Increase the Demographic Diversity of New Firefighter Hires

Los Angeles is one of the most demographically diverse communities in the United States and is becoming increasingly so with each passing year. Diversity is argued to be a valuable goal because having employees with diverse perspectives and backgrounds can help broaden the perspectives of an organization. Fostering diversity is also a way to help address concerns about social justice and in many cases demonstrate that instances of discrimination are in the past. Even performance- related reasons can support a desire to have a diverse workforce. For example, having a diverse workforce can help fire crews more easily communicate with non-English speakers during emergencies. Moreover, if the level of trust that the city's residents have for the fire department is at all affected by perceptions of the department's sensitivity to diversity, then having a diverse workforce becomes a social justice goal and may also improve the department's ability to ensure public safety. For other examples of why organizations might value a diverse workforce, see Robinson and Dechant (1997). Given the value of diversity, it is reasonable for the LAFD to ask, “How can we improve the diversity of our workforce?”

Minimize Costs for the City of Los Angeles and Its Applicants


Los Angeles, like virtually all other municipalities in the country, is looking for ways to minimize costs and streamline operations. But that objective can sometimes be challenged when cities encounter certain realities of public sector hiring. Specifically, the LAFD, like fire departments in other large metropolitan areas, traditionally has a large number of applicants for a small number of job openings. In the LAFD's most recent firefighter hiring cycle, for example, 13,236 applicants filled out the preliminary background application to apply for 70 open training slots.[2] As a result, only 0.5 percent of the applicants could receive conditional job offers.

This large number of applicants far exceeds what the Personnel Department can handle. Some steps in the current hiring process, such as interviews and background investigations, are costly and time- consuming. With such a large number of applicants, the hiring process generates much higher costs than the city should reasonably be expected to shoulder.

At the same time, applicants face significant costs. They have to pay to complete the CPAT and to travel to testing sites (which for some individuals may be a one- or two-hour drive away). And they must wait months for answers about their applications, during which time many applicants may be postponing or passing up other job opportunities. And again, even the best-qualified candidates face low odds of being selected by the LAFD because of the limited number of available positions. These costs and wait times can be especially burdensome for applicants with limited resources.

  • [1] Although minimizing costs is an important goal, note that some efforts to reduce costs may be at odds with the objective of increasing diversity or recruiting individuals most likely to be successful firefighters.
  • [2] This level of interest is consistent with interest levels in other large metropolitan areas.
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