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Firefighter staff shortage: why are young people losing interest in becoming firefighters?

by | Blog

Recruiting firefighters is a growing concern in the US. “A lot of people think that there are thousands of people standing in line to get jobs as paramedics and firefighters. That might’ve been true 20-25 years ago but… we have seen a change!” said Rick Vogt, the fire chief for the city of Escondido and president of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association.

The majority of firefighters currently in service are baby boomers (in figure 3, the age group 50 and over has a combination of 26%, 2018 data). Those over 55 are projected to retire in the next few years, a 26% reduction in the workforce, which would put Fire Departments at risk.

Data from NFPA’s Emergency responders report.

According to Gallup, Gen Z and millennials now make up nearly half (46%) of the full-time workforce and the opportunity is how can they be attracted to the firefighter service? In this article, we review what young adults are looking for, why they may prefer a different career, and what we can do to attract them to the fire service.

Who are Millennials and Gen Z?

Millennials and Gen Z are cohorts that represent attitudes and behaviors of people in the same age groups. According to Pew Research Center, Millenials were born between 1981 and 1996 and are now ranging from ages 23 to 38 representing an estimated 73 million individuals in the U.S. in 2019. Those born after 1997 are referred to as “Gen Z” are now reaching adulthood, with the oldest of this generation between 18-23.

Each of these generations have a unique view of the world as well as needs and expectations shaped by the time they grew up in and the experiences they had. Understanding these is key to hiring and retaining the next generation of firefighters.

Here is what Millennials and Gen Z expect from their workplace

Unlike their precursor, Millennials and Gen Z demand more from their workplace, they are seeking employment opportunities who:

  • Care about their wellbeing, both “physically and emotionally.” COVID-19 has structured the world of the workplace into a whole new level where employees are welcome to speak loudly and openly about their feelings.
  • Communicate Transparently. Being connected since birth, these younger adults require genuine conversations and translucent workspace.
  • Create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Growing up in a developed world, these young adults experienced much more diversity than previous generations. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are not a “nice to have” anymore, it’s an imperative that is core to their personal identities.
  • Offer competitive salaries. On average an American household spends about $61,224 a year in 2018, yet, the median annual pay for firefighters was $52,500 in May 2020, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.
  • Automate tasks with digital tools and provide the mobile device at work rather than working with pen and paper. When asked in a national study, 91% of Generation Z said “technological sophistication would impact their interest in working at a company”.

As a leader of any organization, Fire Chiefs must recognize the opportunity in the recruiting process. But understanding how to incorporate these is even more critical. That is why APX Data has developed the guide on Recruitment for the Modern Fire Department. To receive the report, see here. It will help you dive deeper and be proactive, prepared, and transformational – in attracting and recruiting the next generation of FireFighters.

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About the author

Tanny Nguyen | Digital Marketer at APX Data

Tanny Nguyen is the Digital Marketing Specialist at APX Data. Besides helping APX Data to develop and execute marketing activities, Tanny is the creator and author at gotannygo.com.

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