“The best workforce is a diverse workforce” is no surprise to anyone. There is a great deal of research showing the benefits of diversity in organizations. An organization that supports a diverse, inclusive environment, is more likely to have happy and engaged employees which yields better customer service and a stronger brand.

At the City of Markham, we have embarked on a renewed journey against racism and discrimination and ensuring that any barriers to employment are removed around opportunities and access. This means removing barriers in City recruitment, hiring, development and promotion, with a focus on equity-deserving individuals and communities. We are making some great strides in developing strategies to foster inclusive workplaces where everyone feels welcome.

Our goal to enhance diverse representation and ensure City staff reflect the diversity of the communities we serve continues to be our main focus as we recruit for current and future staffing needs. We ensure that a diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, anti-racism, and anti-discrimination lens is applied to our outreach and talent attraction processes.

Here are some practical tips we adopted in our recent Markham Fire and Emergency Services (MFES) recruitment campaign for Probationary Firefighters:

  1. Outreach to the broader community before the recruitment campaign begins
    • Information Sessions on Firefighter recruitment;
    • Updates on social media channels; and
    • Building connections and partnerships with local community groups e.g. Markham African Caribbean Canadian Association, schools and colleges.
  2. Evaluate your current job descriptions
    • Are you using implicitly biased language?
    • Determine what requirements are mandatory versus nice to haves.
  3. In reviewing our job description, MFES removed the requirement for a Swim Test and the DZ license requirement after 6 months of employment with a greater focus on core competencies like customer service, teamwork, conflict management and lived experiences.

  4. Examine bias during screening and interview process – This included in-depth training on Bias Reduced Interviewing Skills and practice scenarios to ensure that the interviewers/hiring committee understood common biases that may have influenced hiring decisions and assisted them in evaluating their potential biases. This helped promote a culture of open-mindedness, diversity and inclusion.
  5. Ensure the hiring committee represents diversity – MFES hiring committee includes two Captains and a Battalion Chief. Our traditional approach of having Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief in the hiring committee has been disbanded to now include a more diverse representation of staff at all levels of the Fire Service. We asked ourselves this question: Who will work most closely with the new recruit? Captains and Battalion Chief! Doesn’t it make more sense to then include them in the process to select their team? Well, for us it is and the feedback from applicants has been very positive! Our hiring committee has been fully engaged and invested in the entire recruitment process.
  6. MFES piloted optional demographic survey questions for the first time in the application process last year. By completing these voluntary questions, applicants will be supporting the City of Markham’s efforts to understand how effective we are at attracting job applicants from a range of backgrounds and identities to support our community.

In 2021, Markham Fire and Emergency Services partnered with Humber College to promote diversity and enhance inclusion while reducing participation barriers for Black, Indigenous, and Racialized Markham students who wish to build a career in firefighting. This agreement creates a complete package of scholarships, equipment, supports for training and certification, summer job placements and mentorship to students for success.

Humber will offer eight scholarships, two each for four school terms, for students to study for a two-year Fire Services diploma followed by a one-year Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training program.

MFES will provide the students’ equipment, pay for their DZ vehicle license and Ontario Fire Administration Inc. (OFAI) certification. During the school term, each student will be paired with a current MFES staff member who will provide mentorship and keep them connected to the fire service. Each student will also be offered summer employment in the administration office to learn other areas of the fire service and to build relationships.

Scholarship students who successfully complete their schooling and certification will be offered a job interview with MFES. Successful candidates will be offered employment as a Markham firefighter.

We are making progress on our diversity, equity and inclusion journey. We continue to learn, grow and adapt every day. No matter which strategies your organization employs to make your workplace more inclusive and diverse, the returns will be worth the time and energy you invest.

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