Monday, December 6, 2010

Déjà Vu

With all the talk of tightening budgets and program cuts, I’m taken back to a time not so long ago when I began my career as a seasonal employee. The year was 1984 (okay so it is a few years back) and the fiscal climate was much the same as it is now.

It was a time when climbing up the chain was a distant, if not impossible, undertaking. Budgets were tight and management focused on workforce development with the talk of a more “professional” firefighting force. We again face tightening budgets and program cuts and wonder how we will face the seasons ahead.

At the time, transferring from the local unit was about the only way to acquire a permanent position or even advance in the organization. Needless to say, turnover was low and changes in management and leadership were rare.

Flash forward: Transferring is still a good method of moving up the ladder; however, slumping housing markets and a struggling economy make it difficult for employees to transfer to other locations. Many will suffer large losses in trying to sell their home—making the lure of an upgrade or permanent position less appealing. The bottom line doesn’t support a move.

Managers encouraged employees to get a bachelor’s degree—it didn’t matter what type. They believed that any degree would do. The ability to analyze and synthesize information and make decisions were key skills.

Flash forward: Movements within our culture to create a “professional” firefighting force established that the degrees of choice were in biological sciences, agriculture, or natural resource management sciences.

History repeats itself and members of the wildland fire community need to become masters of their destiny and do what they must to build themselves in today’s unstable climate.

Joe Fontiera and Dan Leidl in “Curing Mid-Level Syndrome” provide some advice about growth in such a climate. Topics include:

  1. Seek out someone to mentor
  2. Inventory your values and behaviors
  3. What's your philosophy?
  4. Escape your comfort zone
  5. Grow outside

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