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A Confusing Place: The Young EM Professional Job Search

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ashley Ebersole

Emergency management has been on a steady rise to a more prominent professional career. Eventually, individuals will see the field as a first career choice, not a mid-career change or a playing field for retirees. This shift has been in progress since the early 20th century. Yet for young, early-career emergency management professionals, the present is a confusing place to be.

Ebersole septA glance at the job boards on Indeed.com and the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) proves to a job seeker that the profession is still mottled. Job titles, job duties and most importantly, applicant requirements and hiring practices are not standardized. In 2010, US News & World Report named the emergency management specialist as one of the best jobs of 2011 with an expected growth rate of 22 percent in jobs by 2018.The following is an exploration of that growth for young professional job seekers.

Numerous job openings in a variety of settings for inexperienced entry-level job seekers are available. Many supervisory and managerial positions closing in on and exceeding six figures also are posted. But, where are the mid-career jobs? Where are the “I’ve got an education, 3-5 years of experience, and ready for the next challenge” jobs? Those openings are out there somewhere, but the job seeker has to be able to read between the lines and varied requirements when applying.

An education is generally the first requirement when seeking any career. However, the number of emergency management professionals with an education in emergency management is few. As educational programs increase in numbers and distinction, so will the importance of having a degree. Until then, those with the degree will not only compete with the experienced job seekers, but with the notion to question the necessity of the degree.

Currently, in an examination of degree requirements for emergency management specialists, coordinators and planner vacancies, a wide variety of expectations are listed. Some postings mention nothing about emergency management degrees. Others prefer an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree. Local and state governments as well as private industry seem to recognize the educational shift before federal and nonprofit organizations. However, this requirement lacks standardization.

Required skills for these jobs are even more varied. The obvious skills always listed include:

  • Ability to work in a team.
  • Public speaking abilities.
  • Technical writing skills.
  • Ability to work under stress.

However, these apply to any job. The skills that are surprising and throw young professionals for a curve includes Web design/coding, geographic information systems (GIS), grant writing, pubic administration and information technology system design. These are all requirements found of current openings for entry-level paying jobs. Yet, these skills are not abilities that reflect a young professional’s experience. Essentially, these are additional fields of study or previous careers. A person with a graduate degree in emergency management and three to five years of experience is not likely to have these skills.

The amount of experience required for emergency management jobs is also indistinguishable. Apparently, private industry is more likely to honor a degree and less years of experience than nonprofits and federal government organizations. In the federal service, individuals are required to spend at least one year at the next lower pay grade before applying for an advanced position. USAJobs postings include no specific critical emergency management skills necessary for a GS-13 position in emergency management. The same job duties mentioned are those of a GS-9 in the same line of work, appearing as if the applicant selected is rewarded for their tenure, not necessarily their abilities in emergency management.

In a Web-search for current job postings, experience requirements literally varied from two to 12 years for an emergency management specialist. While some postings did mention state certifications, other postings listed an IAEM certification as a preference. Others don’t mention certifications at all. The certified emergency manager (CEM) designation from IAEM is no cakewalk, but rather a noteworthy accomplishment for those who have achieved it. Many private organizations recognize this accomplishment. However, a CEM is rarely referenced in a federal job posting along with the questionable time-in-grade requirements.

Education, skills and experience equate to salary. Job postings often state salary is “commensurate with experience.” In pursuit of an emergency management specialist position, job seekers will find variances in salary as drastic as $26,000 for an entry-level state government job and $60,000 for an entry-level private sector job. In 2009, the U. S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that the median annual earnings for emergency management specialists were $56,900. This will likely have to increase with current changes professionalizing the career. Until then, a search for salaries on GlassDoor.com does not give a clear expectation to the emergency management professional. Salaries range from $15 an hour to $126,000 annually for the same job title.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is currently taking steps to standardize the emergency management (EM) profession. By converting EM professionals to a new job series, they are able to track employees and hiring practices in a more organized fashion. Additionally, with the development of a specific career track for this job series, employees can look forward to progressing and excelling through the organization while staying in the emergency management discipline. These changes are minor and slow to implement, but emergency management finally may be getting the attention needed to standardize and professionalize the discipline.

However, the USACE still does not have requirements for an emergency management education. In fact, by moving all emergency management employees to the job series classified with safety positions, positive education requirements are not mandatory. Emergency management positions are considered entry-level. The CEM and state certifications are not mentioned in job listings or professional career tracks either. While engineers in USACE are rewarded for achieving a level of certification, EM employees can expect a simple pat on the back for achieving such a substantial milestone.

Although progress is being made, EM professionals still must recognize these issues when recruiting for their organizations. If the field is becoming professionalized—as students pursue degrees and membership increases in professional organizations and certifications—the recognition, pay and prominence within companies and organizations will have to soon follow.

For now, job seekers will remain in a confusing situation and many challenges for young professionals are ahead. It isn’t as simple as doing a Google search for “emergency management jobs.” With that search, medical listings, safety postings and loss-prevention or security vacancies among others must be filtered. Once that is done, mobility will win the job. Applicants must either be able to afford settling for lower-paying entry-level jobs or they must relocate to the higher-paying jobs with the same responsibilities. Perhaps the continued growth of emergency management jobs forecast until 2018 will begin shifting to certain standards for those hoping to pursue these opportunities. Until then, it is a confusing place to be.


Author: Ashley Ebersole, CEM, is a doctoral student in the Department of Emergency Management at Jacksonville State University and is currently an emergency management specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She may be reached at [email protected]

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