Signaling or human capital?

Is there any way to sustain the current revenue model of higher ed?  How about firefighters?  You can read this story as illustrating human capital theories of education, signaling theories, or both:

“We still put out fires with water,” said Deason, who is also a lieutenant and paramedic at a fire department in Homewood, Ala. But fire companies these days “need people who are a little more advanced with their education.”

As a result, college degrees that are not fire-related can also help. Deason and Crowther said fire departments increasingly want career employees who have strong critical thinking skills, and who can write grants or do public speaking, particularly as they progress to leadership roles.

Two other drivers of the growing higher education demand among firefighters are the recession and colleges’ online offerings. Purchasing and budget decisions are more important than ever, as most municipalities have tight finances. And financial and technical know-how helps when considering big expenses, like the $675,000 fire engine Deason said his company recently bought.

… In the future, he said advanced degrees will probably be an “absolute requirement” for most chief positions.


Volunteer Firefighting gets the job done.

I small communities with few fires, yes. So what?

I am in Maryland where there are many volunteer firehouses that are not serving small communities.

A. New York's volunteer fire fighters collectively made the worst fire fighting force in history. The biggest problem, among many, was that there was no central control and each fire house was entirely independent. Different houses would arrive at fires at roughly the same time and fight with one another for the right to fight the fire — while the building burned down. They replaced 40,000 volunteers with 1,000 professionals shortly after the Civil War and fire damage fell 80 percent. Relevant to modern life? Probably not. Funny story? Very much so.

B. Tyler needs to drop one of those poll devices into these posts more frequently so readers can vote for themselves and watch the tally.

Mmh, maybe fire-fighting is something I can do with my degree in philosophy:

I was a member of the volunteer fire brigade in my small village in Germany when I was 18 and once all the other firemen had had too much beer, so they asked me to drive the fire engine back to the station after a training day. Unfortunately, I smashed it into a fence when I tried to park in reverse.

My younger brother finished his degree in musical performance (violin) so he could apply for a full time fire fighting position. He is a paramedic with about five years as a volunteer, but he needed to have the check in the box.

I don't understand why this comment is the case, "But fire companies these days “need people who are a little more advanced with their education.” there any explanation? It just sounds like a baseless assertion. I can understand Chief's needing advanced degrees but must we groom every firefighter for this role?

Sounds like a convenient excuse to protect pensions.

By the way, my father is a firefighter and I have gone through Firefighter academy...

The dearieme in me says they are going to need smooth talkers. Grants?

My cousin after leaving the army worked as an oil furnace repairman in new england for a while and was a volunteer firefighter for the local firehouse in addition. He then decided that he wanted to become a fireman full time for the larger firehouse a town over. He is a large man 6'4" probably 250lbs, built like a lobsterman, and was able to pass all of the physical tests given to him including the CPR and first aid with no problem. The problem was that an additional written test was required to be considered for the job. He was unable to perform adequately on this test and thus never was never able to advance any further. The man can rebuild and engine, take apart a furnace and put it back together, but if you ask him to take a test on either of those two tasks he will not pass.

I understand the need for critical thinking in many cases, but if my house is on fire and I am trapped inside it, I would hope to see my cousin over anybody else bursting though that door as I know he will be able to handle the task, written test or not.

In Australia firefighting is a genuine social capital activity. I'm not sure the lessons necessarily *generalize* well to economics and education. I also agree with the other commenter who did not think a university degree is necessary for emergency get-to-it firefighting. In fact if there is a general lesson it's about not letting further education get too high and mighty.

"Deason and Crowther said fire departments increasingly want career employees who have strong critical thinking skills, and who can write grants or do public speaking, particularly as they progress to leadership roles."

When people need mandarins its usually a symptom of rent seeking.

The harder it is to fire a firefighter, the more weight I would put on signaling.

Signaling should be most important in fields where the cost of turnover is the highest, either for fundamental reasons or for distortions like unions. Otherwise the firm could simply learn about its employees and then only keep the good ones. If it can't do this, then a little signal can be very valuable for the employer.

I've spent a good portion of my life on a college campus. I've never seen anything like fire fighting, except for the occasional fire fighting. There is a lot of foosball going on.

Maybe you're just on the wrong campus. My undergrad had a little building that they used to study the effects of various types of fires on various types of home furnishings. For instance they would configure a room to be like the inside of a commercial office, or the bedroom of a trailer, and drop a cigarette on the floor and see what happened. They also ran drills for the firefighters, again tailored to the kind of fires & combustibles they'd be likely to see. It was maybe ten miles down the road in a less sparsely inhabited area (for obvious reasons) but you could see the smoke from on campus.

When is job training going to revert back to the employer? For generations it was typically the employer's responsibility. My father, for example, rose through the ranks of Dupont during the 40's-60's with only a high school degree. Dupont took on the responsibility of cultivating and encouraging internal talent in those days; when he earned a promotion that required greater training, they sent him off for coursework that Dupont arranged and paid for. By 1990- still with only an official High School degree- he had worked in production and lab testing for nearly every major Dupont project, and ended his career working in N. Korea and Mexico, helping to design new labs and organize startups. He never earned a college degree. And in those days he was far from the only one, either.
He told me he looked at Dupont ads and these days he wouldn't even be permitted to apply for his first job there.
Dupont: Better things for better living by offloading training to the employee.

Job training is still the primary responsibility of the employer. An undergraduate degree is not equivalent to buisiness training; more training is always required. Most large buisnesses do train their employees. However, the difference is the much greater pool of college graduates available today. Most large businesses could not have staffed all of their leadership positions from college grads in the 40's to 60's. There simply wasn't enough of them. Now, a college degree signals to the employer that one has developed critical thinking and communication skills beyond high school; skills which are necessary for effective leadership.
Selecting from a pool of college graduates is currently less risky than finding a talented high school graduate who forgoes college for industry.

Selecting from a pool of college graduates is currently less risky than finding a talented high school graduate who forgoes college for industry.,/em>
That may have been true at one time, but with, by some estimates, 70% of Americans attending college, how valuable is it now? I read constant complaints that colleges are offering remedial and "dumbed down" courses. Further, I would offer that a motivated high school graduate seeking self-supporting work in this era might actually be demonstrating a self-motivation missing from other candidates.
I also remain unconvinced that businesses are routinely offering meaningful training and advancement. If this is so, why the spike in laid-off older workers? When you invest and promote from within, you wind up with an older and more experienced workforce, but these workers seem to be the first on the chopping block right now.
I often wonder if things will begin to change because they have no option- fewer and fewer youngsters will muster the courage to undertake the debt required to complete schooling, and it may be that "unschooled" entreprenuers- like those promoted by Thiel- will eventually show another way.
I sometimes suspect that the rigid demand for a college degree- even to drive a taxi- might just be crushed out of existence between the outrageous cost of secondary education and the continuing collapse of hyper-leveraged business models.
The result could be a nimbler, far more flexible economy that responds faster and more efficiently to shifting demands.

Sorry for the poor formatting. Time for bed!

Whoops! Make that SOUTH Korea. Argh.

Neither signaling nor human capital in firefighting. They are hiring people who can successfully navigate the bureaucracy and media and bring them more government funds.

Signaling. The tipoff: Presuming that an entry-level firefighter needs a degree because he might become management.

Ding ding ding ding! We have a winner...

I did some firefighting training when I worked in a petrochemicals company. I can't recommend it too strongly. It was utterly exhilarating. I doubt that boring old house fires could compete, but I may well be wrong.

When you say the job title "firefighter," I think most people go to a place similar to Mark S above. But think about your job, and about how little of your job is actually spent doing what you "do." By Mark's logic, a High School band director doesn't need a college degree because the act of directing a band doesn't require very many of the things one learns in general education courses. Band directors could just go to a technical school for band directing. But, I think we all can understand that the actual act of leading a band and teaching kids about music constitutes a subset of the activities your average band teacher undertakes. They have to organize trips, manage fundraisers and budgets, deal with bureaucracy and administrative tasks, use many kinds of technology, etc.

Does fighting a fire require a college degree? No, of course not. But, while there is very little firefighting going on at college campuses for prospective firefighters to learn from, there are lots of other things they'll learn that could serve them well in the non-life-threatening parts of their jobs. Seems like common sense to me.

But, I think we all can understand that the actual act of leading a band and teaching kids about music constitutes a subset of the activities your average band teacher undertakes. They have to organize trips, manage fundraisers and budgets, deal with bureaucracy and administrative tasks, use many kinds of technology, etc.

And as far as I know, none of those latter things are taught in any of their college courses. What I hear you saying is that people who don't go to college just aren't smart enough to do them. That's signalling.

Steve Sailer explains exactly what is the underlying motivation for requiring a college degree for firefighting. It's an end run around reverse discrimination against whites. The courts find that the fact that whites score higher on the firefighter exams than blacks and Hispanics to be legally suspect and evidence of disparate impact; however the courts are highly deferential to an employer's decision to require a college degree. See:

Wait, so government bureaucrats with fancy hats and special trucks are now adopting the same barriers-to-entry that government bureaucrats without fancy hats and special trucks already employ?

Surprise, surprise.

Looks like the hardly ever fight a hardly ever fight a fire "firefighters" want to induce a shortage of doctoral degreed truck polishers. Obviously the " free market " solution is for higher starting wages, inducing requried wage and pension for the chiefs.
/sarcasm off

Signalling. College degrees allow fire departments to screen for IQ without getting sued.

This story has the cause and effect backwards, I think. What is going on is that firefighters is the one group in the public service that no one can say 'no' to--or their union--including arbitrators. Pay and benefits for firefighters have become so generous that huge queues of applicants appear for every vacancy. So degrees aren't "required" because the firefighter of today needs them, but because it is much easier to get firefighters who have them than was once the case.

I was a career fire fighter for over 20 years here in Melbourne , Australia. When I joined the job was run by old men who had worked their way through the ranks, I doubt if any of them had university degrees in any discipline. The equipment was primitive and the training tough and thorough and ongoing. Over the decades the department recruited many bright young (mainly) men, many of whom had degrees or the ability to get one. There was an upside and a downside to this. By the time I left we had amazing equipment. The tertiary educated managers had the skills to design, develop or purchase trucks and other gear that were extremely efficient at fire fighting. Three or four men and one of these trucks could do what would have taken three trucks and 10 men when I joined.
The downside - emphasis was given to recruiting people who had tertiary qualifications and good speaking skills as well as high levels of specific fitness eg being able to do a 'Shuttle Run' at a high level. No consideration was given to whether these people had the drive or the courage to do the hands on part of fire fighting. The training basically stopped when a fire fighter left the training college. The union was taken over by the same university educated people. The end result is a fire brigade with a large number of highly educated people who spend most of their day avoiding any work what so ever. They don't clean the stations any more (cleaners do that), they rarely do any on the job training. In fact most of them spend their time watching TV or in the gym (every station has a well equipped gym).

I have been to many jobs and have been the second or third truck on scene, there have been people trapped and yet by the time I have arrived no one is inside doing a search. They're all standing out the front jumping up and down and getting excited but few of the newer fire fighters seem to have any idea about how to actually get in and do the work. Health and safety rules haven't helped, fire fighters are not even permitted to get on the roof of their own trucks, as a result all the equipment that was once carried on the roof has had to be relocated, nobody was ever injured getting the equipment before but some university educated person thought it was unsafe and banned it.

The union in conjunction with the fire brigades managers have now managed to get some of the highest rates of pay and retirement plans in the country. The brigade management go through the motions of trying to fight increases in pay and conditions however as they all come under the same classifications as the fire fighters they get an increase when the fire fighters do. It's a big crooked club that doesn't do much work and what it does do it doesn't do particularly well, the takeover of the brigade by tertiary educated people has not been beneficial to the people it serves.

I would have put physical strength, bravery and teamwork as more important than a degree. They should make it a reserved occupation for veterans.

I like Steve Sailer's explanation:

"hiring and promoting firemen revolves around the never-ending lawsuits involving discrimination or reverse discrimination: Ricci, Vulcan Society, etc. This fact shouldn't be mysterious, because these lawsuits have been going on for 40 years. Big city newspapers have frontpage stories about these fireman and cop lawsuits several times per year.

Now, courts have gone back and forth on the disparate impact in hiring and promoting of testing knowledge of firefighting techniques. In Ricci, the Supreme Court said the city can't change the rules after the game has been played. But, but Judge Garaufnis's ruling in Vulcan Society in New York was super-fundamentalist about disparate impact.

In contrast to judges' uncertainty about employers' direct testing of relevant knowledge, courts over the decades have shown enormous deference to employers requiring college degrees."

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