Staffing Woes No More
August 16, 2022
For the first time in years, Lyon County Emergency Communications Center (Emporia, Kansas, USA) is fully staffed!
When I took over as director of my center in 2018, our most critical issue was staffing. It has always been a long-standing issue in every center I’ve worked in, and there never seemed to be a long-term solution.
At the time, our employees were working 70 plus hours per week just to keep our heads above water. Positions had been cut during the previous administration because they could not fill them. We had little luck filling the positions we had available.
A few hurdles were clear right away. First, the length of the hiring process. It took two to three months to complete, the application often getting held up at the desk of a detective who had other work to complete. We also did not promote our positions to a large pool of applicants which led to a trickle of applications.
In taking a 30,000-foot view of the issue, we also noticed that the applicants we were getting really didn’t understand what they were getting into and backed out soon after starting.
We started with slimming down the hiring process. Our background checks shifted to a private company to create a better turn around for the information. This brought our hiring process from three months down to three to four weeks. Our center also teamed up with a local job service agency to help us hire and promote our open positions around the community. We expanded our job postings in newspapers to a wider distance and also made sure that each posting was listed online.
Our center created a website, social media profiles, and a YouTube channel all linking back to our job postings. On our social media platforms and YouTube, we worked to create posts and videos that showcased the work being done in the center so people could get a feel for what 911 actually was. Each post had a link back to our application.
Many of our partner agencies committed to sharing our job postings on their social media. Not just public safety, but our Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Organization, too. It’s crucial to get them involved when you have open positions because they also benefit from you being fully staffed.
Often, I’ll post on our local Facebook community chat about 911 issues and job openings that we have within the center. Buy, Sell, Trade boards are also a great way to reach people about open positions.
I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out there and rebranding 911 in your community. Let people see the people under the headset. Go to community groups, craft fairs, festivals—whatever they will let you come to. Hand out job contact cards to everyone who will take it. Word of mouth about potential openings is a powerful tool.
Another step I took to find more employees was developing relationships with our local media. It was huge in highlighting the 911 center and the job openings we needed to fill. They continue to advocate for us in the community and have highlighted our fight to be classified as first responders, new technology we have implemented, and, most recently, a successful lobby for a pay raise. All of this drives people to learn more about you and hopefully fill out an application.
Recently, we started a TikTok channel. The purpose of our TikTok was twofold: To showcase our life in the center, but also to bridge the gap between public safety and our younger citizens. We also used it as a way for our employees to de-stress. Initially we didn’t think of it as a recruiting tool, but as it caught on, we started to see more applicants come in and say, “I saw you guys on TikTok,” which is an unexpected gift.
Finally, we worked hard to create an open, inclusive culture within our center. We created core values and a mission statement that really drive every decision we make—together. Our center has become a place where everyone can be a rock star dispatcher and have opportunities to utilize their talents in other ways. If you are technical, we have a way for you to help our center. If you love teaching or writing, we can also get you involved in those things. It gets people invested in the bigger mission while doing more of what they love. It’s been a great evolution over the past three years, which gets our employees excited. They are some of our biggest assets in our hiring success. They want to tell others about what we are doing and the openings in our center.
This year we celebrated filling our last open position. Our government has also agreed to allow us to start adding back some of the positions we lost several years ago in slow increments, which is a huge win for our organization.
Filling the staffing gap takes consistency, time, and a little creativity. It’s easy to get discouraged, but engage your current staff, citizens, and community leaders in the process. You will get there!
Roxy VanGundy is a 17-year 911 veteran, working in PSAPs in Kansas (USA) and Alaska (USA). She is the Co-Chair of NENA and the immediate Past President of Kansas NENA.