When I first approached my MSc I thought attempting to focus on one type of hazard/threat would be my best option so that I could become a specialist in that field. In hindsight this was the wrong approach, since wherever and whoever you may work for in emergency/disaster management will undoubtedly not focus on just one hazard/threat. A better approach to begin with may be deciding on geographically where you would like to work. Each country/continent has different emergency management/disaster legislation they must adhere to, though there are some international benchmarks, frameworks and strategies (notably on disaster risk reduction, such as the Sendai one which replaced the Hyogo one at the United Nations level). Familiarising yourself with legislation and frameworks will be one of the keys to obtaining a job in this field. I opted to choose the UK as the geographical context I would like to work in simply because I am a UK citizen. Whether this is your choice too or whether somewhere further afield is, the principles within this blog should serve you well. Upon establishing that (it took me 2 months), I knew the best way to familiarise myself with the legislation and good practice was to ensure I focused all of my individual assessments in a UK context. This is where my Disaster Management and Sustainable Development MSc prepared me well: there is great flexibility within this course, meaning I was able to focus on a UK context throughout whilst choosing hazards/threats and other aspects of emergency/disaster management (concepts, policy and practice) that I was interested in. Going back to my earlier point, you should choose different hazards/threats to study as this widens your arsenal whilst keeping you interested. The modules with my MSc also allowed for this. For example, in the Disaster Risk Reduction and Response module I evaluated the UK disaster/emergency management legislation (The Civil Contingencies Act) in a flooding context, within the Health and Well-being module I honed in on terrorism by looking at response and recovery strategies, and the Integrated Emergency Management module enabled me to evaluate ways in which critical electrical infrastructure could be enhanced to prevent power outages. That is just an example of how I utilised my different interests to widen my knowledge on emergency/disaster management.
After establishing the geographical location you’re interested in and familiarising yourself with a range of hazards/threats I recommend you to begin to think about what type of organisation you (at least initially) want to work for, as all have different interests/objectives (though there are also some shared and overlapping ones). A good starting point is to think about organisations such as:
- Local Authorities/Governments
- Police Forces
- Fire and Rescue Services
- Ambulance Services
- Environmental Organisations
- Health Authorities
- Utility Organisations (Water, Electricity, Gas, Oil, Telecommunications)
- Transport Organisations (Rail Networks, Airports, Road Networks, Harbours)
- Weather Forecasting Centres/Organisations
- The Military
- Voluntary and Community Organisations
- Private Sector (Financial, Civil Engineering, Construction)
All of these are options for graduates of emergency/disaster management; depending on your own personal interests you should be able to find an industry you would like to work within. From the moment you decide on this, whether that is on day 1 of the course or the day you have to choose your dissertation topic, make sure to take a focus on future assessments relevant to that industry’s perspective as their objectives will help shape your knowledge around that industry.
At this stage, you should have geographical location you would like to work within and an industry. Next is the biggest and most important. Any academic course provides great insight into disaster/emergency management but to stand out from other graduates you really should have done some voluntary/part time/internship/placement work with an organisation in the industry by the end of your course. This is a difficult process in itself but there are organisations on your doorstep willing to take you in. I volunteered at Newcastle City Council with the emergency planning team 1 day a week which provided me with vast knowledge as I attended meetings, exercises, and conferences, all thanks to them. Make sure you approach organisations to offer your services, and this can in part be done when representatives of those organisations give guest / visiting lectures on the programme. To sell your service you may want to consider offering to complete an MSc dissertation around a topic on their behalf. This should sell you to them whilst also giving you an industry related project to display in job interviews and applications. When I began applying for advertised local authority resilience officer jobs, the experience and work I had done for Newcastle City Council got me to the interview stage every time as it made me stand out. Volunteering also gave me the opportunity to conduct a work related dissertation for which Newcastle City Council gave me contacts into the industry for interviews which also meant I could network, this is huge when breaking into any industry. My dissertation title, developed in conjunction with Newcastle City Council’s Resilience team and my MSc course lecturers, was titled ‘Adapting to Changing Terror and Security Threats: Analysis of Newcastle upon Tyne’s Counter Terrorism Strategies’. In light of recent events in Manchester 2017, Newcastle City Council were keen to establish their current position on counter terrorism and how changing terror and security threats have been impacted this.
Upon doing all of this, I began to apply for resilience officer posts around the UK. Good places to start are looking at websites such as Indeed and The Emergency Planning Society but tutors, careers service and course colleagues from the university and volunteering will help to post you in the right direction also. Having a well-recognised MSc and voluntary experience meant I got through all of the application stages. I got to interviews and experienced different processes. In one interview a written test was required, in another I was bombarded with questions and for the another I was required to deliver a presentation. This shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to an MSc student though as you will have recognised that these are all in fact different assessment types you have experienced. I was unsuccessful in a number of interviews, my lack of industry experience in comparison to other (more experienced and older) applicants being the main reason amongst others, such as nervousness (which reduces with interview job interview experience, however). I kept thinking that the emergency/disaster management industry only wanted more experienced individuals as not many graduate programs are available (the graduate programs I am aware of that are available to graduates are: National Grid’s Safety, Sustainability & Resilience Program/Aecom and Arup’s Strategic Consultancy, Flood Risk and Environmental Consultancy Programs/Shell’s Sustainability Program) . Again, I was wrong: there are a vast amount of organisations wanting and willing to take on graduates as we provide enthusiasm, new knowledge, and can be moulded into their ideal employee. The one thing I can’t recommend enough when applying for jobs is to not get down about unsuccessful attempts, recognise where you can improve and most importantly be RESILIENT.
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