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Recruitment Campaign to Increase Minority Representation in the Fire Department

This exercise aims to present you with a situation you might reasonably encounter as an HR professional designing a recruitment exercise in the public sector; the objective is to develop the ability to minimize the risk of litigation arising from a recruitment exercise that produces “adverse impact” and/or to be able to defend the exercise as lawful even if it produces adverse impact.

You work in HR for a medium-sized city of approximately 1 million people. Approximately 30% of the city’s residents are racial of ethnic minorities, with a significant proportion of African-American and Hispanic residents.

There has been a hiring freeze for several years. But now the city has some money to expand hiring. It is going to hire more fire fighters.

The city wants to recruit approximately 1,000 additional fire fighters. At the present time, the fire department is overwhelmingly white (and male). Many of the current fire fighters are the sons and nephews of former or current fire fighters. Many are of Irish or Italian descent; their relatives had taken jobs as fire fighters at a time when the working conditions were considered dangerous and unattractive. However, over the years, the fire fighters union had achieved more and more benefits and greater safety standards. The jobs are now considered quite attractive, well paid and flexible.

In the past, potential recruits to the first department learned of the civil service exams through word of mouth from relatives who worked for the fire department; some of them had access to a bank of former exam questions that had been collected and stored at fire stations.

The entry exam for the fire department in the past consisted of a series of essay questions, posing hypothetical questions that a fire fighter might encounter in a fire. They were designed by officers of the fire department one afternoon when they got together and thought up essay questions to put on the exams. In the past, minorities (many of whom were educated in under-resourced schools in the economically-deprived neighbourhoods in which minorities tended to be concentrated) did very poorly on these essay-based exams.

Generally speaking, while approximately 25% of white candidates scored well enough to be placed on a civil service list from which appointments would be made for several years, and had a good chance of being appointed, only approximately 10% of minority candidates scored well enough to pass the exam, and were not placed on the hiring list.

The Fire Commission would like to increase minority representation in the ranks of the Fire Department, if possible. The Commission has asked the city HR department for which you work to design a recruitment campaign and suggest an entrance exam that might achieve its goals of increasing minority representation in the fire department.

Your assignment is to write a memorandum to the Fire Commission about recruitment practices of the Fire Department and to suggest ways that might achieve the Commissions desired goals.

In your memorandum, you should cover the following points:

1.Critique the past recruitment practices of the Fire Department in light of what you know about the legal principles of discrimination, particularly the disparate impact theory of race discrimination. Would you recommend following the same recruitment practices of the past (e.g., word-of-mouth recruitment, essay-based exam questions)? Why or why not? If the same practices were followed and approximately the same outcomes achieved, could these outcomes be challenged under the disparate impact theory of racial discrimination? What would have to be shown to defend the outcome?

2.What changes, if any, would you suggest in the recruitment campaign you have been asked to help design? What specific recruitment techniques might increase the diversity of the pool of applicants? Are there any approaches to increasing the success rate for minority applicants that you would rule out from consideration? If so, why (relating your advice to your knowledge of disparate treatment law)?

3.Assuming that, despite your best efforts, the success rate for recruiting minority applicants is less than 80% of the success rate for non-minority applicants. What would your advice be to the Fire Commission when it had to determine whether to certify the results? What would be necessary to defend the adequacy of the recruitment/testing methods against a possible challenge? What steps could be taken to enhance the likelihood of a successful defence of the recruitment/testing methods in the unfortunate event that minority applicants did much worse than non-minority applicants on the test?

4.Finally, there are no women fire fighters employed by the city, although other, similarly-sized cities do have a significant number of women fire fighters. What general advice might you give as to approaching this issue, in hopes of ultimately increasing the number of women fire fighters?

You can use the above points to structure your memorandum, but be sure to consider and address the following issues, which are implicit in the exercise:

What sort of recruitment campaign would you suggest to increase the number of minority applicants? Discuss advertising and other approaches to this topic.

Discuss how you might try to achieve the Fire Commission�s desire to have a fire department that more accurately reflects the population it serves, with specific reference to the wish to have approximately 30% of the new hires to be from the minority communities.

Discuss how you would approach the issue of designing an entrance exam to avoid a much lower pass rate for minority candidates than non-minority candidates.

In the past, women have done better than any other group of candidates on the written exam, but have all failed the physical exam. There are no women fire fighters employed by the city, although other cities have them. How would you approach the issue of trying to recruit women and succeed in hiring women fire fighters?


TO: The Fire Commission

FROM: The HR department

DATE: 6/28/2015

SUBJECT: Recruitment Campaign to Increase Minority Representation in the Fire Department.

It has come to our attention that the current recruitment strategies at the fire department have led to the minority groups within the city being left out in joining the department.  This is in light of the need to hire new firefighters and considering that the minorities make up 30% of the city residents, but this percentage is not represented within the fire department.

The fire department has on previous occasion have used frecruitment practices that seemed to disenfranchise the minority in the city. The recruitment involved spreading vacancy information through word of mouth and an essay based exam that was skewed in favour of the majority whites. There is need for a new recruitment practice in place that will ensure minorities get equitable employment opportunities in the fire department. Failure to achieve equitable employment opportunities the city can be sued under the antidiscrimination law, the theory of disparate impact, which states that practices like employment can be deemed as illegal and discriminatory in the event there have a disproportionate impact on the various classes (Willborn, 1984). Not increasing the number of minority employed in the fire department the department may risk getting sued for not upholding this law.
There is need to change the recruitment practices that would ensure minorities get more opportunities. This should start with properly advertising for the post to be filled and making the recruitment practice open and transparent, in addition there is need to provide for a guide on what will be tested in the exams to all taking part thus ensuring an even playing field (Biddle, 2006). And the recruitment process should not only use tests which demonstrate cognitive ability exclusively, the tests should vary to test other different skills needed for firefighters such as physical ability  (Selmi, 2006). After which the average score is compiled this will ensure that more minorities get a chance to be selected and help the commission meet the 30% of the minority threshold.

Another challenge of creating diversity workforce at the fire department, lies in the fact that the department uses informal recruitment system that entails use of referrals and word of mouth in filling the available vacancies. This gives advantage to the current employees’ relatives and friends who are given the information on the available vacancies and even mentored. Has noted by (Etheridge, 2009), this has encouraged a homogeneous workforce.  However, this can be resolved by using affinity groups, which are usually organized based on shared identity like ethnicity and race.  To increase the proportion of African Americans, the fire department can use these affinity groups to reach these communities and increase their participation in the recruitment processes.

In the event that the minority get lower success rates than the non-minority even after making the test process easier, the recruitment agency can go ahead and employ those who have qualified even if it will limit the number of minorities in its ranks. In such a case the commission can avoid getting sued because the law of disparate impact offers employers a defence: where in some cases employees are supposed to demonstrate job relatedness or necessity of the practices. Which requires the applicants to pass before they get the jobs, such was the case in the case of Ricci vs Sotomayor in (Etheridge, 2009).

On matters of women firefighters the city should use several medium when advertising for fire fighter, for example, posters, fliers, newspaper and even social media to reach more women and encourage them to apply. In addition, the city should hold open days that target to recruit and inform more women about the opportunities in the fire department (I-Women, 2015).  Other tests apart from standardized should be used.  These strategies will likely be an increase in number of women applicants.

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