A new evidence-based toolkit is strengthening Australia’s emergency service workforce capability by supporting volunteer leaders in the way they recruit, onboard, manage and retain volunteers.
When a natural hazard strikes or an emergency arises, communities rely on emergency services personnel, many of whom are volunteering. This puts enormous pressure on the volunteers and their leaders, many of whom aren’t trained in management when they become a volunteer leader. Ensuring that leaders are as well-supported as possible is essential to deliver this crucial emergency service. Research in this area has recently focused on improving the resources that are provided to emergency services, to ensure they are as current and helpful as possible.
Jennifer Pidgeon is the Manager of Strategic Volunteer and Youth Programs at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) in Western Australia. DFES manages 26,000 volunteers across 800 brigades, groups and units (BGUs), operating between five volunteer emergency services.
Ms Pidgeon explained that volunteer leaders are identifying that changes in the social and economic conditions in Western Australia, compounded with the changing nature of emergencies related to environmental change, require new approaches to leading volunteers to better meet their needs.
‘Volunteer management and recruitment is complex. The drivers are different to any paid work,’ she said. ‘We need to provide resources that support our BGUs to meet volunteer needs. We also need to find a way to present what is quite complex management theory to an audience with potentially no background in the area.’
In response to this need, researchers at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, have worked closely with DFES to develop a new evidence-based Recruitment and Retention Toolkit for Emergency Volunteer Leaders – now available at www.bnhcrc.com.au/driving-change/tools.
The Toolkit was one of the key outputs of the CRC’s Enabling sustainable emergency volunteering project, which focused on improving volunteer strategies by examining engagement, motivation, wellbeing and psychological perceptions, and using this knowledge to design better recruitment, retention and wellbeing materials for emergency services to use. The Toolkit is grounded in relevant models of organisational psychology, and researchers worked closely with BGU leaders and volunteers to ensure the resources were as useful and easily applicable as possible.
‘We consulted with volunteers directly, their leaders across all services, district officers at DFES, and the partner associations and their leaders,’ said CRC researcher Associate Professor Patrick Dunlop from Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute. ‘We often discovered that the very best way of doing these things, like recruiting and onboarding, were already being done by a group and it’s just that nobody else knew about it.’
The Toolkit allows BGU leaders to access highly relevant, evidence-based new resources – such as checklists, tip sheets, sample booklets and editable templates – to assist at all stages of volunteer management, including:
- Recruiting Volunteers for the Emergency Services – supporting volunteer recruitment and messaging.
- Volunteer Role Descriptions – guiding role descriptions, why they’re important and how to complete them.
- Managing Volunteers in the Emergency Services – how to motivate and manage emergency service volunteers effectively.
- Volunteer Succession Planning – currently under development.
A/Prof Dunlop and Hawa Muhammad Farid, alongside Ms Pidgeon and Kate White from DFES, introduced the Toolkit to BGU leaders in an online showcase hosted by the CRC in October 2020, where they guided the audience through some of the tools that are currently being used by DFES in their volunteer recruitment and retention strategies.
The Toolkit is the product of research from A/Prof Patrick Dunlop, Hawa Muhammad Farid, Prof Marylene Gagne, Prof Alex Luksyte, Dr Darja Kragt and Dr Djurre Holtrop from Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, in close collaboration with DFES. The research that contributed to the Toolkit is also being used by DFES in resources on their Volunteer Hub.
The CRC’s Enabling sustainable emergency volunteering project, alongside other science on the topic of people and capability, is currently examining what the emergency volunteer workforce will need to look like in the year 2030, so that we can continue to plan for a strengthened volunteer base.
For more information, go to www.bnhcrc.com.au/research/resilience-hazards/3533