Skills? Degrees?

Why Emergency Management Should be Paying Attention to this Discussion

There was an interesting conversation that happened at the Davos Economic Forum this past week, and it is one that Emergency Management as a profession needs to be paying attention to.

Is it more important to hire for skills, or education?

It’s interesting to see this conversation being played out in a forum that has traditionally relied heavily on “credentialed” employees who have letters after their names. Many of the people at the World Economic Forum hold Masters Degrees or Doctorates, and I’m sure many would bristle at an apparent dismissal of the time and energy invested in earning those credentials. In the same breath, though, the lack of credentials or degrees should not (and in more and more cases, does not) imply a lack of education on the part of the person whose name is on the business card.

In Emergency Management, we need people with both skills and degrees, and we need them to work together for different purposes. Just as engineering is the art of bringing science to life, so too do we need skilled practitioners to bring to life the theories and advancements of Emergency Management research.

We need people to work on the ground doing the day in and day out work of educating the people in our jurisdictions. We need people monitoring radios, media, social media, and other forms of intelligence and situational awareness. We need people working in EOCs, ICPs, coordinating, ordering, paying, staging, and dealing with all of the other requirements of an incident. We need people who can walk alongside those who have fallen victim to an emergency or disaster and work through the processes that are necessary to get up again after they’ve been knocked down. None of these things necessarily require a degree, in fact most of them rely more on soft skills than they do on anything that can be taught or learned.

At the same time, we need people who are tracking the big patterns in emergencies and disasters. We need people who can read and interpret weather patterns and weather systems from complex models and data. We need people who can ask questions about the response to incidents to see where things can be improved. We need people who can draw information and data from science, technology, physics, math, music, and arts; and use it to find new ways of seeing Emergency Management. We need people whose sole job is to think about Emergency Management, where it came from, where it might be going, and how we are going to get there. These are all things that benefit greatly from the type of structure, discipline, and background provided by an education.

None of these things are separate from the other, they all rely on a very intricate dance between practitioner and scholar. Nobody is ever solely one or the other, because being good at one makes you better at the other. In fact, some of the best Emergency Managers have managed to straddle the line between the two worlds of practitioner and scholar in ways that have made them stand out.

Remember the most important thing about hiring: You’re hiring a person. You’re not hiring experience, degrees, or interests; you’re hiring a fully-formed person who is more than the sum of their parts. We are luckyto have lots of great programs in North America that offer degrees in Emergency Management. Just remember that letters after a name could mean a lot of things, but they are not the sum of the person.

If your job ad is looking for degrees, particularly for entry-level or low-level positions, maybe take a minute and think about what exactly you are looking for. What is it about a degree that embodies what you are looking for? Having a degree is no guarantee of anything other than being able to pass a few courses, while not having one is no guarantee of a lack of education or thinking abilities.


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