NEHA April 2024 Journal of Environmental Health


Open Access

Decoding Training Needs: Exploring Demographic Data to Understand Retail Food Regulatory Workforce Composition and Inform Capacity Building

Samantha Streuli, PhD Gagandeep Gill, DrPH Roseann DeVito, MPH, PMP National Environmental Health Association Lindsay Fahnestock, DrPH National Environmental Health Association

gations when outbreaks occur (Kim et al., 2021). Despite the importance of EPH, a lack of standardized training and educa- tional requirements across EPH depart- ments nationwide has resulted in di‡culty in defining the profession and producing comparable data on the value of EPH (Gerd- ing et al., 2020). This di‡culty has resulted in substantial budget cuts to EPH depart- ments, low employee recruitment rates, and poor retention of existing employees (Association of State and Territorial Health O‡cials, 2017; Li & Elligers, 2014). Thus, there is a need for more consistent and standardized training across the EPH work- force and improvements to recruitment and retention practices. In terms of demographics, the EPH work- force tends to be older, overall. In the 2017 Understanding the Needs, Challenges, Opportunities, Vision, and Emerging Roles in Environmental Health (UNCOVER EH) initiative, more than one half (54%) of sur- veyed EPH professionals reported that they were ≥46 years and more than one quarter (26%) stated that they planned to retire in the next 5 years (Gerding et al., 2019). The UNCOVER EH survey also showed a large percentage of White respondents (86%), a highly educated workforce with most hold- ing a bachelor’s degree or higher, and an even representation of self-identifying male and female respondents (Gerding et al., 2019). Researchers have proposed that a more diverse EPH workforce—one that continues to include women and racially and ethni- California Baptist University Joetta DeFrancesco, MA Chintan K. Somaiya, MBA, MS, APM Daniela Ramirez Rance Baker David Dyjack, DrPH, CIH Manjit Randhawa, MPH, MD National Environmental Health Association

b=>r-/> Understanding workforce demographics is important to ensure equitable recruitment, training, and retention. Previous studies have reported demographics of the environmental public health workforce; however, demographic data on professionals who conduct retail food regulatory duties are lacking. We conducted a workforce training needs assessment that examined demographic frequencies and associations between demographic factors and job levels. Findings indicate an educated workforce, and a high percentage of respondents self-reported that they were ≥40 years, White, and female. We also found, however, that female respondents were significantly less likely than male respondents to hold leadership positions, even when accounting for age, years of experience, and education. Our study also shows an underrepresentation of retail food regulatory professionals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Future training should account for the need to fill experience gaps in the field when current employees retire. Additionally, there is a need to increase the recruitment of diverse professionals while supporting equitable retention and advancement in the field. Keywords: diversity, environmental public health, equity, leadership, retail food, workforce development

Introduction Environmental public health (EPH) pro- fessionals are responsible for ensuring that people are safe from environmental hazards such as disease vectors, potential contaminants in food and water, and expo- sure to chemicals or waste that can harm human health. EPH is foundational to the

public health infrastructure of the U.S. and is essential to the health and safety of the entire nation (Resnick et al., 2009). In relation to food safety, EPH profession- als ensure the use of food safety protocols, the training of regulatory sta‚, routine food safety inspections and grading procedures to reduce foodborne illnesses, and investi-


Volume 86 • Number 8

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