Training Days: Part I

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro

Surviving the Headset

Training is an integral part of public safety communications. Depending on your perspective, it can also be a divisive topic. Many enjoy training others, some enjoy supervising the process, and some enjoy learning. Conversely, others hate training, don’t want any part of it, and treat it like the colloquial HAZMAT rule of thumb: If you can fit the scene in the tip of your thumb, you’re too close.            

This is the first of three columns devoted to training: I can’t cover it in 650 words. The quality of training matters; let me show you by putting it into a formula.

Bad Training = Poor Performance = Less Time Off + More Overtime for those already there.

A better formula is Good Training = Good Performance = Possible Job Satisfaction and More Overtime for the New Person because they like their job = Less Overtime and More Time Off for those already there.

Start with how trainees are treated when they walk into the center. They’re terrified, but they think they have put up a good front of being calm and relaxed. Do you remember your first training day? Nervous, afraid of making a mistake, afraid this wasn’t the job for you? If you don’t, try to remember. It gives you perspective on how new people feel.

Does the trainer say to the trainee, “I hate training. I don’t know why they gave me a trainee, but here we are”? What’s the message to the trainee? It’s not “Welcome to the team” or “I’m looking forward to seeing you succeed.” Nothing positive will come from that attitude.

The trainer has just handed the trainee an excuse to fail and still be retained. How? If the trainee is unsuccessful, they can say it was their trainer’s attitude. The trainer didn’t want to train them, the trainer didn’t teach them during downtime because they didn’t want to, or the trainer was grumpy or ignoring them.

Ignoring a trainee or explaining you’re an introvert as justification to not engage because you’re uncomfortable is another thing to avoid. Trainees are dependent on their trainers, and if the trainer’s not talking, they can’t walk around and talk to anyone else, so they are isolated and stuck. Your administration has already invested in this trainee, so they’re going to try and keep them. They’ll assign them a new trainer, the training process ends up taking longer, there’s gossip and people talking about the situation, and a bunch of unnecessary drama exists before this person has been there three months. All because of the way the trainer treated the trainee.

Trainers and trainees need to set clear expectations at the onset of training. This is a give-and-take relationship, not a one-way street.

Points to complete and discuss when the training begins:

  • What’s the trainee’s plan and timeline of training?
  • What are the benchmarks that are expected?
  • What does the trainer want to see?
  • Clarity about what will and will not be included in evaluations.
  • When are evaluations due?
    • When is the trainer expected to have the evaluation complete?
    • When is the trainee expected to sign off/comment on them?
  • Liability. What is the trainer responsible for, and what is the trainee responsible for?
    • If the trainee makes a monumental mistake and the trainer lets it happen without correcting it, is there potential disciplinary action for both?
  • Breaks and food. How does your center handle bathroom breaks and eating?
  • A tour of the facility.
  • Resources. What are the additional resources available to the trainee, such as access to their email and where to find the operational/procedure manuals, the electronic reference files, or the paper references?
  • Introductions. Have the trainee meet their co-workers.

The better the training experience, the better your chances of retaining the trainee. You never know, they could turn into your future best friend. But if they have a bad experience, it will shape their attitude for years. That’s if they don’t quit first.