MUSIC TO MY EARS
March 19, 2015
By Sherri Stigler
Throughout the history of the modern communication center as we know it, we hear the same sad tune being sung in dispatch centers all across this nation. Somehow, training dollars for dispatcher professional development seem to dwindle or disappear altogether as departments look to focus on other “priorities.”
What is interesting is that in every major critical event that has occurred in this country, after-action reports consistently suggest more training for communications personnel as one of the most important “lessons learned.”
As a longtime dispatcher, I was certainly part of the choir in my center where we would sit around and chirp incessantly about the incredible injustice we were dealt by management: They would “never let us go anywhere” for training. (Sound familiar?)
But here’s the good news: That old-world mentality has been evolving, and there have been some very positive winds of change blowing our way. Folks tasked with the management of communication centers have been forced, albeit slowly, to truly understand and appreciate the value of the professional dispatcher. More states are developing standardized training and embracing certification courses specifically geared toward dispatchers.
The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) continues to be at the forefront of many of those initiatives, not only because of gold standard care for our customers, but also because certification, recertification, accreditation, and continuing dispatch education are expectations that bring excellence to our communication centers.
These components have been in place from the start as part of Dr. Jeff Clawson’s vision for incorporating emergency dispatch into the EMS system.
If you’re at a dispatch center where you find yourself and your co-workers participating in a never-ending complaining “choir practice,” then it’s time to find some new music toward creating a more positive ensemble. Here are a few suggestions to start:
1. Get the ear of a trusted management type. If you are operating in a fire or law enforcement environment, talk to a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, or even the chief—someone who understands the importance of well-trained and certified staff in the communication center. You can ask for their advice and assistance to best approach the decision-makers at your organization.
2. Have good sheet music. By that, I mean a workable plan. Don’t go in empty-handed. Start small if you must. Develop a training strategy that would benefit your staff and aligns with your agency’s mission, and explain why you chose the particular steps or features. Write down what you expect staff to learn, who should attend, how much it will cost, and your plan to cover staffing during scheduled training. List the long- and short-term benefits to the department.
3. Set up an audition. By that, I mean a meeting with the decision-maker. Present your “ask” professionally and purposefully. Emphasize what the training opportunity would mean to the stakeholders—the officers, the department, the community. You could cite studies showing how employee education and training can help an employer address many key workforce challenges—issues such as turnover of top talent, difficulty in hiring the best candidates, and keeping up with evolving trends and technologies.
4. Don’t stop singing. Carry the tune. If your audition fails and the training is not authorized, keep trying. Remember that very few ideas succeed on the first attempt. Ask about the barriers and find ways around them. Declaring a dead-end and complaining will only bring you back to the same old choir, singing that same old tune.
With preparation and practice, there is a great opportunity to teach management to sing a new song—one that will ultimately bring the sweet sounds of success through the skills and knowledge your dispatch staff reaches in their climb to an amazing crescendo!