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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Walker, D., "Engineering jobs tough to fill, Manpower finds," Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, May 28, 2009.
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