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Opinion: Market’s ripe for career changes

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

Looking for a career change?

Firefighting could be in your future.

Might sound drastic, I know. But given the current workforce environment and a new federal apprenticeship program, such a career shift is not far-fetched.

For starters, it’s an employee’s market. I keep hearing it. There’s been a noticeable shift of power. I’m beginning to feel it.

Employees can be choosier – who they want to work for, where they want to work, when they want to work.

And that includes what industry they choose. It seems the time is ripe for career changes.

Enter the Springfield Fire Department.

The city has just entered an apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor. It’s a recruitment tool to build the force and a professional development incentive.

Kudos to the SFD. It’s the first fire department in the state to participate in the DOL apprenticeship program, according to city officials.

The DOL and city are proving apprenticeships are not just for the private sector. In this case, firefighters in training earn credit toward a portable credential, while getting paid in the fire academy.

Step 1 pay for city firefighters and police officers is roughly $36,500. The scale goes up to Step 13 at nearly $58,000. Should you want to become a fire equipment operator or rescue specialist, you can earn up to nearly $65,000, according to city materials.

The SFD has registered 46 firefighters as apprentices in their new program. The program consists of 6,000 hours of on-the-job training for firefighters new to the fire service.

So that’s one option for changing careers. Let your imagination or desire to reinvent yourself take it from here.

But I must warn about something I’ve learned from the Harvard Business Review. It’s called liminality – the existence between the familiarity of a former job and the uncertainty of future work.

The HBR author, Herminia Ibarra, a professor at the London Business School, cautions that this work shift will certainly create an unpleasant emotional state. After studying career change for two decades – including the dot-com boom and bust, and the 2008 financial crisis – Ibarra suggests to stay with it despite the emotional strain.

“This fraught stage is a necessary part of the journey, because it allows you to process a lot of complex emotions and conflicting desires, and ultimately prevents you from shutting down prematurely and missing better options that still lie ahead,” Ibarra writes in the HBR article, “Reinventing Your Career in the Time of Coronavirus.”

Ibarra offers these quick tips during that uneasy liminal time:

  1. Do something on the side. Continue to cultivate knowledge, skills, resources and relationships. It’ll keep things stable under your feet as you walk the new journey.
  2. Develop many possible selves. Think of the long-standing investment advice about diversifying your portfolio. It applies here, at a time of career exploration. You are the portfolio. Think about who you want to become and keep many options on the table.
  3. Make use of your “dormant ties” – those one-time close relationships that have grown distant over time or space. Ibarra recommends thinking back at least three years and reconnecting with those in that network. Why? For one, there’s no perceptions of weak or strong ties that carry their own issues. More importantly, studies have shown rekindling those relationships have proven to be more valuable and novel for work interests.

With so much in life shaken up these past two years, the future of our work is in our hands. Choose wisely and adventurously.

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Vice President Eric Olson can be reached at


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