As a university, it’s easy for us to say education is valuable. But is it really? For individuals looking at career advancement, applying for jobs, or figuring out their career goals, how does education fit into the mix? How much weight do degrees carry? How do hiring managers and businesses really view the value of education?
Answering these questions is the purpose of this series, where we sit down with key leaders and hiring managers at companies across a wide variety of industries, to better understand the relationship between education and employment.
Name: Randy Mirowski
Company: Loveland Fire Rescue Authority
Title: Fire Chief
Years on the job: Mirowski has worked in fire service for 39 years in total. He worked in Loveland from 1979 to 1982, went to Poudre Fire Authority in 1982, and returned to Loveland in 2009 as Fire Chief.
Number of employees at the company: 100 people, which includes full-time, part-time, and reserve firefighters.
Like any industry, fire service has experienced many changes over the years. As job duties and responsibilities shift, so does the desired skill set. Fire Chief Randy Mirowski, has seen these changes first-hand in his 39 years in fire service. As Fire Chief of the Loveland Fire Rescue Authority, a combination department that hires full-time, part-time, and volunteer firefighters, he has witnessed many transformations.
“It’s an evolutionary process for departments and communities that grow,” Mirowski said. “As our community grows, we see a shift and emphasis on full-time and part-time positions. This takes place all across country.”
Mirowski was kind enough to share his thoughts on the value of education and why he says being a lifelong learner is so important.
Q. What are your goals or biggest priorities when hiring new employees?
A. They have to process things. The ability to learn is a huge part of that, so they take a variety of aptitude tests. The second part is the physical aspect. Firefighting always has been, and still is today, a very physical job. So, we have an agility test that has to be passed. The third part, and maybe the most important, is they have to be a team player. It’s imperative that we hire people who are team-oriented. We don’t teach them what to think, but we put an emphasis on being able to be a part of something bigger than yourself. That’s the absolute critical factor.
Q. What challenges have you encountered during the hiring process?
A. There are a myriad of challenges, internally and externally. Externally, we’ve seen changes over years, some really good, but challenges that we have to deal with. We as an industry had certain biases and unfair aspects of the testing process and I’m not sure any of us realized it. I think we have worked through those challenges. Internally, the challenges have been varied and many. We have so few openings for so many candidates that we miss the opportunity to hire people who would make fantastic firefighters. It’s a long, arduous process that takes multiple testing processes and many years to be successful, and even then there is no guarantee you will ever get hired. It’s frustrating for me to see great quality candidates who we will never hire.
Q. Describe any emerging trends you have observed in your field.
A. A trend we’ve seen and I think will continue to see is people coming in, like so many in the workforce today, knowing they are going to be lifelong learners. The days of just working a job are gone. You have to constantly keep your skills sharp. Re-certifications are a way of life for us, and the importance of continuing education is increasing as we go. Twenty years ago, firefighting was predominately a blue collar job. Some elements of that are still alive, but you will have to have a degree, especially to move up the ranks.
Q. When reviewing resumes and cover letters specific to your business, how important is education?
A. The ability to learn and process material is pretty important and that goes along with higher education. Another factor is that we have a lot of highly educated people in our community. I’m not saying every firefighter needs to have a four-year degree, but as you move ahead, some form of formal education will be very important.
A degree in fire service management is a great opportunity for our people to get a fundamental, applied degree. Then there are also many other degrees in organizational leadership that apply.
I do think education carries a lot of weight. Having a fire service management degree demonstrates that this person is a career person. They are serious about themselves, their career, and moving forward.
Q. What makes a resume rise to the top of the pile for you?
A. It has to be simple, but make an impact. That’s the challenge. How do you put the effective points that an employer is looking for in one page? It’s not just a standard approach. You need to communicate what features you possess and bring to the table.
Q. What makes a resume sink to the bottom of the pile?
A. If it’s just bullet points and if they are telling me all they did, but not saying how those things prepared them for the position.
Q. How has education impacted your own career?
A. I’ve had some of the greatest educational opportunities. I was so fortunate to go through Aims, earn a fabulous degree from Colorado State University, and then pursued my master’s at Gonzaga. A lot of the courses I took were applied courses that directly affected my line of work.
Q. What tips would you give for someone considering going back to school?
A. Talk to a person. Have a clear plan on why you are going back to school. What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals and objectives? Look at it from a long-term perspective.
Q. How valuable is a master’s degree in this line of work?
A. It applies most specifically to higher levels in the organization. When looking at promotable positions from battalion chief all way up to fire chief, those things really matter when you get there. Those really matter today.
Q. What is the best career advice you have ever received and who was it from?
A. That’s easy. It was from a wonderful professor I had at CSU during my undergrad. He used to stress the aspect of lifelong learning. You absolutely must be a lifelong learner to be successful.
Q. What other advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in this field?
A. The greatest piece of advice is once you decide this is the career you want to go after, be tenacious and never give up. You have to have that tenacity and have people around you who will love and encourage you along the way.
To learn more about CSU’s online Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Fire and Emergency Services Administration degree visit http://www.online.colostate.edu/degrees/fire-services/.
Read the next post in our Ask an Employer series here.