Recruiting the Next Fire Service Leaders: The Millennial Generation

By Candice McDonald, MA

The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1999, is the largest population of potential new members for the fire service. It is critical for organizational survival to integrate and embrace the talents this population has to offer.

This requires fire departments to change strategies for how you recruit, manage, coach and promote volunteers.

Misconceptions of Millennials
It’s easy for many members of older generations to pass judgment against a millennial sitting in a restaurant staring at a bright screen. What those older generations fail to realize is that this behavior is exactly the same as someone who flips through the morning paper while sipping their coffee. Both generations are reading current events; the delivery of the material is just different. Technology is the main way millennials stay connected with local and worldwide news.

Each generation has a unique personality shaped by events in history. Often personality differences and misconceptions can occur across generations. Millennials are frequently labeled as a generation of entitlement and narcissism. However, the focus of this group is just the opposite. Helping others is a top priority for the Millennial generation.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Community-driven relief initiatives following tragic events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, school shootings and the tsunami in Southeast Asia have shaped this generation’s views on the world. These events created a group of social-minded people that are connected, diverse and ready to collaborate across boundaries.

Engaging Millennials
If millennials are eager to help others, why is the fire service having a hard time engaging this population as volunteers?The issues stem from the outdated methods being used by

The issues stem from the outdated methods being used by many departments. Fire departments need to implement new strategies to capture this generation of talent and determination.Millennials are more likely to respond to non-conventional

Millennials are more likely to respond to non-conventional methods of recruiting. Departments need to be engaging in social media – including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram – for recruitment of this tech-savvy generation. Technology is an extension of how this generation relates to people and organizations.

Research also shows that millennials are influenced by peers when deciding where they will volunteer. Invite younger recruits to come in a group or bring a friend. Incentives such as a free T-shirt won’t work with this population.

This generation is focused on investing in their future and how they will pay for education. Offer a small scholarship to new recruits who complete a set number of volunteer hours. Highlight how department sponsored training, such as the EMT certification, can be used by the millennial to build skills that enhance their career path.

This group values time and wants a hassle-free environment. Fire departments that do not respect that will lose this generation. Have a schedule of training posted in advance and abide by it. Start and end at the stated times. Chances are this population has other commitments scheduled afterward, such as family commitments, a term paper, work or social plans.

Managing millennials in the same way you manage other generations can be a challenge. Managers need to adapt methods based on how individuals best respond. Millennials desire efficient processes and opportunities for feedback.

Complicated and time-consuming systems will drive this generation away. Persistent positive feedback is a must for retention of this group. This can be as simple as “that’s a great idea” delivered via text, email or quick conversation.

Benefits of Investing in Millennials
Investing in a millennial can offer numerous benefits to your organization. The value this population can add to your organization is worth the investment in changing strategies. With one out of three adults being part of this generation, departments cannot afford not to invest in this group.

This generation was raised with technology and the ability to share ideas across the globe with just one click. Speed, the ability to multitask and working independently are all strong millennial traits that add value. This group is eager to improve processes and problem-solve and want leadership to consult them on issues.

Millennials are team players. Collaboration, patriotism and helping others are all characteristics of this group. It is important for leadership to set clear boundaries and timelines
for the collaborative work. If the purpose and expectations of the group are understood, working with others across generations is easy for the millennial.

Creativity and self-expression are strongly integrated into the millennial world. This translates to a wealth of fresh perspectives. Millennials can bring new life to fire prevention, community education and recruitment programs in the fire service.

With creativity comes a desire to work in a fun and comfortable environment. It is important that the millennials can contribute ideas without being criticized. The fun factor is also needed to foster outcomes among this group. Provide this group with the right environment and they will show you how to work smarter using technology and improve timeworn processes.

Candice McDonald is a firefighter/EMS officer with the Winona Fire Department in Ohio and works for NASA in the Office of Protective Services. She is the co-chair of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association Reputation Management Committee, a trustee for the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, and has served as the appointed Fire Corps state advocate for Ohio and in other capacities for the National Volunteer Fire Council since 2009.