Tornado and lightning bolt. Original attribution and © unknown

It isn’t a new problem, by any stretch. In fact, general, the experience conundrum has been a problem for many fields for least the last 15 years. Its well nigh impossible to get a job in such and such a field or doing such and such work without multiple years of experience as well as a Bachelor’s degree. But how do you get experience if you can’t get a job?

There are two or three common answers, all of which are unrealistic, particularly when changing fields in general and win the modern economy in particular. What are these common answers? I’ve collected a few thoughts about them.The first and most common suggestion is to volunteer your services with the local emergency manager. Great! But the hiring managers want 3-5 YEARS of experience with progressive responsibility. Not much volunteer work comes with responsibility, particularly on a long-term basis. Most volunteer work takes place during normal business hours, during the week. However, my landlord wants me to pay rent, the utilities need to stay on, and I have a powerful need to eat once in a while. Volunteering, by it’s very nature, doesn’t pay, so I’d need to have another job on top of the volunteer service. Remember that normal business hours thing? That leaves weekends and evenings to get a paying job. Most of evening and weekend jobs pay barely above minimum wage, are part time, and have inconsistent scheduling. This makes for small paychecks. All of this is assuming that you can get a volunteer gig AND a cooperative job. And there’s that sleep thing that takes time, too.

Ok, volunteering is not a viable option. Get an internship! Again, that depends on being able to find an available internship position. Hopefully, the internship is paid, because the landlord, the utilities, and the stomach all want their 30 pieces of silver every month. If you happen to be in less than a major city, it’s highly possible that the local EM is only part-time himself, as an adjunct responsibility in addition to his “regular” job in the community.

The third common answer that I’ve seen is to get a start in response and move into emergency management once you get the experience in response. Not everyone wants to be a cop, a firefighter, an EMT/paramedic. Lots of people don’t want to be those at all. I happen to want to be an EMT, but around here, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a half dozen licensed EMTs looking for work. Most of those are trying to get into fire, where their heart is, and only take EMT jobs as a stepping stone to get into a department. What’s more, there is a growing contingent of formally educated emergency managers, and a lot of research suggesting that response-to-EM growth is sub-optimal for the community. Response is only one part of what is called the “emergency management cycle” but it is the exciting and visible part, so everybody thinks that it’s the biggest and most important part. There is some debate as to whether this is the case or not. Consider that adage about everything looking like a nail when your only tool is a hammer.

I’m at a loss. I want a job in community EM, but I’d be happy to work in the private sector, as well. I just want to put my degree (soon to be multiple degrees) to work in a field that I have a passion for. I spent almost 20 years doing something that I didn’t love, now its time for something else.

Anybody have any ideas? I’m more than happy to relocate to anywhere in the US.