Public Safety faces and addresses numerous issues regarding change in the workforce on a continual basis. In the sixties there was racial tensions that lead to riots across various communities throughout the United States. Today, the umbrella of public safety encompasses so many emergencies that it’s almost unpredictable of what to expect as a first responder.
Expectations on the public side is and always will be to “fix my problem,” however, the expectation of “your emergency may not necessarily be my emergency” can be a common reaction of the first responder. Not saying that this is a proper response, but in looking at generations in the workforce of public safety, that may be the way one was trained or exposed to during post-probationary status. In looking at the potential of five generations of people that can potentially be working for a department, one can be surprised of the responder’s expectations and life experiences of the personnel on the job.
In the United States, approximately 76 percent of all fire departments are volunteer. That equates to the potential of a chief working an incident may have a crew that is 40 years younger or of three different generations. Does the chief really understand the newer generations and does the younger generation have the same expectations of the chief? A company officer that is part of the Baby Boomers generation may see expectations as cut and dry whereas the generation identified as the Millennials may feel that those same expectations are overwhelming. It could be common for a company officer with 25 plus years on the job to have a relative working alongside of them that is in the early part of their career. With the potential of multiple generations, now one could conceivably be a fire chief with a son or daughter as a company officer who also has a son or daughter all within the same department.
Along with multiple generations working in the workforce, there is also the need to address the issues or opportunities that go along with each generation and what each generation typically experiences in their social identities.
The Baby Boomers ( 1946-1964) are a group that, in terms of jobs, usually stay within an organization from start of employment until retirement from that same organization 30 plus years later. Their resume will actually fit on a two-page paper that at one time was appropriate for promotions and other department advancement opportunities.
Generation X (1965 – 1980) may feel trapped by the chaotic and undisciplined manner in which future generations work. GenX-ers tend to have a somewhat longer resume as technology was beginning to move at a quicker place than before and employment was beginning to broaden one’s experiences.
Generation Y and Z
Generation Y (1981 – 1994) “Millennials” and Generation Z (1995 – 2000), are today being known as the “multi-taskers” because of the advancement and continual changes in technology. With previous generations, information was a time challenging event. With Generation Y and Z, information is instant!
There have been experiments with students in public schools where an instructor provided a rotary phone and gave the students a time frame to figure it out and the results were amazing. It took over four minutes for the students to actually figure it out. Employment applications requiring a resume for Generation Y and Z will typically provide three to four pages of employment history with averages of six to nine months. Reason for the vast changes is directly related to the technology advancements.
The newest generation is Generation Alpha, (2000 – 2015). This generation will be the most advanced generation ever. They are also expected to be the longest living generation ever. This generation will have the expectation and influence of all members of a family or see things as total inclusion for purchasing power on all levels.
Looking at the arena of Public Safety, where are we as leaders going to be able to not only recruit and hire for todays police, fire and EMS, but how are we going to make the jobs attractive for members of each generation as well as training the new and the old? We can and will be able to recruit and hire but, looking at today’s environment and political disparities, what type of potential employee are we looking at. Will it be difficult to find that star employee who can pass a drug test and background investigation? Another question that will need attention is that of understanding what it means to be a public servant. On two occasions in 2018, I know of two completely different occasions where a recruit was in an academy situation and turned their equipment in and left each academy stating that they did not know that, one you had to be in physical shape/condition to be a firefighter and two you had to work a 48-hour shift. As a leader, did we miss something here or did the recruit not understand the demands of the job? Both recruits were Millenniums.
What does each of the generations have to offer the next generation and how does each generation work side by side with each other. In a Human Resource Management class we had the task of selecting a work group. When a co-worker and I were selected to head up a work group, I selected the youngest person in the group, a Millennial. When asked by the instructor as to why we selected him so quickly, I responded, because he has the technology skills and quickness to properly operate a computer. What our group needed to teach him was to follow up on what we didn’t have experience in the computer technology, which he knew very well and we could teach him our skill-set in the down time. There was an older group within the class and a statement from them was really valid to our point. The older group did not want to be intimidated by some young kid and we can just figure out what we need afterwards. These are the type of opportunities that we as public safety employees need to understand and really make that effort to take members of all generations under our wings to help get the job done and learn from top to bottom as well as bottom to top.