For Steve Kirkham, Apprentice Manager with Essex County Fire and Rescue, working with apprentices gives him great pride and job satisfaction – “I have always enjoyed working in the training and development section. Working with apprentices and watching the development of all abilities is a wonderful part of my job. By the end, each apprentice is seen to be a new colleague and friend”. Essex County Fire and Rescue has almost 100 colleagues completing an apprenticeship at any one time.
Like for all apprenticeships, operational firefighters look to develop their knowledge, skills and behaviours throughout their training, and training is, for the most part, on-the-job, meaning you earn while you learn. That said, Steve’s experience has been that “apprentice firefighters are often naturally very practical and they excel generally in many areas”. He goes on to say that “the key skills they learn and build are the communication skills needed to be able to feel confident in a professional discussion, and those are included as part of their final assessments”.
Operational Firefighter End-Point Assessment
At the end of their apprenticeship, all apprentices in England take an End-Point Assessment. For Steve, this is the best part – “the final passing of all our apprentices at the End-Point Assessment is a fantastic occasion, and we are all very proud of their achievements”. End-Point Assessments for Operational Firefighter Apprentices typically involve a multiple-choice knowledge test, a day-long practical observation on the job and an hour-long professional discussion, where the apprentice has the opportunity to speak professionally about what they have learned during the past 24-30 months.
Career prospects once qualified
Once fully trained, firefighters typically go on to have varied and highly rewarding careers within teams that strive for excellence on a daily basis. Fully qualified firefighters earn an average salary of between £23,800 and £39,300, and apprentices are also eligible to become professionally registered with the Institution of Fire Engineers at Technician Level. As of March 2020, there were just over 32,000 firefighters in total across all the services in England with opportunities available all over the country – and the proportion of new joiners to the service has been increasing every year for the past five years, with an ever-increasing diversity across characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and age.
Fire services typically support employees to plan their future careers and further development opportunities. At Essex County Fire and Rescue, “The apprenticeship is now fully embedded within the development phase and also the promotional process, which is portfolio and development based. Apprentices now have that pathway open to them when they decide the time is right, and this provides them with ready tailored and topical content”. For those wishing to work their way up through the ranks, with further training, development, and experience, new roles can be applied for, such as crew managers, watch managers, station managers and even as area managers.