and in the process, many professions, including ours, have been downsized.
* That isn't going to change. Yelling and demanding more money - particularly at the federal level - isn't going to bring back public and environmental health jobs at the local level. (Our Center for Priority Based Budgeting - which essentially lives with local policy officials - confirms this reality for us.)
* Adding to this trend is the impact of baby boomers retiring and younger members of the workforce moving into different and higher paying professions (like software development). In other words, even if the funding was there to support a larger workforce, the people aren't.
* Despite general cutbacks, certain of our traditional programs continue to demonstrate strength - especially food safety. With global climate change adaptation becoming more prominent, it is reasonable to anticipate more funding support also developing for traditional programs in vector control and even water recreation. Activity in these traditional areas should help to dampen - though not forestall - the overall downsizing of the profession.
* IT holds the promise of fostering capacity gains in environmental health even as the number of people practicing in this profession declines. (This promise was a huge driver behind setting up our new cobranding initiative with Decade.)
* Though our overall traditional slate of programs is being downsized, environmental health has the potential to actually grow by evolving into new and more contemporary issues including the health effects of global climate change, healthy communities (and built environments), smart growth, and sustainability.
* NEHA can be a change accelerator by actively pushing to open these new doors that allow environmental health professionals to take advantage of these new branches on our profession's evolutionary tree.
* And we are doing just that!!
As I have emphasized over the last several months, our Center for Priority Based Budgeting is helping NEHA to forge new and constructive relationships with a host of other organizations that have historically flown outside of our environmental and even public health orbits. Chief among them have been the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) and the Alliance for Innovation (the society of local leaders who champion themselves as the leading edge for innovation in local government). These organizations are comprised of the people who run local government and who are therefore our ultimate bosses.
In fact, and as a result of our efforts, we were just invited by ICMA to prepare an article for their journal on the role of environmental health in sustainability. In short, ICMA has given us a golden opportunity to speak directly to the thousands upon thousands of city managers and county administrators, who today run local governments, about how our workforce can help them to meet their sustainability goals.
As I have explained in previous columns, we are now working with local leaders and helping them to develop their budgets. In the process, we get local leaders to identify why their communities even exist. Once we get them to clearly delineate their priorities, we also gain incredible insights into how environmental health can help community leaders to achieve them.
In these priority-setting exercises, safe and healthy communities along with sustainability almost always show up. (See last month's editorial.) Knowing this and knowing further that communities are typically staffing such programs with people who lack the training and expertise that exist in environmental health, we are advising local leaders that our profession can help them to meet their goals in impressive and lasting ways.
NEHA has a remarkable sustainabuity technical section co-chaired by Tom Gonzales and Mark McMillan. They put together the paper that will be published this June by ICMA.
To give all NEHA members a close-up look at what we are telling local leaders about what our profession can do in sustainabuity we are publishing their article in this issue of the Journal (see p. 52) as a companion piece to my editorial.
Thanks Tom and Mark (and even the NEHA board who demarked this path to the future for our profession) , for helping us to make the future we want, actually happen.