How to recruit tomorrow’s leaders

By Luke Whyte

Ten years from now, will there be enough qualified correctional officers, administrators, and healthcare practitioners to safely and effectively run our facilities? What about 15 years from now?

“It is a huge concern,” says former ACA president Charles Kehoe. “Most economists and statisticians will tell you that if you look at the number of people it will take to staff corrections in the future compared to the number of people who want to go into corrections, there is going to be a big shortfall.”

For now, the recession has falsely inflated the ranks. However, how long will it be before the economy revives? What will we do then?

Last week, CorrectionsOne sat down with Kehoe, alongside ACA’s Workforce Advisory Committee Chair Joyce Fogg and Correctional Management Institute of Texas Executive Director Doug Dretke to discuss this important issue.

The answer, they agree, lies in understanding why today’s emerging workforce is different from its predecessors and in sculpting leaders who can effectively manage them.

The purpose of this article will be to discuss how you can become one of those leaders.

Understand Generation Y
Members of Generation Y — the group of people today aged 16 to 26 — didn’t grow up in the post-World War II urgency that their parents did.

Theirs was a youth of affluence, economic growth, and widespread education for the United States. It was one of Frappuccinos, not Farina. It was a time, as Kehoe aptly put it, when “everybody got a trophy after the little-league tournament.”

The result is a budding generation of workers that “doesn’t feel wed to their profession like the baby boomers did,” Kehoe says.

“Rarely do they enter a job looking for a career,” says Dretke. “They’re looking for a job and they expect to change it.”

So don’t trap them, empower them
In a presentation at this year’s ACA summer conference, Dretke showed the audience a recruitment flyer currently being used by Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). It featured a middle aged man in a cowboy hat with a slogan above his head that read:

“Want a guaranteed check for the rest of your life? Retire from TDCJ.”

According to research, this is exactly how not to recruit Generation Y.

In fact, statistics predict members of Generation Y will change their career six times in their working life; not exactly the habits of a generation interested in guaranteed checks for life.

Instead of security, leaders and recruiters should focus on providing opportunity. This is best achieved through an emphasis on education.

When he took the position of superintendent at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia Kehoe said to his new staff, “My goal is to make you the number one choice of your next employer. I’m going to do this by making you a good employee at this facility and by giving you the training and skills that you will need here and in your next facility.”

This is exactly how to recruit Generation Y. This type of language should be present in everything from recruitment banners and website slogans to training opportunities and employee orientations.

Dretke sums up the approach like this: “We value you. We want to give you opportunities to increase your capabilities, your skill level, and your knowledge level for your next job.”

“Those are the very things,” Dretke says, “that might commit a person to this career.”

You’ve got to listen
“For a lot of administrators, the higher up you go in the food chain the more difficult it gets to listen to feedback from your staff,” says Kehoe.

Unfortunately for those administrators, listening to young staff is one of the most important things you can do for a generation that has always been told to speak its mind.

“You may feel you are doing the best job in all of corrections,” Kehoe says, “but then you’ve got these 20-somethings picking at you. It takes a very disciplined and professional leader to listen to that, to encourage that, and to say, ‘you know, I can learn from you guys, too’.”

“We have to make ourselves aware and educated about what this generation is interested in,” says Fogg.

This is where a lot of budding leaders on the ground who are far more in tune with the needs of young staff can really shine.

“It is quite an exciting time in our workplace to have such a diversity of generations,” Dretke says. “Leadership that is capable of capturing all of that knowledge, energy, and difference in perspective can create powerful organizations.”

Embrace their inner nerd
Fogg and her ACA Workforce Committee members are developing a toolkit that individuals, facilities and departments across the country can utilize to appeal to new recruits through the web.

“One of our primary goals was to bring all of the workforce issues together so a person could learn about them and interact online in real time,” she says. “We want to allow you to put banners on websites and to appeal to people through things like Facebook and Twitter.”

The toolkit is uniquely designed so users can “customize it to their (geographic) area and to whomever they are trying to attract,” Fogg says.

For more information on the Workforce Toolkit and how you can get involved, visit, or send an e-mail to:

And for more on using the web to attract new recruits, check out the C1 article from last month, "What is your website doing for you?"

The multi-generational workforce
At least for the time being, the recession has brought members of Generation Y into our workplace. However, it’s also brought a whole other spectrum of faces too.

“Not only do we have Y’s and X’s entering the market,” Dretke says, “but there are also a lot of people re-entering the market that are baby boomers, too.”

This is creating a new phenomenon — the multi-generational workforce.

“As much as the challenge of the future is in recruiting X’s and Y’s,” Dretke says, “it is also in building leadership that recognizes they have a more diverse workforce than ever before with all generations well represented.”

“It will take tremendous skill among leadership,” he says, “to recognize all the different personalities brought to the table.”

In this new challenge lies great opportunity.

The multi-generational workforce could create an environment that provides excellent training for younger staff. Simultaneously, the older generation “will get new ideas from the younger generation; they’ll be enthusiastic, they’ll pump us up and they’ll give us energy. It will be a great balance,” Fogg says.

As the recession fades, if corrections fails to create an enticing environment for Generation Y, the future could look very grim and dangerous. If the challenge is successfully met however, an exciting and unprecedented era is on the horizon.

“The diversity of our workforce,” Kehoe says, “not only in age, but of gender and of ethnicity and of race, is going to make it a very exciting time.”

About the author

The team of editors and writers is committed to tracking down and reporting on the most important issues and interviews in the correctional field.

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