Whether you are leading them or teaching them, let’s get one thing straight Generation Z are NOT Millennials. They are currently about 1/5th of the workforce and rapidly growing. They were born after 1995, therefore they are under the age of 25. FETC Services has focused a lot of leadership training on understanding Millennials in the firehouse but now it’s time to look specifically at Generation Z. Gen Z Firefighters have a lot in common with Millennials but in many ways the two generations greatly differ. So if you’re struggling with new hires, and can’t gain engagement maybe this is why.
Generation Z Are Often Motivated By Two Things: Money and Security - These young firefighters were kids when the last recession hit, which means that they may have seen their mom or dad take huge hits financially. A significant portion of their lives may have been defined by struggles related to that time. While Millennials are often seen as idealists and motivated by purpose; for example Millennials want to make an “Impact and be Valued” in an organization. Generation Z leans more toward security and money. They care about making a difference, but are ultimately motivated by ensuring they have the ability to have a secure life outside of the firehouse. If you’re looking to recruit Generation Z firefighters, you may be able to tempt them with hopes of job security and raises down the road in a paid fire department.
They can be Highly Competitive! - While Millennials are known to be collaborative and teamwork oriented. They want to work in an environment where inclusion at all levels is a priority, where everybody works together to include the line officers to complete the smallest tasks. Generation Z often want to work on their own and be judged on their personal merits rather than those of the team. Generation Z also understands that there’s a need for constant skill development in order to stay relevant. Their parents likely taught them this and that no one will hand them their success. This generation is willing to work hard, but they expect to be rewarded for that hard work. Little strokes here and there of dopamine with acknowledgment of their little wins will go a long way.
Generation Z Loves to have their Independence - Now Independence can be tied into competitiveness, but they generally like to work alone. You see them out on the floor doing tool or equipment maintenance all on their own, while the millennial will complain that not everyone is participating in the activity or chores. They also enjoy managing their own projects so that their skills and abilities can shine in the end. They will work in teams but do not want to depend on other people to get their work done.
This new generation can Multitask! - If you thought millennial employees were easily distracted with look “Squirrel”, or they are always bouncing between texts, FB, Instagram, and emails, just wait until you start working with Gen Z! These young firefighters have always lived in a highly connected world, and they’re used to constant updates from many different apps. Switching between different tasks and paying simultaneous attention to a wide range of stimuli comes naturally. They can be a perfect fit for a workplace that requires multitasking.
Generation Z have the Entrepreneurial Dream - They are 55% more likely to want to start a side business than Millennials in the firehouse. And 72% of high school students say that they want to start a business. This can be tied back to many of their traits of independence and desire for financial success. They are highly motivated and willing to work hard to achieve their dreams. They are likely to soak up as much knowledge as they can get about the job and take on many different challenges as they pursue starting their new career. With dreams of running the show or circus from the front corner office.
Generation Z believe it or not like Face To Face Communications - You may have just gotten used to your Millennial employees preferring to communicate via email or other forms of technology, but be prepared to switch it up. Generation Z likes to talk face to face. 50% of Generation Z said they prefer in-person discussion over instant messaging or email. This can be attributed to the negative attention they’ve seen Millennials get over their reliance on technology. Be prepared for regular in-person meetings with your Gen Z firefighters to discuss their work as well as their future professional development. Make no excuses, those who struggle often are unwilling to understand the challenges, obstructions, and limited beliefs of themselves and those they are charged to lead. With the right mindset, these firefighters can take your organization to new heights! Just when you think you got the Millennials figured out Mother Nature throws the salty old Fire Chief a curve ball in human behavior.
Billy Greenwood is a 28 year veteran of the fire service. He is currently the Fire Chief of the Rhode Island TF Green International Airport and Senior Staff Instructor for the NH Fire Academy. Understanding Cultural Diffusion with “Generation Z” is just one module of the Extreme Leadership Series; Putting Out Fires Within Your Firehouse.