Ask any administrator for a list of their top 5 concerns, and it is sure to include the recruitment and retention of their workforce. It does not matter what facet of public safety you work in or where you are. Whether you are the warden at a large prison or chief at a local fire department, staffing is always a concern. Finding and keeping qualified employees is something that keeps agency leaders up at night.
Public Safety Staffing Challenges
While the challenges facing public safety are varied and unique to each segment, most agencies across the country are struggling with limited budgets, declining staffing levels, and low recruitment.
While firefighters have been affected indirectly by the civil disorder throughout our nation this past year, they are also dealing with the fallout of declining volunteers, crippling budget cuts, and the ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, this is having a real impact on our communities. Last summer, when a home in Houston County, GA was struck by lightning, the fire department didn't arrive for 20 minutes. This was not due to any fault of the chief or firefighters, but rather the result of inadequate budget allocation. In fact, funding was only available to staff one station in the entire county with paid fire fighters on weekends.
With smaller towns already struggling to drive recruitment, situations like these can be damaging to morale and staffing retention.
Not only are sheriff and police departments having a problem attracting new recruits, but a growing number of officers are leaving prior to retirement. Plus, many of the experienced officers hired during the 1990s and early 2000s, when applicants far outnumbered available positions, are now retiring.
It's hard to point to a greater challenge throughout the history of our corrections institutions than the COVID-19 pandemic. Managing inmate populations during a global pandemic has had a physical, mental, and emotional toll claiming the lives of hundreds of officers across the country. Intense scrutiny around use of force policies and procedures has added pressure for leaders to more closely manage staff training and compliance.
EMS is dealing with nothing short of a retention crisis. While market analysis has shown that some job decisions in EMS can come down to as little as $0.25 per hour, tight budgets can make it difficult to compete. Still, salary isn't the only driving factor in retention and keeping staffing levels consistent. One of the biggest drivers in losing EMS personnel comes down to morale and job satisfaction. The demanding schedule and constant emergency calls can cause burnout if scheduling isn't handled properly—this especially becomes difficult when staff levels are short and personnel are forced to take on additional workload.
How will your agency tackle these challenges? How will you ensure that you not only continue to recruit quality candidates but also retain them? It certainly is a daunting task, but many agencies are finding ways to increase enthusiasm for open jobs and improve morale. Here are five tips we recommend to improve retention and increase recruitment.
Cultivate a positive image and reputation.
When you are competing with surrounding agencies for the same small pool of applicants, it is vital that they want to work for you. If applicants do not feel that you will provide them with a positive work environment, that they will be able to grow professionally and trust their supervisors, you will lose the hiring war before the first battle is fought.
Identify your target audience.
Do not wait for the perfect recruit to walk through the door. Figure out who your perfect recruit may be, seek them out, and let them know you exist. This may involve revamping your recruiting strategies to make it easier for prospective candidates to find you, contact a recruiter, and start the hiring process. Use social media: go to where potential applicants are and connect with them as frequently as possible.
Provide additional perks.
Extra pay and benefits can be difficult to come by. Increasing these can also be a double-edged sword that leads to higher taxes, making recruitment even harder. Look for alternative means of compensation. Perks like on-site gyms, take-home cars, and the ability to take meal breaks at home or attend a kid’s sporting event can deliver returns that are far greater than their cost. Some agencies could highlight the unique schedules that allow for long stretches of days off, allowing more time with family without the need to take leave. Any department that can provide stable, long-term scheduling will be more attractive to new recruits.
Lower stress with better training.Even veteran public safety personnel are feeling the pressure of the public microscope. Many are fearful of making mistakes in today's climate. Empower training academies to develop, schedule, and track training courses through a specialized platform. This ensures your agency is meeting compliance guidelines, and your staff feels confident to effectively serve their community.
Use staffing data to make informed decisions.
Between budget cuts and lower levels of recruitment, current staffing levels are likely here to stay throughout 2021. Utilizing tools like smart scheduling and mobile software can help you adjust schedules and assign the most qualified officers, fire fighters and EMS personnel to fill gaps. These tools not only allow you to stay on top of assignments and backfilling, but also make it easy to stay on top of assignment changes while allowing your personnel to swap shifts, sign up for vacation dates, and pick up additional shifts when staff levels are low.
Recruitment and retention will remain a major concern for public safety this year. Without a new generation of talented, committed members, your workforce will be doing more with less alternatives. Regardless of how you have attracted new talent in the past, it's time to take a hard look at what is not working and change it for the better.
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