In an exclusive excerpt from his article in the current issue of FIRE Magazine, Simon Cable, Senior Lecturer University of Central Lancashire looks into the benefits of university programmes developing potentially high-quality leaders of the future. To read this article in full,click here to subscribe. 

There have been a plethora of reports on the issue of leadership within the UK Fire and Rescue Service, indicating that more emphasis needs to be placed on developing first class leaders and managers. The Home Office Inspectorate at the time stated: 'There is a need to create a robust and recognisable means of ensuring that the Service can produce and develop its leaders of the future'.

This was just one comment of many which have highlighted the need for recruitment and development strategies which will provide the very best leaders and managers for the Service. Whilst few within the Service would disagree with the above sentiment it is important to qualify some of the modernisation hysteria which was generated post firefighter dispute.

Single Tier Entry 

It became fashionable to criticise anything that had gone before. In a sense the prophecy was self-fulfilling and it became a bit like the 'emperors new clothes' where the more radical the comment the more kudos it gained. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, the UK Fire and Rescue Service threw the baby out with the bath water in an attempt to prove just how modernising it could be. There was much to be said for the core progression structure of the day and anybody who knows anything about the Fire Service will agree that it produced some excellent leaders.

Graduate Shortage 

The now repealed Fire Service (Appointments and Promotion) Regulations (1999) required no external qualifications to join a FRS. Individuals had only to demonstrate that they were capable of passing various physical and relatively simple educational tests. Due to high numbers of recruits, physical tests were seen as an opportunity to carry out a de-selection process in order to reduce the number of applicants. 

Candidates were tested to their physical limits causing the weaker members to withdraw from the process. This may have been an effective way of recruiting recruits with a high level of fitness but may have impeded certain individuals with leadership qualities. Contrary to other emergency services, Fire Service applicants must achieve the required fitness levels necessary before entering the initial training process.

A governmental review in 2003 found that only two per cent of those employed within the FRS were graduates compared to 25 per cent within the Police Service (HMSO, 2003). This should have caused a concern for FRAs as the FRS recruitment and selection process may have been a deterrent for highly qualified individuals with potential leadership qualities.

Clearly the complexity of demands placed on a senior officer today does require a much broader skill-set if that person is to be effective in the role. There will always be those persons recruited through the front door who will aspire and achieve promotion to senior positions, and it is important that this opportunity is not lost for those inclined to do so. It is about having a broad-based workforce development strategy where you give yourself the best chance of attracting the right talent.

Subscribe to the June issue of FIRE for the full article. 

Photo: The University of Central Lancashire offers bespoke undergraduate degrees in support of Fire Service graduate entry schemes 

Posted July 11th, 2012 at 1155 by Andrew. Comment by emailing andrew.lynch@pavpub.com