While news of unemployment continues to make headlines nationwide, one state is facing the problem of having  job openings, but not enough people to fill them.
The Minnesota fire and police departments are scrambling to find a solution to the more than 1,200 firefighters and police officers statewide who are now entering the golden years of retirement. In Minneapolis alone, 40 officers and seven firefighters have called it quits.
To tap into the next generation of public service, the metro fire department is launching a recruiting program for inner-city teens, beginning in a classroom at Roosevelt High School.
“We need to start earlier and basing our recruitment and meet development of growing our own firefighters and that’s what led to this,” says Minneapolis Fire Chief John Frutel.
In an effort to attract potential firefighters as they graduate and enter the workforce, the classes are offered to seniors. Students learn procedures and then perform them, like learning how to take a pulse or temperature or how to stabilize someone who is sick in an emergency response, for example.

But equally important is diversifying Minneapolis’s department, as only a third of the firefighters are people of color, local ABC affiliate KAALtv reports. At Roosevelt, 75 percent of the students are minorities, which is why it’s the perfect locale to run the pilot program.

“They wanted to take our students, which have always been a rich mix of ethnicities, and use their linguistic and cultural skills to diversify the department,” says Kari Slade with Roosevelt High School.

The fire department spent $50,000 on the program, but the benefit outweighs the cost. Regardless of how many students choose to become firefighters, they receive training that could serve a potential career as a paramedic, nurse or doctor. Students can also receive college credit for class and take a test to become a certified emergency medical responder.

“If we can get people to take as much education as we can, I think we’re all better off,” paramedic Kai Hjermstad says.

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