Gen “Y” Not Well-Suited For Fire Service?

Using New Tactics In Working With New Firefighters

Gen“Y” Not Well Suited For Fire Service?With more frequency, fire department officers are complaining that many probationary firefighters lack some of the critical attitudes and motivational skills needed to excel in the fire service.

As early as 2013 human resource professionals were noting a significant change in the work-related personalities of the Millennials. Those traits have now become even more dominant with the younger Generation Y workers.

HR experts such as Susan Stewart at the “Conference Board” sight seven skills lacking in various degrees in Gen Y’s.

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Gen Y was raised by doting parents in a world that centered around them and their needs. This generation grew up thinking they are exceptional and that they can do no wrong. Many never really experienced having any real responsibility. They are the generation of the participation trophy.

This group also generally believe there is a shortcut to everything. The digital age makes them think everything can and should be faster and done by shortcuts, ie, Twitter’s 140 characters. Coupled with that, thanks to Facebook and Twitter, they are also less socially tactful and flexible in face-to-face interactions.

In an endeavor that has a great deal of structure, being a first responder also requires the ability to think on your feet. Gen Ys come from a very structured, scheduled world which has not required them to be flexible in problem-solving.

To deal with these “built-in” deficiencies, department officers might better address the making of a firefighter by addressing some of the traditional training from a different direction. While Gen Y’s are grateful for and respond to feedback and suggestions, they don’t respond well to critical feedback. Correcting errors and omissions need to be softened with a positive spin. They want to know how they are doing and want to improve. A tip here is for officers and managers to develop a relationship first. Gen Y probies are accustomed to supervision from people whom they know love them and have their best interests at heart. No, you don’t have to replace their parents or become their best buddy. People respond well to those they respect and leading Gen Y’s depend greatly on “do as I do, not just do as I say.”

Lay out clear expectations. Remember these people have had few responsibilities and often precisely will do as they are told, no less and certainly no more. Make instructions concise and complete. Instructions to keep the firehouse clear could easily be translated to earlier requests to clean up your room. You can well imagine that outcome. Don’t assume general instructions will be independently fleshed out and implemented to the fullest.

These young firefighters need to be presented with opportunities to cultivate their untapped critical thinking and skills in problem-solving. This also plays into their need to be included and provide input.

The reality is that like the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials, this latest incarnation of first responders have the skills, talent, and desire to be successful. Like their processors they bring different life experiences to the table that require being molded and cultivated differently.

Volunteer organizations will experience new challenges in recruiting Gen Y responders but that is a topic for a different day. Your comments and perceptions are welcome.

Pete Adams
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