Recruiting and Training the Millennial Firefighter
Millennials (roughly defined as those born between 1981 and 1997) are now the largest generation in the workforce, and they will be for quite some time.
Fire departments actually have an advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining this generation. Working in the fire service is challenging, meaningful, somewhat flexible and requires close teamwork—some of the top qualifications millennials look for in a career.
Millennials are smart, tech savvy, collaborative and want to help others, which can make them wonderful firefighters. But many millennials may not even think of the fire service as an option. Fire departments need to change tactics to draw in and keep millennial firefighter recruits.
Here are a few suggestions:
Invest in online engagement
Studies show that millennials get most of their news and information from social media. They also look for job options online.
This means that along with doing community recruitment events, fire departments need to make themselves visible online. Departments can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites to show what firefighters do, highlight department and individual accomplishments, advertise the benefits of firefighting, and let millennials know how they can join the fire service. Departments should also keep their websites updated, have an online application process and offer online training when possible.
Cultivate an inclusive work culture
Millennials are team-oriented and want to have good relationships with their coworkers and superiors. They don’t appreciate being hazed or made to “wait their turn” or “pay their dues” before being included as part of the crew. Departments should create policies that foster a respectful, inclusive environment from the start, allowing space for millennials to ask questions and share their input. Commanders should encourage group dinners on shift, group volunteer opportunities and hangouts outside of work. Departments may also want to consider starting a mentorship program, where experienced firefighters can give millennial recruits advice and feedback.
Highlight the opportunities for growth
Potential recruits may not know about the many benefits the fire service can offer, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) and public service scholarship programs. Even if a department is just looking to recruit millennial volunteers, they should highlight all the different benefits and specialized skills fire training brings.
But the initial benefits only go so far. Millennials won’t stay with a department for the long-term if they don’t feel appreciated and challenged. Departments should create recognition programs to reward hard work, highlight options for ongoing specialized training and make clear the expectations and opportunities for advancement.
Millennials value meaningful work, teamwork and growth, and they are willing to work hard for causes they believe in. These qualities can make millennials committed, effective firefighters, and—if departments will invest in drawing in and keeping millennials—wonderful fire chiefs in the future.