Recruiting Newest Generations in the Workforce and Public Safety

Millennials born 1981-1996 and Generation Z born 1997-2012, are becoming the fastest growing members of today’s workforce. 

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What can be interesting with these two groups, or cohorts, is the comparison of work habits and experiences to older generations which may be the decision makers for the hiring process. When a young candidate is at the final interview with the ‘Chief,’ how does each individual relate to what is going to be expected for the career when the age difference can potentially be greater than 40 years and combine that with a chief that grew up on a farm and the applicant grew up on Facebook and Google.

Years prior to today’s entry level fire/EMS/ first responder, some individuals went straight to the career whereas today, most applicants have attended college and have attained an Associates, Bachelors or even a Master’s degree prior to gaining any job experience. When recruiting for today’s public safety field we also see that the younger generations have shorter time frames at employment sites and are much more understanding of the technical applications that are almost instantaneous with search results and information. What is at odds on many occasions is that the candidate doesn’t have enough experience and too many jobs in such a short time. What can be overlooked is that the experience is really built into the learning/academic time. There will be an argument that this is not experience but, to be blunt, just provide a computer and there is the experience that the older generation doesn’t have.

With these new generations, we also see that their parents were products of the ‘Latchkey’ timeframe which has allowed them to become self-reliant, independent and willing to give back to their communities. They prefer to do things their own way and thrive in a casual, friendly work environment and look for flexibility and they are willing to walk away when flexibility is not optional. This is especially challenging in public safety as the work environment can be very hostile and life threatening on any given day or shift and certain policies or procedures require no flexibility what so ever.

I recently overheard a conversation where an individual took alternative courses to avoid physical education classes in high school then went on to be an EMS provider and left the field because they wanted to take on a business venture where the pay is higher but the environment was not so drastic and demanding and has flexibility to meet his needs. To the baby boomer fire chief, this would be a total disappointment for an applicant. Where does the fire and emergency service go to find a quality candidate when we hear about these conversations? Well to start, one could look at high school pathways that provide limited classes in the areas of police, fire and EMS. These areas are a great avenue to not only show potential recruits the highlights of a career, but also show the way towards a Bachelors and Master’s degree.

In some fire departments, there are skill building programs called ‘Explorers.’ Here the students are exposed to a number of areas within public safety and can even acquire certifications that in turn are recognized by state level offices such as a State Fire Marshall. Not only does a student gain the knowledge skills and abilities or JPRs, they can also utilize these to college credit. This in turns identifies the potential candidates for departments to look at recruiting and hiring. These are the ones who will know and understand the expectations of all aspects of public safety and the older wiser experienced chiefs will be confident that these are the positive role models for their department’s future.

So, in essence, generations are always going to be a challenge to any department but, by being progressive and understanding, the promotion of fire, EMS and public safety overall can lead to the successful recruitment of qualified and dedicated personnel who want a career and not just a job.

Mark Rivero worked for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, Fire and Rescue from 1992 until 2011, holding positions as firefighter, training officer and, ultimately, professional development officer, creating degree pathways for fire service personnel and bringing in educational institutions to address higher education topics and degrees that were specific for the fire service. He currently serves as a program advisor/site coordinator for Southern Illinois University, and as the chairperson for the doctoral degree path committee for professional development at the National Fire Academy. He also works with the American Council on Education, reviewing fire service courses at various institutions across the United States. Rivero received his doctorate from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2004.

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