How do I get into working for the emergency services?

How do I get into working for the emergency services?
Find out how to get into working for the ambulance or fire and rescue services, the police force or in emergency planning.

Quick links for this article

Ambulance service Police force Fire and rescue service Emergency planning

Employment in the emergency services is typically on a local basis, whether it’s with your local NHS ambulance service trust, police force, fire brigade or local authority. A degree is not a standard requirement in this area, but there are good career options for graduates. Qualification requirements tend to vary across the country and some roles do not have a fixed minimum level of educational qualifications.

How do I get into working with the ambulance service?

Your route into working with the ambulance service depends on what you want to do and where. Some positions are open to non-graduates but you will only be considered for others if you have a suitable degree. You can find out more about this from our advice on getting into a career with the emergency services without a degree.

There are two routes to qualifying as a paramedic. Some ambulance service trusts are approved to provide training, which means you could get a student paramedic position and learn on the job. Alternatively, you can go to university to study paramedic science and then apply for jobs. A number of universities have been approved to offer courses in paramedic science leading to a diploma, foundation degree or BSc honours degree, and this is increasingly being established as the main route into the profession.

Either way, it’s essential that the training you undertake is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), as this is a requirement for the HCPC registration you need to work unsupervised as a paramedic.

Entry requirements vary for paramedic science courses at university, but you’re likely to need a minimum of five GSCEs, including English, maths and/or a science, and two A levels. You’ll also need a full manual driving licence. You can find out more about paramedic science courses and the funding arrangements for them from our advice on what you should study at university if you want a career in the emergency services.

Emergency care assistants do not need to meet any set educational requirements, but you'll usually need around three GCSEs, NVQs or equivalent and have a good level of numeracy and literacy. Successful applicants then take a six to nine-week in-service training course that includes assessments and written practical examinations. Successful trainees are then attached to an ambulance station where they work under supervision until they have passed a probationary period. An emergency care assistant can progress to apply for an approved paramedic science degree or paramedic training, leading to registration as a paramedic.

All ambulance service trusts in England and Wales advertise on the NHS Jobs website.

How do I get into working for the police?

There is no standard national minimum academic requirement for joining the police. You’ll need to be at least 18 and you’ll have to pass a fitness test. You can only apply to one force at a time. If you are aged between 13 and 18, you can find out more about what it would be like to become a police officer by joining the Volunteer Police Cadets.

Individual forces can set their own requirements for recruitment.

The policing education qualification framework

Some forces previously required applicants who wished to become police constables to have a Certificate in Knowledge of Policing (CKP) or experience in a relevant policing role, which could be gained through volunteering. This has been replaced by new requirements under the policing education qualifications framework.

You can become a police constable under PEQF requirements if you attain one of the following:

  • police constable degree apprenticeship
  • degree holder entry programme
  • pre-join degree in policing.

Find out more on the College of Policing's policing education qualification framework page.

For those who have already attained it, the CKP is still accredited as a level three qualification.

Are there any graduate schemes in the police force?

There may be graduate schemes (such as Police Now) that train graduates and place them in frontline police officer roles. Alternatively, graduates can apply to become police constables in the same way as non-graduates. Graduates who have some experience of the workplace and are looking to change careers can apply to the direct entry programmes for superintendent or inspector roles, which are also open to non-graduates. You can find out more from our advice about different types of jobs and employers in the emergency services. Once you are 18 you can volunteer to support your local force as a special constable, which will give you useful experience.

You can find out more about police recruitment from the College of Policing website.

How do I get into working for the fire and rescue service?

Recruitment by the fire and rescue service takes place on a local basis. First of all, you’ll need to find out if your local service is recruiting – in some services, recruitment only takes place once every couple of years. You’ll then need to fill in an application form. You’ll have to meet the eyesight requirements and pass psychological and physical tests, as well as a medical examination. Some services prefer you to have GCSEs, but there are no national minimum academic requirements. You need to be at least 18 to start training, but if you are under 18 you might be able to join a fire and rescue service’s Young Firefighters scheme.

You are given induction training that lasts for up to 16 weeks and then join a fire station for a probationary period of up to three years, during which time you will work alongside more experienced firefighters and learn from them. You will be encouraged to work towards qualifications for your role, such as the level 3 (NVQ) diploma in emergency fire and rescue services operations in the community.

You can find out more from the UK Fire Service Resources website. Generally speaking, recruitment is the same for graduates and non-graduates and both start work as trainee firefighters. However, the London Fire Brigade has recently launched a graduate entry scheme that will fast-track graduates to station manager roles.

How do I get into working in emergency planning?

There is no one established route into a career in emergency planning. You’ll either need a degree or substantial relevant experience, perhaps from working at a senior level in the ambulance service, fire and rescue service or the police service.

Employers of emergency planners range from local authorities to private companies; you’ll find some jobs advertised on local council websites and the NHS Jobs website. You can find out more about the profession from the websites of the Emergency Planning Society and the Emergency Planning College (EPC).

Search for...

Degree Explorer

The Degree Explorer helps you plan for your future! Match your interests to university subjects and explore each recommendation to find out what suits you.

Get started

Teacher or parent?

Join our mailing list to receive monthly newsletters from our TARGETcareers and Inspiring Futures teams to help you support your school leavers in their career and university decision making.