I was watching TV the other day and saw a commercial for Brandman University, a part of the Chapman University system. The man featured in the commercial was a fireman. His story was that he joined the fire department right out of high school and worked his way up the ranks over the years. He’d been in some 30 years or something like that, and ran into trouble moving up further, to Chief.
Then he went to Brandman and is now Fire Chief for Glendale (California) Fire Department. I think that’s the fire department; whatever city it is, it’s a small city in Southern California.
None of that is really the point though. I was struck by the idea that it took the man getting his BA/BS before he could become chief.
30 years or so on the job and it took a degree to get into administration. That struck me as more than a little off.
Before you ask, no, this isn’t about me and my qualifications; I have enough paper that education is never an issue for getting a job. It’s about the idea that a degree better qualifies someone for a job than however many years on the job.
Some jobs you do want education: I don’t want my physician to only have his/her high school diploma (or even a B.S. in biology or physiology or whatever). I don’t think someone who works as a plumber is qualified to do taxes professionally, unless she/he has some specialized training. I have no experience as a carpenter so you wouldn’t want me to do your finish carpentry just because I have a few framed degrees on my walls.
Maybe it’s different in fire departments (or police departments) in that at the admin level folks all have years on the job. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe he went up against someone who also had 3 decades of experience but had the degree. All things being equal, that might make a difference in hiring decisions.
But still it seems a little strange that it’s that sheepskin that puts the man over the top. Never mind the years of faithful service, the commendations, the stellar job performance reviews; it’s that blasted piece of paper hanging, forgotten, on the wall.
When I drew up job specs a few years ago, I was trying to help the people in the department get raises. For some reason, requiring a college degree make a job seem more “professional” and valuable, in terms of pay. So I plopped “BA” into the specs, along with an “or 3-5 years experience” so that the folks I worked with could be grandfathered in and get the raises they deserved.
We never hired anyone with a degree (they didn’t apply to be honest). But it was there so that we could jump pay grades and get up to the market rate for the positions. I had to break through Corporate’s bias about the job classification.
It would’ve been wrong to require the degree to get the job, just as it was for the Glendale Fire Chief.
Degrees don’t make someone better qualified for a job, especially when they’ve been doing the work for literally decades. We need to lose the bias.
Not everyone has the opportunity to go to college. Some have to support their families as quickly as possible, others simply can’t afford it; still others (probably wisely) don’t want to borrow the thousands it takes to get the degree. So, based on the American Dream, they plow ahead expecting that diligent work, years of experience will make a difference.
It’s pretty sad that it doesn’t seem to, isn’t it?