Research Impact


UOW to the rescue

Giving leaders the interpersonal skills they need to motivate and support volunteers

Of the estimated 1,700 volunteers who join the SES each year, only half are still active members 12 months later. In the volunteer fire-fighting agencies, where the annual turnover rate is around 8 per cent, the replacement cost for those volunteers is estimated at $13 million a year.

To address these challenges, a multidisciplinary team of researchers developed the Inspire, Retain, Engage (IRE) leadership training program, which has been adopted by emergency management organisations and led to a new academic program offered by UOW.

The seed of this project, which grew into the IRE program, began when Associate Professor Michael Jones from the UOW Faculty of Business approached the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) to undertake a study to discover the reasons why so many volunteers were leaving the service.

A key finding from this project was that although leaders in the SES were good at technical training of volunteers, their interpersonal skills were not as highly tuned.

With further funding from the UOW Global Challenges initiative in 2015 Associate Professor Jones brought together a research team to undertake an extension project titled ‘Redesigning Leadership to Improve the Retention of Volunteers in the NSW SES’. This was further expanded through additional funding from a Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC) grant.

As a result, the IRE nine-week training program was developed for leaders within emergency management organisations to build on the interpersonal skills they need to motivate and support volunteers.

A key element within this research was to work with the industry partners to identify the distinctive and dominant personal and shared values that motivate volunteer participation in emergency services.

The project then went on to evaluate the importance of individual, group and organisational values alignment for volunteer satisfaction, commitment and retention.

In the specially formulated program, leaders learnt key strategies for meeting the needs of volunteers and were supported in applying these approaches back on-the-job.

IRE was piloted with the NSW Rural Fire Service and NSW SES in 2014 and the program was further refined and tested in 2016 with volunteer leaders and staff of the Victorian SES and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.

The course materials have now been made available to all emergency services on the UOW website and linked to the BNHCRC website.

The IRE leadership training program also complements a newly-designed online course - the Graduate Diploma in Emergency & Disaster Leadership - which will be offered at UOW from 2018.

Partner organisations

NSW State Emergency Service
NSW Rural Fire Service
Victorian SES
South Australian SES
Queensland Fire & Emergency
Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre

UOW participants

A/Prof. Michael Jones, A/ Prof. Andrew Sense, Dr Yoke Berry, William Calcutt, Vivien Forner, A/Prof. Dominique Parrish, Dr Joakim Eidenfalk, Dr Senevi Kiridena