Researchers help emergency services retain volunteers

Researchers help emergency services retain volunteers

Researchers from UOW are investigating how to help emergency services recruit and retain their critical volunteer workforce. The researchers have developed a new method of leadership that aims to help volunteers continue performing life-saving work in times of national crisis and ensure they stay with the emergency services agency. 

The project, a partnership between UOW’s Global Challenges Program and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, focuses on the importance of volunteers to emergency management agencies and how they can retain these highly-skilled members within their workforce.

Researcher Dr Michael Jones said volunteers are giving up their time to devote to a cause they are passionate about and it is essential that they feel appreciated and valued.

He said high volunteer turnover rates, combined with the growing frequency and intensity of storms, are creating a precarious situation in New South Wales.

“Emergency services, like the NSW State Emergency Services and the NSW Rural Fire Service, are well-equipped to deal with storms, fires and natural events,” Dr Jones said. “They rely on a well-trained and high-skilled workforce, and volunteer retention, but poor retention of volunteers could present a major obstacle to the long-term effectiveness of these organisations.

“There is so much competition for volunteers and leadership is essential to anchoring the volunteers, making them feel appreciated, and ensuring they stay within the organisation.”

The NSW SES has an annual turnover of 20 per cent, and each year, it loses as many recruits as it gains, creating a war of attrition in which valuable time and resources are constantly wasted.

The project initially focuses on the NSW SES and NSW RFS, however, the researchers say the findings will be translated to all other volunteer emergency organisations around Australia and New Zealand, as well as emergency services in the United Kingdom and United States.

“We are aiming to use the research findings gathered to halve the turnover rate in the NSW SES in the next three to five years,” Dr Jones says.

A number of high-profile emergency services figures will attend the Redesigning Leadership to Improve Retention of Volunteers official launch on Friday 19 September.

UOW’s Global Challenges Program is a multidisciplinary research initiative designed to address the major problems facing our world.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre is conducting end-user inspired applied research for emergency services across Australia and New Zealand.

Note to media: Media are invited to attend the event from 6.30pm in the foyer of SMART Building on UOW Main Campus.

Media contact: Elise Pitt, Media & PR Officer, +61 2 4221 3079, +61 422 959 953,