Law enforcement, fire departments, and EMS will be facing many workforce challenges throughout 2023. Staffing shortages, maintaining community trust, and elevated violent crime rates are some of the most pressing problems facing public safety agencies this year. Fortunately, new insights and technological advances provide opportunities for agencies to better meet these growing challenges.
In this article, we’ll discuss several important public safety workforce trends to watch this year.
Focus on Employee Recruitment & Retention
Public safety agencies are continuing to face staffing challenges. The number of applicants has significantly diminished since the pandemic, and more employees are retiring. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many of the recruits agencies do attract are burning out quickly, leaving their new positions after only a few years. As a result, agencies are left struggling to fill positions at all levels. New approaches to recruiting and retention will become essential to meet this year’s staffing requirements.
To recruit new, qualified employees, agencies are benefiting from building community partnerships. For example, some agencies are working with schools or districts to develop public safety-focused curriculum or with colleges to offer internships for students in relevant degree paths. Diversity (or lack thereof) in current staffing has been another critical consideration. Agencies that consider who isn’t represented are developing outreach programs to meet unrepresented segments of their population. Considering how to make workplace culture more inviting are trends that are supporting people of diverse backgrounds.
Training is another important factor of increased importance this year. Today, personnel expect learning experiences that match their needs. Agencies who are providing easy access to field training or required courses, combined with centralized results tracking and reporting are ensuring that their workforce remains in compliance while supporting career advancement. It’s a win-win across the board.
An increased focus on understanding why personnel are leaving public safety has become equally important. Simply asking departing employees to participate in exit interviews or to complete surveys about their experience has increased. Using this type of information is a useful means of collecting important insights that can lead to workforce policy shifts.
Making Mental Health a Priority
It should come as no surprise that mental health is a serious issue today for public safety personnel. Recent research shows that today’s public safety workers experience higher rates of several serious mental health struggles, including anxiety disorders, stress, burnout, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Agencies have mostly focused efforts to combat these problems by addressing these challenges with programs that help to manage stress and boost resiliency. Agencies are now including operational and organizational factors that influence the mental health of their staff.
Operational considerations include the type of work an employee does and the demands it places on them. For many public safety positions, operational factors like personal risk of injury, responding to violent incidents, and confrontation with members of the public contribute to the mental health challenges mentioned above. While not being able to control these factors, maintaining awareness of their influence is helping forward-thinking agencies build a culture of support among their workforce.
Organizational factors, on the other hand, are more easily influenced by agency leaders. Creating a culture of support is one way an organization can help lighten the burden of personal and operational factors that contribute to mental health challenges. Agency leaders are also helping to ensure that work can be completed as efficiently as possible, that employees receive appropriate support from their supervisors, and that workloads and shift change requests are easy to manage.
Migration to Cloud Solutions
Public agencies are responsible for a vast amount of sensitive data, which is often mission critical. With increases in both severe weather events and cybercrime, secure and reliable IT solutions are essential. One continuous trend that has seen traction over the past several years is the use of cloud-based applications and infrastructure.
Keeping information in a cloud environment with backup capabilities prevents loss or disruptions due to local conditions while including the highest levels of FedRAMP security. Additionally, cloud-based solutions have become more cost effective than maintaining expensive on-premises equipment and the IT personnel necessary for technical support.
Agency Data Transparency
The demand for transparency among public agencies continues to trend high this year. Access to reliable data that can be shared is helping agencies build public trust, foster partnerships, and illustrate how they are supporting their communities. Below are a few ways that agencies are sharing their data as a means to promote transparency.
- Agency data sharing is a key factor in designing and implementing community violence intervention strategies. Such strategies include non-police partners like hospitals and social service organizations to help address the root causes of violence at a community level. Reliable, transparent data is vital to the success of such programs.
- Data sharing is a means of demonstrating how budgetary expenditures are relating to community outcomes.
- Agencies may be affected this year by a flurry of bills focused on transparency that sit before state legislatures. With increased reporting requirements likely in the near future, forward-thinking agencies are pro-actively initiating these changes as part of their service mission.
Workforce Management Technology
To meet the many challenges facing today’s public safety leaders, workforce management software has evolved beyond mere time and attendance reporting to payroll. This year, many agencies are using workforce software that centralizes both operational and administrative processes based on their own policy rules.
By automating complex personnel, staffing, equipment, training and payroll rules, these agencies are increasing the safety of their workforce, improving efficiencies and controlling cost. Combined with analytics using workforce data, agencies nationwide are being provided with the insights they need for better decision making and compliance reporting.
One thing is certain as we move forward into 2023, public safety agencies will be dealing with a wide range of workforce challenges. Organizations that stay up to date with the latest trends and best workforce practices will be better positioned to address these challenges in 2023 and beyond.
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