Evidence-based hiring practices for fire, EMS departments

A new approach to hiring EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers described at EMS World Expo


NEW ORLEANS — Millennials, already the largest generational cohort in the workforce, have different needs and expectations for employment than previous generations. The growth of the workforce and how to apply evidence-based hiring practices to EMS organizations were explained in a presentation by Lt. Joel Lavender (ret.) and Kurt Steward, Ph.D. at the EMS World Expo.

The traditional public safety hiring approach solicits applicants, conducts testing, ranks applicants and selects top candidate for interviews. The focus on knowledge, skills and abilities doesn't assess the applicant's potential to fit within the organization. In addition, this traditional approach is slow, paper-based and creates lots of opportunity for bias.

After describing the growing influence of millennials in the workforce, Steward introduced a behavior-based approach using science and big data to find applicants. The approach starts with an internal assessment of top performers and the internally gathered data on behaviors is used to predict success. In the hiring process, candidates are compared to the behaviors of the success profile from existing personnel. The variation between the applicant and the success profile is used to determine if additional screening is needed in the interview process.

All types of organizations are struggling with how do we get people in the door and keep them. (Photo by Greg Friese)
All types of organizations are struggling with how do we get people in the door and keep them. (Photo by Greg Friese)

Memorable quotes on hiring and retaining millennials
Steward started his career as a police officer, worked in city management and then spent 10 years as the Dallas Fire-Rescue CFO. Lavender held a variety of positions as a firefighter, paramedic, instructor, bomb squad technician, officer and PIO with Dallas Fire-Rescue from 1982 to 2015. Here are memorable quotes from Steward and Lavender on evidence-based hiring.

"Sit down. Shut up. Stay shutted up."
— Lavender describing the advice he received as a new firefighter in 1982

"All types of organizations are struggling with how do we get people in the door and keep them (in the organization)."
— Steward commenting on the breadth of the hiring and retention problem

"Social media matters. Millennials learn about your organization from its website. They are going to make decisions about joining your organization based on the website."
— Steward discussing the importance of social media for recruitment

"Millennials are like a piece in puzzle and looking for a place to fit in."
— Lavender encouraging the audience to understand millennials

Key takeaways on evidence-based hiring
Here are the key takeaways from the presentation.

Generations in EMS workforce
Millennials are the largest generation, across all occupations, in the workforce. The total workforce is composed of the silent generation, baby boomers, generation X, millennials and post millennials. In the public sector, millennials make up a smaller percentage (24 percent) of the workforce than in the general workforce (34 percent).

EMS workforce growth
The EMS workforce in the United States is expected to grow based on Department of Labor projections from 235,000 to 290,000 providers between now and 2022. EMS leaders need to grow the workforce by more than 23 percent while also replacing paramedics retiring from the workforce. Finding candidates with the specific technical skills, dedication and ability to fit or become part of an organization's culture is a significant challenge for fire and EMS leaders.

Millennials desires for a career
Pay is not the top driver for millennials in the workforce. Research on millennials shows a strong desire for training (45 percent) and opportunities for advancement (27 percent). Encouragement (13 percent) and pay incentives (10 percent) are less desired by millennials.

What millennials want — training, mentoring and new responsibilities — is disconnected from what many employers are offering. Fire departments and EMS agencies need to provide more opportunities for millennials to train, especially on duty, and advance in the career field.

Behavior assessment
The behaviors EMS providers bring to the workforce change very little over time. We are who we are. Behavior-based assessment, which compares a profile of current successful members of the workforce with applicants, has the potential to improve EMS applicant hiring and retention.  

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