Local municipalities face a harsh reality with recruiting new firefighters. It is a challenge everyone realizes and no single solution works. The blame is not on the chief or human resources. It is not fair to blame local elected officials. The industry is suffering from a staggering number of applicants. Doing some research, there is no study available to report on hiring statistics. In reading some articles, the numbers are staggering and frightening. Something has to change and soon.
What can departments do to improve the number of applicants? Is there a proven way to increase the pool of qualified candidates? There is no single method that fits every municipality. The burden is on the administration and human resources to put their thinking caps. Finding new ways to enhance recruitment methods is an important matter. Here are five methods to help your recruiting efforts that are easy to put in place.
1st Method – Test Preparation:
One recruitment technique is to conduct test prep sessions with potential applicants. Given the amount of time to study, there is a chance test scores could improve. The prep sessions help those who may be out of school for several years. It is important to note that using qualified instructors, such as teachers is helpful. Another potential idea is to form partnerships with local weight training professionals. The physical agility test is difficult and without preparing, may exclude some applicants. It is worth nothing that having the necessary stamina is necessary for the test. The department may be able to save money if there is a commitment on the number of participants. There is also a chance for the sessions to cost nothing to the department. If the business is local, free advertising is welcome to help boost sales. Advertising these techniques is important and beneficial to the department.
2nd Method – Simpler Application
Some departments have a lengthy application, notary signatures, and a fee for processing. Why not make it easy for an applicant to have their applicant notarized at the end of the prep session? How about waiving the application fee for those applicants who pass the test on their first try? The cost of the fee is minor. Applying to many departments becomes costly. It is an excellent way to convince applicants that if they pass a test, it costs nothing. The incentive is to promote passing the exam. Also, a notary present simplifies the application process. It saves time, money, and makes the process convenient.
3rd Method – Creative Scheduling
Fire departments fight to recruit candidates to apply. It happens in all neighboring towns and cities. A practice known as ‘lateral hiring’ is becoming popular. It is a process where departments are stealing from each other to recruit candidates. Many departments are unable to compete on financial terms due to contractual agreements. When preparing marketing materials, consider discussing fringe benefits. What is the pension and what other benefits are available? Aside from contractual obligations, is flexible scheduling a possibility? With flexible scheduling, it allows for some creativity in attracting applicants. The program does not cost taxpayers anything extra with regards to money. And more important, it shows how firefighting adapts to a changing scenery. A flexible schedule that promotes healthy living also creates a new alternative. The stress of a 24-hour shift for some is intense. Although trying to maintain a work-life balance may have challenges, it is an option.
4th Method – Better Outreach
Another option is to partner with community colleges and high schools. This scenario creates awareness and explains the application process. Paying a visit to career days and having handout materials is important. What about having a dedicated firefighter available to meet with potential applicants? In-person tours of the firehouse are also an excellent idea. Outreach is essential to help spread the message. It is beneficial when firefighters visit these schools during career days. Students hearing an explanation on the process helps clarify if there are questions. When those students show interest at an early age, they may volunteer at the local department. Some high schools introduced basic firefighting classes to help prepare for the career. Having a conversation with the local school superintendent costs nothing. Students who have a variety of course options may find them interesting. It also helps them pursue further training once they complete high school.
5th Method – Reaching Veterans
Another suggestion is to visit local military veteran offices. An option is to a ‘boot-camp’ type of program to offer education on the process. It also explains the requirements needed to become a firefighter. Veterans who seek employment may not be aware of current opportunities. They may be unaware of where to look and when to apply. By offering a personal touch to speak about the test, it may help with the recruitment process.
Bonus Method – Marketing and Communication
The marketing behind any of these suggestions is crucial. Local municipalities operate with limited budgets. Advertising for current opportunities may have challenges. To help the marketing campaign, why reach out to local students? Real-world experience is difficult to get at a young age. Present them with the problem and request marketing plans with frequent updates. Local students have a direct connection to where they live. They may not understand how to become a firefighter. With a video to help explain the process, there are opportunities to showcase the service. Social media is friendly and useful, when it works. Older methods work for certain people. They say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is not a bad motto, but may need some tweaking to improve the process.
Many of the suggestions mentioned in this article require creativity. Being a firefighter is no longer the popular job. People are losing interest and it may be time to sound the alarm of how we recruit for the future. Traditional methods worked and utilizing new concepts may increase the numbers. It helps to know about the upcoming test from several local sources. The department currently hiring is the driving force behind communication. In some cases, paying a visit to the local college or veteran office may result in a larger pool of applicants. The cost is almost nothing, except for the time and a desire to reach out into the community. There should be no stone unturned when trying to figure out what works and what does not work. The tools exist and we need to know how to make the process easier and increase recruiting methods.