This column focuses on developing a career training and education plan. First, start to plan as early as you can to determine your career aspirations. The emphasis is on starting a plan that will grow in significance as you gain experience. Second, long-term planning for the duration of your career education is just as important as getting through the recruit academy.
The definition of planning encompasses some skillsets that you may want to think about right now. According to Professor Dan Coffman, educational planning involves assessing your past, taking measure of your current place in life, and opportunity to plan your future. Planning allows a framework and time table for adopting your goals and adapting to factors beyond your control. (Dan Coffman, “Firefighter Career and Planning Resource Guide.”)
In building your Plan A, start thinking about a career development process as early as possible after you have decided to become a permanently appointed firefighter. You can separate your planning efforts into preemployment and postemployment. Preemployment includes a thorough review of the educational activities that you may use to establish your career profile, which could include successful completion of high school, successful work experience, participation in cadet or intern programs, and any other activity that would allow you to improve experience toward future employment.
Early activities to prepare you for employment should include assessment testing of reading, writing, and mathematical skills. Part of your Plan A should include contact with school counseling professionals to assess all remedial programs that you need to complete before entering college. This is extremely important because weakness in basic skills shows up as a greater weakness in sophisticated skills.
Consider early on starting a resume that is based on the approach you are going to take to complete an associate’s degree in fire science. This resume should be made part of a portfolio in which you accumulate current records and supplemental information regarding your qualifications as a candidate. Get a folder that has about five or six pages. Then organize your material by category. For example, on the first tab you might have a copy of your job application along with your job description as a firefighter. The second tab could be your course records. The third tab could be course completion certificates. This prevents the loss of valuable information about your training and education.
As you likely know, the core curriculum for a community college is aimed at vocational education. Therefore, by developing a plan of operation for general education requirements and core technology courses you can prepare yourself for entry level competition.
Part of your Plan A should be to satisfy the requirements for an associate’s degree and simultaneously prepare for transfer to a university if that is your career desire (a bachelor’s degree program). There is a difference of opinion in the fire service about the value of getting a bachelor’s degree prior to employment. There is not much of an argument about whether a bachelor’s degree is a good idea by the time you reach the level of a battalion chief. Therefore, your plan should include a logical progression and transferability from your exposure in community college level and your preparation for any job that requires a bachelor’s degree.
If you take into consideration the average length of a fire service career, there is not a moment to waste if you want to be adequately prepared for upper mobile positions in the fire service. Many degrees are fundamental but need to be taken during early years on the job. Bachelor’s degrees need to be planned in the context of promotional opportunities. Master’s degrees need to be planned before you are competing for top level managerial or administrative positions. A good Plan A includes a good career counseling piece accompanied by a schedule of courses to be taken over time.
If you plan your education carefully, you can achieve skill development that you can put to work on the job at the same time that you need the skills. Plan A may have some glitches, but inevitability it will carry you to graduation day and give you time for your education to make a meaningful difference in your career.