Collision of Culture

AIHA professiona group scene
Art by Klaus Scherwinski and Luisa Preissler; ©AIHA; used with permission.

I distinctly remember when the idea first popped into my mind. It was during the first all-staff meeting at my new employer, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). I was only two weeks into my new position as a Content Specialist; hardly an expert on the Association, its membership, or its subject matter.  (Go ahead and google “industrial hygiene;” I’ll wait. I did the same thing when I got the job interview…)

The more creative side of my brain – the part that has kept me gainfully employed as freelance writer and designer in the tabletop game industry – perked up during the presentation on the Association’s new Career Stages initiative. (“I sense opportunity!” Yes, my brain interrupts me a lot during meetings.) Extensive study and discussion by various committees had finalized an infographic that delineated the profession into various knowledge areas, tracks, and career stages. Made up of four stages, three knowledge areas, and three career tracks, these 12 segments encompassed the life cycles of careers that involved industrial hygiene.

The question being posed to the staff, at the time, was a way to properly identify and then represent to the membership – and ultimately the public – at large.

The immediate difficulty, as I saw it, was properly describing in simple terms the areas, tracks, and stages. As presented, the descriptors were text heavy and unwieldy for any casual audience. How could one properly introduce these stages to an audience that probably had limited knowledge as to the IH profession?

At that time, I considered myself a member of that particular audience, being only six days on the job.

As the meeting went on, I found myself thinking back to my games experience, both in developing and playing. I’d just started to introduce my local group of players to Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (SW:EOE) roleplaying game (RPG). As with most RPGs, the rulebook had information on creating characters to play within the Star Wars universe. (“What’s an RPG?” you ask? Here’s a great, succinct explanation.) These ‘basic’ character archetypes are a staple in most of the popular RPGs and feature pre-made stats, record sheets, background, and artwork. It’s an incredibly simple way to introduce new players to character roles within the universe.

What if there was a way to take the Career Stages concepts and merge them into some hybrid form of archetype characters? After the meeting, I went and pulled up a couple of these sample character sheets and called over Sue Marchese, the Director of Communications and my immediate supervisor. In halting detail, I spewed out my idea, gesturing at the characters on my monitor. To her credit, she didn’t immediately give me a weird look, nod, and pat me on the head. (I’ve since discovered she’s as much of a genius risk-taker as I am.)

Marcus station game of life screen
Station art from the AIHce “Game of IH Life” concept. ©AIHA; used with permission.

She actually stopped and thought for a moment, then gave me a weird look. “Write up a proposal and we’ll talk to a couple of people.”

I churned out a rough proposal over the next day, including several different archetype examples from games I’ve worked on or participated in, such as Shadowrun, MechWarrior, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, and Cosmic Patrol. The project was tentatively called “AVATAR,” so named after how people online tend to use picture representations of themselves in various communities.

Fast forward 16 months. At AIHce 2016, AIHA unveiled its new IH Professional Pathways program. A work in progress, IH Pathways is an initiative that, when fully completed, will accomplish three goals:

  • Represent to the public what an IH career looks like
  • Provide direction and support for current IH professionals in crafting and refining their own career paths
  • Categorize essential resources and materials for current IH professionals to succeed at their current position

Over the coming months, I’ll share stories and insight into this developing program, which I believe is a unique take in the association world on career development and outreach. If you haven’t already, please visit the new IH Pathways portal and check out what we’ve already done. (Or at least, enjoy the art created by my friend and colleague, Klaus Scherwinski.)

There’s a lot more to this 16 month journey, involving a bevy of talent and your usual storyline tropes. (I’ll be sharing more in subsequent articles on LinkedIn, on Synergist NOW, and my own personal blog.) Stay tuned, as our epic voyage is just beginning!

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