Emergency services and armed forces: career FAQs

Graduate careers in emergency services and armed forces: getting a job, applications, working life and salaries.

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How can I get a job in emergency services and armed forces?

All of the organisations in this sector recruit annually and directly, so the relevant website should be your first research point. Entry is very competitive and, as with any career, work experience is an ideal way to get both a taste for the career and to improve your chances of success. You can gain relevant experience from volunteering with organisations such as the Civil Defence Auxiliary Fire Service, the Reserve Defence Forces, Territorial Army (Northern Ireland), Mountain Rescue or the Lifeboat Service. There are opportunities for part-time policing in Ireland, north and south. There are also the Territorial Army and Army reserves for those interested in gaining experience in the defence forces. As with any career, work experience is an ideal way to get a taste for the career of your choice.

What are the different areas of work?

In the Republic of Ireland, the emergency services consist of An Garda Siochana, the ambulance service and the fire service. The armed forces are known as the Defence Forces and comprise of the army, air corps and naval service. While the scale of the Defence Forces is small compared to the UK, it does have an active role internationally and is regarded as a well equipped, highly professional force by its counterparts. It has a long established tradition of involvement in UN and NATO peacekeeping and peace support operations.

In Northern Ireland, the emergency services are the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Ambulance Service of Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade. The armed forces opportunities are far greater in the north than the south because there is access to the British Army, Navy and Air force. These are far bigger forces and far more active internationally due to the scale of the UK's military resources.

What’s involved in the application process?

There is usually quite a long application process. Because these organisations undertake an extensive training commitment to new recruits, they spend a lot of time ensuring that they are recruiting the correct people. The typical stages include:

  • Completing an application form (a CV is rarely requested)
  • A general interview
  • Assessment/aptitude tests – these usually include verbal, numerical, spatial and mechanical reasoning
  • A personality questionnaire
  • Second round interviews
  • Medical and reference checks.

When should I apply?

The dates can vary for recruitment but they will be clearly publicised on the relevant web sites and in the national press – you have to keep an eye out. The Defence Forces in the Republic of Ireland tend to recruit in January/February every year.

When should I apply?

Cadetship competitions for the Irish Defence Forces commence in the first half of each year, generally between January and May. You'll need to get your application in before this time.

If you wish to enter the British army you should contact the regional recruit office and request an information pack. There are several deadlines throughout the year depending on the region you would like to work in.

Recruitment for emergency medical technicians and the fire service are all year, depending on what posts arise. Vacancies are posted through the normal routes for the civil service.

What qualifications and skills do I need?

These sectors focus far more on the key skills required to be successful rather than on formal academic qualifications. So, while a degree is advantageous, it is by no means a requirement as extensive training is also provided.

The key skills include:

  • Planning and organising/prioritising
  • Problem solving and decision making – often in pressurised situations
    information management – absorbing information and targeting relevant content
  • Communication skills – working within a team environment
  • Capacity to lead/supervise as your career progresses.

It is also necessary to be mentally and physically resilient. The defence forces (the army, navy and air corp) require all candidates to undertake a rigorous physical assessment. If you apply to the police forces you will also find that the selection process tests physical and mental stamina and there is a protracted training period.

To enter the ambulance service you will either need a degree geared towards paramedic health services, or you will need to train as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and work your way up to paramedic from there. In Dublin the fire service also run the emergency ambulance in the city and now have Advanced Paramedics working within the system. Elsewhere, Ambulance Services are run by the Health Service Executive. You can undertake a seven-week EMT course once you have entered the service. Graduate engineers, surveyors and architects are often recruited into the position of fire prevention officers, whose role is to survey buildings and ensure adherence to fire and safety regulations.

What are the opportunities for professional development?

Within these sectors, practical, skills-based training is undertaken on an ongoing basis. Some people pursue a business/management career as they move up through the ranks of the armed forces, where they focus on developing their strategic, financial or management ability.

Applicants to the defence forces can apply for graduate cadetships. Once you have completed the training programme you can move up the ranks.

What are the salaries in emergency services and armed forces?

In the Republic of Ireland, for the army (cadetships) and police, after the initial training period, earnings start at around €28,000. However, ambulance service personnel usually earn less than this. All of these salaries are within clearly defined pay scales and take-home earnings can be increased as a result of overtime, night duty, shift allowances etc. Northern Ireland armed forces salaries are on an entry scale of between £15,000– £20,000.

What is working life like?

Shift hours are the norm throughout these sectors and this requires flexibility. The working environment is very ‘hands on’: there are relatively few roles which are desk based. International travel can be a requirement. When people are interested in these sectors usually they ‘buy in’ to the working conditions as they are an integral aspect of the job.

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