Natural hazards forum attendees shared their vision for building a future ready workforce | Natural Hazards Research Australia

Natural hazards forum attendees shared their vision for building a future ready workforce

Release date

13 December 2022

At Natural Hazards Research Australia’s first annual Natural Hazards Research Forum in Brisbane in October, I had the pleasure of chairing a panel session on workforces and communities of the future. Held on day two, the session brought together a panel of people with diverse perspectives to discuss what the emergency management workforce should look like in 10-20 years’ time, what the sector needs to do to build a future ready workforce and how research can best contribute.

Panel members were Deputy Chief Officer Alen Slijepcevic (Country Fire Authority), Amanda Nixon (Volunteering Queensland), Assistant Commissioner SES Andrew Short (Queensland Fire and Emergency Services), Celeste Young (Department of Fire and Emergency Services, Victoria University), Elly Bird (Resilient Lismore) and Ricky Archer (CEO, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance). The panel spoke candidly about what is needed to build a future ready workforce. They provided a vision of the future that was much bolder than a predictable, incremental progression from where we are today. You can access a recording of the panel session here (select Day 2, Stream 1).  

During the session, audience members were asked to join in the discussion using the interaction app, Slido. They responded to the same questions posed to the panel and responses were shared live throughout the session. At the beginning of the session, I promised to share a summary of the audience responses in a future newsletter, and I am making good on that promise here.

First, audience members built a Word Cloud describing what the emergency management workforce needs to look like in 20 years’ time. They submitted 85 responses. I grouped similar responses together to give a cleaner, clearer picture, shown below.

Emergency management workforce word cloud

As you can see, a workforce that is Inclusive and Diverse were central to the collective vision, followed closely by: Community-led, Local, Proactive and empowered and Adaptive.

For the second question, the audience submitted 65 responses, sharing their views on what the sector needs to do to build a future ready workforce.

One of the two most common themes concerned Learning, training and skilling up the future workforce:

  • “Adapt training to the changing model of EM”
  • “Investment in ongoing training and capability development”
  • “Diversify skills and perspectives”
  • “A safe to fail environment”
  • “Demonstrate an ability to learn”

The second involved Future focused and systems thinking to enable innovation and adaptation:

  • “Systems thinkers and specialist thinkers”
  • “Shift from reliance on historical data and ways to innovation and agility”
  • “Develop an environment/culture that values and supports Integrated thinking”
  • “Imagination and courage to adapt”
  • “Build for expectations one decade ahead”

  Other major themes were:

  • Invest more broadly and more deeply in the future workforce (“invest in people”, “resource it to have depth and resilience”, “ongoing funding for community”)
  • Build an inclusive culture and greater diversity (“Culturally safe & inclusive”, “match the diversity that exists in the community”)
  • Focus more attention on planning and preparedness (“Ensure we are putting significantly more effort into the Plan and Prepare phases”)
  • Make good use of evidence, data, and technology (“Real time sensing/effective multi-input risk prediction/big data modelling/sound evidence base & good implementation science”)
  • Engage with and inspire young people – (“Engage early and educate - build a passion for the business and help our youth see their opportunities”)

There was also a collection of related themes that centred around Being more collaborative and adaptive, including letting go of control, engaging community, being humble and listening to others (“Realise that we don’t know everything, bring more people into the discussion”, “Let go of a bit of control”, “Accept feedback and be receptive to change”, “Humility and compassion”).

For the third and final question, 34 responses described how research could aid the sector in building a future ready workforce. The key themes are listed below.

  • Inform sound decision making with evidence (“Support policy makers to provide evidence-informed advice to the decision makers (I.e., politicians)”, “Provide understanding/knowledge to underpin decision-making”)
  • Enable future focussed and systems thinking (“Drive the importance of a nationally consistent approach to DM to ensure recovery and resilience building can address systemic challenges focused locally highlighting strengths-based approaches.” “Provide data and analysis on future needs and aspirations, current capabilities/capacity and pathways for change.”)
  • Translate and implement research widely (“Share the research and implementation through open public access.” “Conduct applied research with clear outputs which are readily usable.” “Invest in ‘translating’ good research into something implementable.”)
  • Exchange knowledge and experience between the research and EM sectors (“Enable secondments between ESOs and research organisations.” “Skill up our people to understand and utilise research. Especially senior people.” “Build better partnerships and trust with EM sector.”)

Additional themes included: Focus on mitigation and preparedness, Engage with community to understand and build local capacity and Enable innovation.   

The panel discussion in this session was a highlight of the Forum for me. It certainly generated some deep thinking and forthright responses from the audience. In future Forums, the Centre will continue to open spaces like this for collegial and frank exchanges about enabling change and the future of the emergency management sector.

If you’d like an overview of the workforce research in emergency management, have a look at the Workforce 2030 report from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. There is a video overview (below) and we wanted to get people thinking about the future hypothetical or ‘what if...’ workforce scenarios in 2030. There’s four to choose from – ‘What if…emergency services recruitment goes high tech?’, ‘What if…volunteer socialisation gets more structed and sophisticated?’, ‘What if…volunteers lead the redesign of local volunteer-based service delivery?’ and ‘What if…team leaders are empowered to unlock the skills and strengths of their age-diverse volunteers in 2030?’