Chelsey: Thanks for speaking with us Brent. Can you start by telling us a bit more about yourself?
I grew up in a small town called Chewton, Victoria. My mother was a school teacher while my father was an ex-police officer in a wheelchair.
After high school, I joined the army, hoping to become a helicopter pilot through a rapid entry process but missed the cut.
While I was working as a corrections officer, I tried out for the fire service and got nailed again at the interview process.
After that, I developed an obsession with learning everything I could about the recruitment process, especially interviews. When the next opportunity came to sit the test, I passed . My determination to become a fire fighter was so strong, I applied for three other roles that I didn’t want and got offered the role.
Once in the fire service I worked my way through the ranks at various locations around the state. I worked within recruitment and instructed new recruits. This afforded me so many opportunities inside and outside the industry. One of my favourite things was being part of a TV gameshow filmed overseas in a team of firefighters.
Today, I run Fire Recruitment Australia, where I train aspiring firefighters in Australia and New Zealand. We have quality team that gives our clients the absolute edge over the competition. I am really proud of what we have created and what we will continue to develop as the industry changes
Chelsey: How long have you been running Fire Recruitment Australia for?
What you see now is 10 years of refinement and making it better for our clients in an ever changing and competitive environment. It has been a long journey but a very rewarding one.
Chelsey: If you were to look at fire fighters in 1980, they were almost all white, Anglo-Saxon males. Now, today there are a diverse range of candidates that are applying. What are your thoughts on this?
You’re right. Most of the fire service then would have been white males, who were the main ethnic demographic in 1980. Today, the population of Australia has almost doubled and there is an increase the diversity of people living here; a number of them work for the emergency services.
Government policy about recruiting women and people from diverse backgrounds has become more prominent in the last decade. I support diversity in the workplace; but I do believe that the best candidates still must be chosen and diversity needs to be achieved organically. If you give the breathing space, that will happen.
Chelsey: What are the benefits of having more women fire fighters?
- The public persona of the organisation becomes more reflective of the community which it serves.
- Women and men have different ways of processing information and responding to situations. This provides a more robust approach not only to emergency incidents but also day to day management of fire service business.
- Having a mixed workforce in emergency situations allows the team to address people from different cultures and beliefs with less undue stress particularly cultures that have strict rules around male/female contact.
- Having more female firefighters can change the culture of an organisation and make for a more rounded bipartisan teamwork environment.
Chelsey: What are some of the things which fire departments need to adapt to so that women are better supported here?
1. Exposure to carcinogens and other bad stuff. There is a link betwee being a firefighter and being more at risk for lung and skin cancer. Being exposed to these toxins and chemicals may affect a young female who wants is hoping to become a mother
2. Maternity uniforms haven’t been in the focus of the HR department nor has the fact that if 50% of your workforce is female and 65% of them will likely be pregnant at some stage of their working career (see here). There is an average potential of 3 years leave and that it something that needs to be managed; fire departments have never dealt with this before.
The mismanagement of a singular issue exactly like this that would conservatively cost the organisation a small fortune which is just how it is when an organisation isn’t used to dealing with something a bit left of field to the usually daily business. It is something that needs to be thoroughly considered and planned for.
It’s easy to make statements and put out media releases about the outcome but the planning work must be done to avoid throwing taxpayers money straight in the fire.
3. Flexible rostering- Most fire services throughout Australia and New Zealand have rosters and holidays that are quite rigid and are certainly not conducive to a good family balance.
This is another area that hasn’t been considered in depth when you consider childcare requirements etc.
4. Human resources issues- When you put men and women together in work environments where you essentially live together is things happen, you can say they don’t or shouldn’t but there are more examples than you can poke a stick at in the police force and other similar organisations that have a more mixed workforce. The fact is that HR issues will rise significantly, and the services need to be ready to deal with these ahead of time.
5. Support for females entering a male dominated workforce needs to be planned for and monitored. Men have figured out the needs of a male in this environment. Females are relatively new to this type of workplace. It may be harder initially if something is a problem and they don’t have the experience of history to see how it was addressed in past situations or not feel as if they can speak up.
Chelsey: Some Australian states are doing a big push for greater diversity in firefighting departments. Is there an uphill challenge here where there are not enough applicants for the number of female firefighters they want? Has this always been a challenge?
There is a massive push in almost all states. The ACT fire department was given a quota recruitment by the government which seems extremely dangerous to me.
The fact is there are not enough quality female applicants coming through the application process in all states. There are a few states where this is an exception. Quality doesn’t refer to the person but their ability to pass the testing phases of the recruitment process. You can be a quality person and still not pass because you are missing key requirements for the job.
The uphill battle I have seen is getting the quality females to…
Apply for the positions
Prepare them for the competitive process where only the best are selected
Get them to embrace the uniquely difficult job and make a career out of it.
This hasn’t always been a challenge as there was never any government or social pressure to recruit females like there is today. There are professional females in the fire service today who had a burning desire to make this their career and that’s great. You want to see that kind of hunger from applicants. Women who want to become firefighters can do it and do not need quotas imposed to put a shadow over or diminish their achievement in any way whatsoever.
Chelsey: Where do you see the firefighting industry in 10 years’ time?
I think we will see the industry introduce some amazing technology to combat emergency incidents. I also think we will see the teams grow in diversity at scale.
Chelsey: What are the modern challenges which all firefighters face that didn’t use to exist?
The hours are now gruelling. There is a more limited ability to connect on a human level outside of work due to rotating shift work and not being able to commit to social networks consistently. This isn’t so much a thing that wasn’t a challenging in the past but the pace of the world and disconnect in society through screen time and peoples diminishing ability to connect properly will amplify this problem. I also think mental illness in this profession will grow immensely when you couple the increased difficulty to connect outside of work with the exposure to traumatic and unusual incidents.
Chelsey: Finally, Brent, where can people find out more about you and your company?
You can visit my website firerecruitmentaustralia.com or connect with me on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/brent-clayton-b5a48a43/
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