Protective Service Careers: Education Requirements and Job Info

Oct 02, 2019

Protective service careers include police, firefighters and correctional guards. A high school diploma is required to begin a career in protective service. Police must complete academy training, while firefighters typically screen candidates with drug, written and physical tests and train successful applicants.

Essential Information

The role of those in protective service careers is to maintain the safety of citizens and property in a variety of settings and situations. Career options in protective service include police officer, firefighter and corrections officer. Many people who work in this field are employed by the federal, state or local government. While most positions need only a high school diploma, college degrees and additional training may be required for advancement.

Career Police Officer Firefighter Correctional Guard
Required Education High school diploma High school diploma High school diploma
Other Requirements Academy training Apprenticeship & exam Training & certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 5% 5% 7% decline
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $61,380 $49,620 $44,330

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Police Officer

Education Requirements

While education requirements may vary by state, most states require a high school diploma to become a police officer. In some jurisdictions, further preparation such as earning an associate's degree, sitting for a state licensing exam or taking a civil service test may be necessary. Police officers typically participate in police academy and on-the-job training where skills acquired include self-defense and firearms use, first aid training and investigative methods. Aspiring police officers also learn how to patrol on foot and in squad cars. They practice how to direct traffic. They also gain an understanding of how to apply and enforce state laws, local laws and the U.S. Constitution.

Many agencies encourage their employees to take continuing education classes or enroll in associate's or bachelor's degree programs. Degree programs relevant to police work include law enforcement, political science and criminal justice. Classes may cover criminal investigation, psychology and community relations.

Job Information

Police officers respond to calls for assistance from the community and cite citizens who have broken laws. Police work can involve pursuing and apprehending suspected criminals. Officers also patrol neighborhoods, direct traffic, investigate crimes and enforce traffic laws. Police officers may also have to testify in court.

One can find jobs in law enforcement at the local, state and federal levels. Officers may specialize in one particular type of police work. Positions similar to police officers include game wardens, investigators and state troopers.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted in 2018 that police and sheriff's patrol officers could look forward to five percent growth in employment opportunities for the period 2018-2028 ( In 2018, the BLS reported that police and sheriff's patrol officers earned a median annual salary of $61,380.


Education Requirements

Firefighters usually need a high school diploma, though an advanced degree may be preferred and even required for promotions. Some fire departments offer apprenticeships. Aspiring fire fighters need to pass written, physical and medical examinations, including drug screening. Newly-hired firefighters receive extensive training; topics covered include emergency first aid, rescue operations and how to use firefighting equipment.

Both undergraduate and graduate degrees in fire engineering and fire safety are available. Students take general courses in physics, mathematics and chemistry. Specialized classes may include fluid mechanics, fire mechanics, fire modeling and smoke detection systems. Many firefighters are required by their employer to be certified as emergency medical technicians, though some employers include this certification process in their initial training program.

Job Information

Firefighters extinguish fires, perform rescue operations and serve as first responders to a variety of other kinds of emergencies; for example, they often provide medical care at the site of a traffic accident. They may suffer workplace injury due to burning buildings or hazardous materials exposure. Work shifts can be long and irregular. Firefighters are generally promoted through a series of examinations. Promotions often lead to supervisory or administrative positions.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Firefighters could expect employment growth of five percent from 2018-2028, reported the BLS, although strong competition for positions is anticipated. The agency also reported in 2018 that firefighters earned a median annual salary of $49,620.

Correctional Guard

Education Requirements

A high school degree is typically the minimum educational requirement to become a correctional guard; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), federal correctional guards must have a bachelor's degree, a minimum of relevant experience or a combination of both, while state guards may need college experience or in some cases, as an alternative, military experience, depending on the state. Acceptable areas of postsecondary study include sociology, psychology, counseling or law enforcement.

Correctional guards receive initial academy training in topics such as prison policies, law enforcement procedures, firearms and self-defense followed up by on-the-job training. With experience and positive evaluations, correctional guards can move into supervisory and then administrative positions. Apprenticeship and certificate programs in correctional work are also available, and may combine classroom instruction with work at a prison facility. Some academic programs prepare graduates for required state certification; in other states, graduates will need to take a civil service exam to qualify for employment as a correctional guard.

Job Information

Correctional guards usually monitor prison inmates. Responsibilities include maintaining order, preventing violence and inspecting facilities. Transportation of inmates between the correctional facility and other sites, like court, may also be required. Guards may also enforce discipline and resolve prisoner disputes. Since prison security is needed at all times, guards generally work rotating shifts. To become a correctional guard, one must be a U.S. citizen in good health with no felony convictions.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS reports that correctional officers could expect job decline at a rate of seven percent between 2018 and 2028. As of May 2018, correctional officers and jailers earned a median annual wage of $44,330, according to the BLS.

Although a degree is not required for a career in protective services, completing postsecondary studies may help increase job prospects for those pursuing work as a police officer, firefighter or correctional guard. The primary goal of these professionals is to ensure the safety of property and citizens, and on-the-job or academy training is required.

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