Throughout the past ten years, public safety has drastically seen many changes that not only affect the way we conduct operations but also in how we must conduct ourselves.
The increase for Police worn body cameras, citizen vs. city lawsuits, tensions between civil groups and police officers have caused multiple altercations, shootings, and unprovoked assassinations of police officers that have drastically changed the law enforcement profession.
Fire and EMS have also seen a great deal of change from the implementation of paramedics into SWAT to the shear advancements of EMS protocols, equipment, and the increased demands placed on departments across the nation. Fire departments, EMS providers, Law enforcement, and Emergency Management are seeing greater demands placed on their agencies, decreasing budgets, and increased scrutiny and liability from the civilians we serve. While many changes have reshaped the public service across the Nation, the implementation of new employees and the retirement of old veterans is nothing new, or is it?
In years past, it was common to graduate high school, apply for your local fire/police department, have a good likelihood of being hired on the first or second time through the process, and serve a twenty to thirty-year career with nearly guaranteed pay, insurance, and benefits that would be enough to support a family. Unfortunately, those days are long behind us. Hiring processes are highly competitive and typically present limited odds of being hired as it is not uncommon to have over two hundred applicants, all fighting for one or two positions. Job security is increasingly at risk due to political climates within the county/city, massive budget cutbacks, and less veterans retiring after putting in their twenty years due to the inability to secure a retirement pension. To make matters worse those seeking career fire/police careers are taking on student loan debt and paying out-of-pocket to gain training and knowledge to have a distinctive advantage over other applicants, thus putting a higher financial burden on applicants.
With the high strains, competition, and burdens placed on those seeking careers in public safety, it is a wonder why anyone would even want to seek a profession in public service. This is a simple answer to us though, it’s who we are, it’s in our hearts, and it’s what our dreams and aspirations incline us to do. A few months back, I had the pleasure of serving as a mentor to a few former co-workers of mine seeking to enter into the career fire profession. These were highly qualified and experienced individuals, EMT-Paramedic level with fire/hazmat experience, physically fit, and bachelor education level. Neither one of them were even selected for second interviews and were back to the hiring processes. Unfortunately, many millennial generation candidates are simply overlooked because of their age, stigmatized by older generations for being self-righteous, spoiled, and lazy. Much like the old saying “guilty by association”, today’s youth are being categorized by their overall generation rather than on an individual basis, especially in public safety professions where the average age is roughly 35 – 45 years old.
I have worked with many millennial professionals that can and would run laps around their co-workers on a daily basis, not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and resourcefully. The hard fact is that the youth must be trained, mentored, and given the reigns so they can lead our agencies with confidence and high levels of competence. With the increasing demands for Fire and Police departments to be more than just their traditional roles within the community, taking advantage and encouraging our youth to be more versatile than current professionals is not only smart but necessary to continue the success of the agency. Unfortunately, many public safety departments are rejecting our youth and the energy they bring along, maybe not intentionally but simply because we don’t know how to harness that ambition and drive to be productive, while yet maintaining a safe culture within the agency.
Harnessing the energy is directing their future.
Harnessing somebody’s charisma, enthusiasm, and ambition is hard to do, however in doing so we can truly steer someone’s career and build the next generation of leaders. One of the things we can do to help steer our youth towards rewarding careers in public safety is to encourage them to explore what specialties they like in the service and allow them to have some freedom to really become experts in that area. For example, having a probationary firefighter or police officer on the department is a great time to maybe steer them into a specialty such as; HAZMAT, EMS, or Investigations so that we are not only giving them more knowledge and building our unity as a whole, but also encouraging the continued growth process throughout their careers.
When I was starting out in the fire service, I was constantly told to calm down and take it slow, which was more of a suppressant to my ambition than an encouragement to continue growing and perfecting my craft. Fortunately, a few good mentors came along and channeled my drive and energy into a couple of specialties that are now what others know me for teaching the best. None of which would have been possible had my mentors suppressed my ambition rather than re-direct it in a positive light. You may be surprised to find but recent studies showed that Millennials are motivated by purpose and meaningful work, over financial compensation more than previous generations.
Everyone is motivated differently, but everyone is motivated!