One thing I hear as soon as I introduce my role as "Fire Protection Engineer", all the time, is "wow you're a rare bird."
Not sure if it's a compliment or not.
To be fair they don't always say "bird", sometime's it's "duck" or "unique" or "oddball", but the sentiment is the same.
Fire Protection pros (engineers, designers, project managers, estimators, plan reviewers, inspectors) - we're all rare birds.
That acknowledged - where do we look for more help?
If we need help, and we're ready to train new hires, where do we even look?
For larger organizations, this may be well charted. We know X and Y school has related programs, so we go there. Or we know Z technical college has good students, so we go there. Or we badger our employees to always be thinking about hiring their friends or family. Whatever works.
But one of the key questions I kept coming back to in this space was - if most of us don't start in fire protection - which we now have some data to back up that notion - then where do we come from?
If we're looking for new hires to train up - where are they?
Last week we looked at the industries that fire protection professionals started in, and we broke those out by their current organization type.
This week we're looking at that same period in the career - when we first started in fire protection - and are looking at what education we had at that time.
Many studies about the fire protection industry look for current education status - do you have a fire protection degree? High school? Associates? Bachelors? Masters?
But that doesn't tell us very much. When someone is in the industry for five years and goes to get a Master's in Fire Protection, well, they're already in the industry.
If we're looking to recruit new people to the industry, knowing that someone has a Master's in Fire Protection, and they got it after they were already in the industry, well that's not helpful.
So here, in this question from our study, we asked specifically what education each person had when they first entered the fire protection industry.
And here are those results:
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING SPACE
For those working in Architecture & Engineering (143 applicable responses):
For those working in Contracting (178 responses):
DESIGNERS / ENGINEERING TECHNICIANS SPECIFICALLY
This breaks down individuals who are working as designers or engineering technicians (119 response):
This breaks down individuals who are working as "fire/life safety consultants", "fire protection specialists", or "fire protection engineers" (162 response):
For other roles, such as project managers, estimators, fire marshals, inspectors, investigators, plan reviewers, and others, there wasn't enough data to give us a good idea for education trends (such as less than 50 respondents).
That said, if there's a role or component of the data you'd want to see - comment below and we'll see if we can make it happen.
TAKEAWAY #1: GET ENGINEERS FROM MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PROGRAMS
Perhaps my biggest takeaway on this, which may have been obvious to others but hasn't been to me, is that if you're looking to hire someone to get into fire protection engineering - go mine the local Mechanical Engineering program! Someone working in our industry is 4x more likely to have a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering than they are to have a Bachelors in Fire Protection Engineering.
To me, that says a lot.
Put up posters, go to career fairs, go guest lecture, go talk to ASME (Society of American Mechanical Engineers) or student organizations about fire protection - whatever it takes to make in-roads so that you can hire a few down the road.
TAKEAWAY #2: DESIGNERS COME FROM A VARIETY OF EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUNDS
There is a sizeable contingent of those who are currently in designer / engineering technician roles who had engineering degrees when they first started; that's somewhere around 20% of designers.
But there's also a large contingent of current designers who started with no college degree (49%) or an associate/technical school (around 20%).
Designers and engineering technicians don't come from a unified pathway; they come from all over. We saw that last week in the industry where people first started, and we'll see that again when we explore "why" people get into fire protection.
In the next part of our series we'll look at why people get into the fire protection industry, and I think you'll enjoy those responses just as much as I have.
Thanks and have a great rest of your week!
Where do fire protection professionals come from?
This is a follow-up to the first article in this series where we are discussing takeaways from our industry sourcing survey.
What do we hope to answer?
Last week we answered #1, today, we’re covering where people actually come from. I’ll break this out again by the source (A/E, Contracting, AHJ/Gov’t, and Insurance/Manufacturing/Users) as it perhaps is the best way to get suggestions for future recruiting.
SO, WHERE WAS OUR FIRST "REAL" JOB?
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING SPACE
For Architecture & Engineering (139 applicable responses):
For Contractors (178 responses):
AUTHORITIES HAVING JURISDICTION / GOVERNMENT
For those in government and AHJ roles (64 responses):
What do you find interesting? What takeaways do you see in the data?
Personally, here's what I found interesting or surprising about these notes:
SO MUCH OF THE INDUSTRY DOESN'T "START" IN FIRE PROTECTION
We mentioned this last week, but anecdotally it seems as though many people in the industry didn't exactly 'intend' to end up in fire protection. The data from our survey seems to suggest the same consistently throughout the different user groups.
OF THESE FIELDS, CONTRACTORS HAVE THE MOST PEOPLE WHO "STARTED" IN FIRE PROTECTION
We'll dive deeper into this later on, but so many in contracting get in "because" of friends and family that it would make sense that their first "real" job is directly in the fire protection industry. That said, there's still just as many people even in contracting that didn't first start out in fire protection as people who did.
I would imagine the same wouldn't be said for fields like architecture, structural engineering or mechanical engineering.
HOW FEW PEOPLE IN AHJ/GOVERNMENT ROLES STARTED IN FIRE PROTECTION
Personally, I was very surprised at how few people in AHJ and Government roles actually started in fire protection from the survey. This is also our most limited data set, so I can't take away too many conclusions from that subset.
HOW BIG OF AN INFLUENCE MECHANICAL ENGINEERING HAS ON FIRE PROTECTION
Traditionally, fire suppression has been a "subset" of mechanical engineering. This can be seen in the way project specification divisions used to be arranged, or how many mechanical engineers have traditionally specified fire suppression systems.
All of fire protection isn't just in fire sprinklers, of course, but the data we get continues to say that of people who didn't start in fire protection, the most popular starting point was mechanical engineering.
I would think the next few weeks will also support the notion, but if we need to find good people - it's time to start recruiting the best mechanical engineers!
The next part of this series will cover college degrees when we 'first' got into fire protection, which could help highlight exactly where we started out and what we had pursued prior to being in the industry.
Why is all this important?
Well, if you're a team leader, a recruiter, a manager, or someone in a role where you need help - then it's time to start recruiting!
Where do you go? Where have people gone before? Where do we, as an industry, have the most luck in finding talent?
Well - look at the data. Check out your user group (are you a contractor? engineer? AHJ?), and see where people historically have come from. That's the first hint on where you might have the most success first.
We'll go deeper on this in the next part, for now - have a great rest of your week!
I’m excited today to start a series on the who of fire protection.
We’ve seen salary surveys in the past. We’ve seen studies on what degrees people have.
But – what about the questions that we all really want answered about how we all got into fire in the first place?
MY BIG QUESTIONS:
The awesome thing is – because of your help – we now have data to answer every one of these questions – and we will.
A few weeks ago I posted a survey and we received 443 anonymous responses from you. Thank you!
The 443 total responses include:
For this series, and in splitting out the date, I will use these four different categories:
Each of these different groupings seem to each show different trends and tendencies, and I think the takeaways will be better showcased by doing so.
THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES
Originally I thought one article could summarize the data and give helpful feedback, but after going through and categorizing over 3,100 different data points (yes, I read and categorized all of them), I found a lot of interesting takeaways that I don’t want to skim over.
So that said, today’s post is the first in a series where I answer each of these big questions.
GROUND RULES FOR THE SURVEY & DATA USAGE
A few ground rules that I think are really important here.
If you’re less interested in the nuts and bolts – I suggest skipping down to the findings below.
#1 LOOKING IN THE REARVIEW FOR CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE
First – I like to think I have a good grasp on how to speak about the industry in a way that would resonate with someone new. I like to think that. However, I’m terrible about it.
I once talked with a nice lady on a plane who asked what I did and I tried to explain what my version of fire protection engineering is. After we talked for most of the flight I mentioned that the industry has things like smoke control, fire modeling, hydraulic calculations, etc. She said I should always start with that stuff, because what I’d said I did sounded incredibly boring. And she was a nice lady!
I’m not great at reading other people’s motivations. Most of us aren’t.
So in order to answer questions about – “how do I pitch fire protection?” or “where should I be looking for help?” – I think we first have to look at ourselves and find out who we are.
Where did we start?
Why did we get into the field in the first place?
If we can answer those questions about ourselves, by looking backwards, then that just might be the best possible answer on how we address industry concerns and issues moving forward.
#2 I HAVE NO AGENDA HERE
Second disclaimer - I didn’t come into this with an agenda. The questions (which can be seen here) do not suggest, prompt, or give examples for any specific end result.
#3 ALL QUESTIONS ARE OPEN-ENDED FOR UNPROMPTED ANSWERS
Third – each question was open-ended. This is critical. When we’re asking for things like “how did you first hear about fire protection?” or “why did you go into the fire protection field?”, it’s imperative that we don’t suggest ideas. That would poison the well. We needed authentic, unprompted responses. And that’s what we got in this survey.
Just as a quick example – if I ask why you went into the field and laid out seven reasons – naturally we’d select the top ones and move on. That’s not truly representative. Each person has their own reasons, and that’s what I wanted to seek out. It’s not good enough to say “career opportunities” as the reason to get into the field, what we actually need to know is what the unprompted reasons are.
This point becomes really important when we’ll get into reasons why people get into the industry and where they became aware of the industry. When we get data that says that 19% of all designers and engineering techs got into the field in part because they felt it was “interesting” or 12% thought it would be “enjoyable”, well, those are unprompted sentiments. We didn’t put those words into mouths or give A/B/C/D options – that’s what you, the industry, is telling us about why you chose to get into the field.
#4 I'VE CATEGORIZED AND DID MY BEST TO STAY TRUE TO YOUR INPUT
Last – it isn’t helpful to have a survey that says 443 different things and just give that back.
So, in reading everything that was submitted, I categorized and tried to group responses into themes. I did my best to stay true to the original response in every case.
If someone said they thought the salary would be great, or the pay, or the money – well that’s pretty easy to categorize together.
Others weren’t as black and white, but I did my best to stay true to your responses and in no cases put words in anyone’s mouths. That’s the last important point before we hop in.
So what are we covering today? Today I want to talk on awareness.
TODAY'S DATA: HOW DID YOU FIRST HEAR ABOUT FIRE PROTECTION?
We, in the fire protection industry, have been described as “niche” and “specialized”. You’ve probably heard many times how people didn’t really know a fire protection industry “existed”.
So, how do people first become aware of the fire protection industry?
To this, we had a lot of different responses.
A summary chart for the raw data from the survey (just to give an idea of the analysis involved)
Here's a quick summary of how people hear about fire protection, in total:
Few notes on the summary table:
BREAKDOWN BY GROUP
Here are breakdowns of this question by different user groups:
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING SPACE
For Architecture & Engineering, the top ways people first became aware of fire protection are (139 applicable responses):
#1 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (35%)
#3 Originally wanted to be a firefighter/am a firefighter (9%)
For the Contracting space, ways people became aware of fire protection are (172 applicable responses):
#1 Having family or a relative in the industry (24%)
#2 Having a friend or family friend in the industry (19%)
#3 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (19%)
FIRE DEPARTMENTS, AHJs, & GOVERNMENT
For Fire Departments, AHJs, and Government entities (63 applicable responses):
#1 Originally wanted to be a firefighter/am a firefighter (32%)
#2 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (21%)
INSURANCE, MANUFACTURING, ORGANIZATIONS & CORPORATE CLIENTS
For Insurance, Manufacturing, Organizations and Corporate Clients (34 applicable responses):
#1 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (29%)
#3 By Recruiting or Career Fair (18%)
For everyone combined, here’s the full rundown of top ways people became aware of fire protection:
So what does this mean? What are the takeaways here? What trends are there?
#1: Most People do not start out in Fire Protection.
This has been a suspicion for some time. Even counting firefighters as “in the industry”, only 48% of respondents (213) started their first “real” job in fire protection. The remaining 228 respondents started somewhere else.
This is commonly spoken around the industry, but I’m not sure that we’ve ever had some data to support it.
What does this mean?
If we’re looking to source talent, it can’t all come from high school, community college, technical schools or universities. Over half of those in the industry are already in some other field.
#2: Contractors Spread the Word via Friends & Family
The top ways how those who work for contractors hear about fire protection is overwhelmingly by family, a friend, or relative (43% combined).
This is very different than everyone else, where that’s half as likely to happen.
What does this mean?
For one – kudos to contractors for spreading the word. Those who are now in the industry and work for contractors overwhelmingly heard about it from family and friends.
For two – this word-of-mouth among contractors is a very important part in sourcing talent. We’ll get into the data there as we get further along.
#3: Don’t Discount the Allure of Firefighting for Industry Awareness
It seems like half of my son’s preschool class want to be firefighters when they grow up. My 5-year old daughter wants to be a firefighter for Halloween. I doubt either of them have any that I work in the fire industry.
The allure of firefighting is an asset we probably overlook too much.
I wouldn’t say that we’re all some version of a pyromaniac in this industry, but I would contend that we’re all at least somewhat fascinated with the spectacle of fire itself.
What does this mean?
The appeal of firefighting, and as a means that brings people to the industry, actually shows up in the data as far as awareness. I wonder if we couldn’t play that up a little more.
So if you’re a student in a technical field and have had some buried fascination with firefighting? Well, here’s a whole industry on it. Join the cause.
WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?
From the data we’ve looked at today, those are my biggest three takeaways. What do you see?
What’s a surprise, and what is not?
Does any of this back up your anecdotal experience? Join our discussion here.
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About