The fire and emergency service landscape
Emergency service providers and agencies are an important part of the Australian community. We take a broad view of the emergency service landscape to include dedicated agencies such as fire, police, ambulance and state emergency service, as well as those that provide an emergency service function, for example land management agencies and their paid and volunteer work forces. The emergency service landscape is complex (Government Skills Australia, 2014a). This complexity can be seen both in terms of its make-up (different and disparate services and agencies), the environment in which it operates and the sorts of job tasks and roles that are performed. Responding to emergency events is a well-recognised activity of emergency service, but importantly so too are prevention and preparedness activities that are aimed at building capacity in individuals and, more broadly, the community. The complex nature of the environment requires a highly-trained and responsive workforce (Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council [AFAC], 2013; Government Skills Australia, 2014b). Traditionally this training has been located in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector.
Education and training within the fire and emergency service discipline is largely conducted through Enterprise Registered Training Organisation (RTO) arrangements. However, RTO operation is not the core business of the service, rather it is constituted in order to provide initial and continuing professional development training to employees (Enterprise Registered Training Organisation Association [ERTOA], 2012). The qualification types and levels currently delivered in the discipline are typically drawn from the lower end of the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF). Typically these span AQF Level 2 (Certificate II) to AQF Level 5 (Diploma) with some AQF Level 6 (Advanced Diploma) qualifications delivered. As the AQF takes a continuum approach, Level 1 represents the lowest complexity, AQF Level 10 the highest. A Bachelor Degree is AQF Level 7 (AQF Council, 2013).
Australia’s VET system plays a pivotal role in skilling our national workforce and preparing workers. The sector is strongly linked to the workforce, the industry context and the communities in which it serves (Industry Skills Council, 2014). Content of training in the VET sector is regulated via National Industry Training Packages that are based on demands from within the various industries served. These packages have and will continue to serve the emergency service sector well. However, as we have seen in a range of other industry sectors, as the complexity of the environment increases, the education of its workforce needs to keep pace. For many professions that has included a shift to higher education qualifications, particularly the AQF Level 7 Bachelor Degree.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC, n.d.) recently highlighted articulation arrangements between VET and Higher Education (HE) and professional development pathways from current VET to HE as an emerging industry need. AFAC has recognised that graduates from Bachelor degrees can make a significant and very real contribution to the National Principles for Fire and Emergency Services and their overarching concern for contributing to safer and more resilient communities. The CQUniversity Fire and Emergency Service Industry Partnership and the resulting BEmergServ have been developed on a foundational philosophy of building safer and more resilient communities. Development efforts were also cognizant of the underpinning strategic directions of AFAC (2013) and therefore its emergency service stakeholders, including: 1) supporting resilient communities through risk reduction; 2) providing trusted response; 3) being the source of credible and timely information; 4) effective governance and resource management; and 5) being informed by research. These underpinnings position the qualification as industry relevant and its graduates as potential leaders in the emergency service and broader community.