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Attracting the next generation of police will require a tectonic shift in how "things are done".

Otherwise, future recruitment campaigns will not succeed in a new world of intensified competition for talent.

This was a key point within the main theme of the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency Police Conference 2022 – Navigating the Next Generation of Policing.

Delegates at the conference in Melbourne last month were told they will have to throw everything at the recruitment issue if they are going to get Generation Z through the door.

“What we’ve always done and relied on isn’t enough … we need to think differently,” said Kim-Sherie Summers, South Australia Police (SAPOL) director of human resource services.

SAPOL’s research reveals 55 per cent of people are not open to becoming a police officer, 39 per cent cited danger, stress and safety as reasons, and for 16 per cent it was lack of job flexibility.

Eighty-five per cent believed police officers help communities, 76 per cent like the idea of having a permanent job and 69 per cent saw policing as an opportunity for career development. Despite this, SAPOL recently had to delay several courses because it could not attract enough people to fill them.

Kim-Sherie said Gen Z was the youth target for police. While they made up 19 per cent of the Australian workforce, they accounted for only 4.3 per cent of current sworn personnel.

“To attract them we have to understand them,” she said, but much of what they wanted did not align well with 24/7 frontline roles:

Generation Z:

  • Only 14% are seeking a traditional job – after two years of Covid-disrupted education, they want hybrid working and flexibility.
  • They are socially conscious and socially connected through TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube.
  • They are influenced by their peers and social media.
  • 42% are gaining new skills and learning through TikTok; their parents come in second at 39%.

And then there is Gen Alpha – the recruit target in the next 10 years.

“They were born into technology… virtual learning and gamified classes are a natural evolution for this group and not exactly your traditional police academy experience,” Kim-Sherie said.

Gen Z is also in the sights of New Zealand Police director of recruitment Paula Te Ata Hill, who has analysed data from surveys, workshops and focus groups involving more than 800 officers with two years or less experience. Her work has formed the terms of reference of a recruitment review.

Many participants were Millennials or Gen Z who identified the need for showcasing “values, self-awareness, work/life balance, role clarity, reality and specific marketing and recruitment campaigns that glamorised the role of a modern cop”, Paula said.

“Our data tells us that without targeted attraction activities, ethnic and diverse communities are less likely to identify with roles in NZ Police… [Gen Z] are digital natives and their appetite to consume content is their natural way of life.

“They were born into a world of peak technological innovation.”

Paula outlined to delegates the basics of Puhikura: A Beacon of Unity, a campaign designed to attract wāhine Māori who, until recently, were the most proportionately under-represented ethnically diverse group within NZ Police, making up just 3.6 per cent of total constabulary.

Puhikura is a grassroots platform for engagement including a series of documentary-style stories of five wāhine Māori on their unique motivations and barriers to becoming police officers, exploring identity, historical Crown-Māori relationships, familial associations, socio-economic status and trust and confidence.

“Puhikura and the future of our recruitment processes are the echoes of those who have been, the chants of those who are here and the karanga to those who will come,” Paula said.

Both speakers consider the reimagining of policing careers to be an exciting new space and agree police need to be brave.

As Kim-Sherie said: “The Boomers and the Gen Xs need to hang on tight as the next generations are upon us.”