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Fire Protection Engineering Profession Weathering Economic Storm
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From the Technical Director
Fire Protection Engineering Profession Weathering Economic Storm

By Morgan J. Hurley, P.E. | Fire Protection Engineering

The global economy is in its worst condition in decades. In most developed countries, the gross domestic products are very low, and the unemployment rates are very high. Unemployment is particularly high among people younger than 30; the unemployment rate in this demographic is in the double digits in the United States.

Most professional fields have been buffeted by the current economic conditions. However, the engineering profession is doing remarkably well. Manpower Inc., a global recruiting firm, states that engineering jobs are the toughest to fill in the United States.1 Jonas Prising, president of the Americas for Manpower, said that "despite the current economic instability and high unemployment, there are still skills that the U.S. workforce seems to lack." Fire protection engineering is one of the skills that employers have a hard time finding.


The Society of Fire Protection Engineers conducts an annual survey of major employers of fire protection engineers to gauge employment trends. This year, 56 employers responded to the survey. Almost one-half of all respondents, 46%, indicated that the current economic slowdown has not affected their decision to hire additional fire protection engineers. Over the last year, 59% of the respondents attempted to hire a fire protection engineer. Similarly, half of the respondents anticipate hiring a fire protection engineer within the next year, and 88% foresee that they will need to hire additional fire protection engineers within the next five years.


Over one-half of the employers who tried to recruit fire protection engineers experienced difficulties finding a suitable candidate. The median length of time that it took to fill a fire protection engineering vacancy was four months, and many employers have been unsuccessful for over 12 months in finding someone suitable.


The top reason that employers cited for difficulty in filling a fire protection engineering vacancy was that there were no qualified applicants within their geographic area. A continuing challenge for all fire protection engineering employers is that there are a limited number of schools that teach fire protection engineering, and qualified candidates tend to be located near those schools.


Many fire protection engineering employers are resorting to a long-standing method of filling fire protection engineering positions: hiring engineers with degrees in other disciplines and teaching them on the job. Indeed, people with degrees in fire protection engineering are in the minority in the field, accounting for only about 40% of all fire protection engineers. The availability of distance-learning graduate programs makes teaching engineers from other disciplines easier.


A positive development is the potential to start a fire protection engineering program at California Polytechnic Institute. The school administration is keenly interested and has recently hired seasoned professor and past SFPE president Fred Mowrer on a part-time basis to help them get started. Since employers on the west coast of the U.S. have always had challenges finding fire protection engineers, the program at Cal Poly will be a boon to these employers once it is up and running.


That there are more fire protection engineering jobs than engineers to fill them has always been a blessing and a curse for the profession. It is a blessing in that individual engineers generally do not have a problem finding employment. The curse is that some employers hire people who are not qualified and do not make an effort to educate the engineers, and these unqualified engineers can create a negative impression of the profession.


The Society of Fire Protection Engineers will continue to help bring more fire protection engineers into the field. The Chemistry of Fire teaching kit, which was sent to every high school in the U.S. and New Zealand, will expose many promising students to the field. SFPE's public awareness efforts will also expose people to the benefits of the profession. Additionally, SFPE will continue to promote fire protection engineering programs, such as the one starting at Cal Poly.



  1. Walker, D., "Engineering jobs tough to fill, Manpower finds," Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, May 28, 2009.
Society of Fire Protection Engineers Fire Protection Engineering welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to or by mail to Fire Protection Engineering, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., #620E, Bethesda, MD 20814.
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