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July 31, 2018
    Article highlights
  • What is the millennial generation?
  • Recruiting millennials in law enforcement.
  • Supervising and retaining millennials.

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are now the largest living generation in the U.S. There are 75.4 million millennials in the U.S., making up an ever-increasing portion of the workforce.

Millennials are the future of the American workforce, including law enforcement. Police departments must learn to recruit effectively, train, and retain millennial police officers.

This can be easier said than done. As baby boomer officers retire, many law enforcement agencies have found it difficult to attract and keep millennial officers, leaving police departments understaffed.

Traditional recruitment and training methods won’t necessarily work for this next generation of police officers. As police departments seek to recruit and develop millennials in law enforcement, they must adapt to the changing values and practices of the younger generation.

What is the Millennial Generation?

The exact age range of birth years for millennials can be hard to pin down. Some researchers have defined “Generation Y” as beginning in the mid-1970s, and some put the end point in the mid-2000s. But the most common definitions place millennials as those born roughly between 1982 and 2000.

This means the oldest members of the millennial generation are well into their careers, while the youngest are just graduating high school.

Characteristics of the millennial generation

Millennials have gotten a lot of bad press. Older generations have labeled millennials as entitled, lazy, and self-absorbed.

Millennials are known for questioning authority. In fact, a recent poll found that less than half of millennials trust the police.

They are less drawn to tradition than previous generations. And millennials tend to be job hoppers. Gen-Xers typically changed jobs two times in their first 10 years out of college. Millennials average four job changes before they turn 32.

However, the millennial generation has plenty of good characteristics. Studies have shown that millennials have high ethical standards, are willing to work hard and are highly trainable. Millennials want to be part of something bigger, and they value purpose more than paychecks.

These qualities can make millennials great police officers. But police departments may have to make some changes to attract and keep millennial officers.

Here are a few places to ways to more effectively recruit, train, and supervise millennials in law enforcement:

Officers celebrating at graduation with confetti.

Recruiting Millennials in Law Enforcement

Use social media

To attract millennial recruits, law enforcement agencies need to meet them where they are. Millennials are extremely tech savvy and do a lot of their communication through social media.

Ninety percent of people aged 18 to 29 use social media, and one-third say that social media is their preferred method of communicating with businesses.

Social media has often shone a negative light on police. But engaging on social media can allow your agency to highlight positive things your officers do. A robust social media presence can make your agency more relatable and help you connect with potential recruits.

Your agency should use social media to give your followers a glimpse inside police work, share positive stories, and advertise job openings.

Along with social media use, it’s important for your department to have an up-to-date website. Make it easy for potential recruits to learn about your department and apply for jobs online.

Highlight the things millennials care most about

When millennials consider a job, they’re not necessarily looking for a long-term career. Surveys have found that millennials care more about doing work they find meaningful than having a large paycheck. They want their workplace to be social and fun and their work to have a positive impact on the world.

This means law enforcement recruiters may need to shift the way they talk about police work.

Female police officer tearing up at academy graduation.

Instead of focusing on the salary and long-term benefits of police work, they should emphasize how police officers make a difference in communities. Instead of talking about the long-term commitment of a career in law enforcement, they should highlight the fun and purposeful aspects of the job.

Training Millennials in Law Enforcement

Make training flexible and interactive

Millennials use the internet as their primary source for news and information. They also value flexibility. This means millennials may absorb information better through online training than traditional classroom training.

Online training lets officers watch training videos and study PowerPoint presentations on their own time. Done well, online training is more than just recorded lectures. It can present information in multimedia formats that allow officers to interact and engage with the content.

Of course, hands-on, scenario-based training is also essential. When creating in-person training programs, law enforcement agencies should keep in mind that millennials like to collaborate and work in groups.

Millennials are motivated by feedback, so instructors should point out things they’ve done well and advise them on how to improve in weak areas.

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Offer opportunities for personal growth

In a recent a Gallup poll, 87 percent of millennials cited professional development and career growth opportunities as a very important factor in a job. And a survey from Deloitte found that millennial employees are more loyal to organizations that offer support or training for those who wish to take on leadership roles.

This means that law enforcement agencies need to offer more than just the necessary amount of training. Your department should invest in specialized training whenever possible, and create opportunities for promotions.

Supervising and Retaining Millennials in Law Enforcement

Establish a mentorship program

Millennials want to feel like they belong in a work setting. They also want personalized feedback and support. One way to offer that support is through a mentorship program, where seasoned officers provide advice to new recruits.

According to PGI, 75 percent of millennials want to have a mentor in the workplace. A mentorship program can help millennial officers feel more connected to the department, and therefore more likely to stay.

Establishing mentoring relationships outside the department – in local high schools or colleges, for example – can also help combat negative perceptions of law enforcement and draw in new recruits.

Police officer in riot gear.

Encourage open communication

Millennials tend to buck up against rigid, top-down structures. They don’t just want to be told what to do. They want their opinions to be heard and valued. Ninety percent of millennials say they want leaders in their company to listen to their ideas.

While it’s important to enforce your department’s leadership structures, you should allow space for officers to voice their opinions. This may be as simple as distributing surveys or holding meetings where officers can dialogue about a new policy.

Seeking officer feedback can be a win-win. Department leaders can use the feedback to improve policies and foster a culture of mutual respect in the organization as a whole.

Get creative with flexibility

Sometimes referred to as the “freelance generation,” millennials value flexibility and work-life balance. Almost 80 percent of millennials say flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for their generation.

To attract and retain millennial officers, police departments should get creative with ways to offer flexibility. Many departments have shifted to four 10-hour shifts instead of five eight-hour shifts, which increases officer satisfaction and reduces overtime costs. Switching to online training and policy management can also make things more flexible.

Invest in technology

Millennials grew up in the internet era. They tend to be early adopters of the newest and best technology in their personal lives. They expect to use cutting-edge technology at work, too.

According to a PwC survey, 59 percent of millennials considering a job look for employers that provide state-of-the-art technology.

While not all technology is conducive to police work, departments should keep an eye on technology trends and take advantage of millennials’ comfort with technology by using cutting edge collaboration and communication tools.

Millennials can be a tremendous asset to police departments. But to attract and retain millennials in law enforcement, departments need to be willing to re-examine some traditional recruitment structures, encourage collaboration, and invest in technology.

These shifts shouldn’t be viewed as a hassle, but as an investment in the future of law enforcement.

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