Leadership Forum: Flexible leadership training for aspiring officers
In past columns, the discussion has focused the importance of career development and the changing role of a chief officer. When considering such a broad topic, it is important to recognize the diversity of Canada’s fire services in the context of developing continuing education and leadership programs that are affordable and accessible.
Career personnel represent approximately one-third of Canada’s fire services, while volunteer and/or paid-on call personnel comprise the remainder. A growing number of municipalities are led by full-time chief officers, however, many aspiring chief officers work full-time outside the fire service, which makes finding the time and money to pursue leadership training a challenge. In addition, many members do not make conscious decisions to work toward senior fire-services positions until later in their careers; this can make attaining the necessary education difficult. These factors directly impact succession planning and personal career development.
How do we develop future leaders to effectively deal with the operational and administrative pressures they will inevitably face? Moreover, how do we create leaders among long-serving members or volunteer/paid on-call personnel who don’t have the time or opportunity to pursue four-year degrees or any intensive program? We cannot let this roadblock inhibit our efforts to professionalize our services. We must recognize our differences (in terms of time and financial resources) and address them. There is significant work to do to keep pace with the other allied agencies and the broader public sector.
Career-development opportunities in today’s fire services are subject to the challenges that stifle succession planning at the organizational and individual levels. This applies to many professions. Cost, commitment level, time, flexibility and perceived benefit influence whether a program will be pursued; this applies to both full-time and volunteer members and departments. There are solutions.
A fantastic example of a specialized, yet flexible program that allows students to leverage past training and education can be found at Ontario’s Humber College. The fire-service executive management certificate program is geared toward those who aspire to enter a leadership position in the fire service or expand their knowledge in fire-service administration and leadership. The program has been endorsed by the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) and the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC).
Each of the available 24 two-day courses can be delivered in any location as long as a suitable learning environment is available. Currently, courses are being delivered in fire departments, at educational institutions, and even at the OAFC office in Ajax. The courses focus on the required skills fire-services leaders must possess, ranging from leadership to budgeting to change management. The courses are taught by subject-matter experts, who relate the course material to a fire-service context. The $410 cost is relatively inexpensive compared to a traditional post-secondary course or other executive-education programs, and the training can be broken down into manageable durations, so that anyone with a full-time job can easily attend.
One significant benefit of the Humber program involves transfer credits and prior-learning assessments, which allow students to attain the required 18 courses in a shorter time span. Many fire-service members have taken courses throughout their careers; this program allows people to work toward a recognized certificate tailored to what they need to learn, based on what they already know. Several popular
training institutions qualify for transfer credits and prior-learning assessments, such as Ryerson University in Toronto, Dalhousie University in Halifax and the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Leveraging past experience and attaining a recognized certificate can hold more weight on a resume than a number of individual courses.
Some other the benefits of this program are that students have the opportunity to enter into the educational arena, even if they have been away from it for an extended period; the two-day courses are manageable and, once completed, help to instill academic confidence while building an administrative skill set; and, attending courses with colleagues makes the discussions more relevant and relatable. This program provides a balanced and cost-effective solution.
For details about the Humber College program, visit www.oafc.on.ca and click on Education.
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