Training Days: Part II

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro

Surviving the Headset

Let’s be real: Training must happen for us to move forward. The first column [Jan/Feb 2023] was an overview and a way to get the conversation between trainers and trainees started. Whether there is a formal evaluation or not, the trainee is being judged. They are being watched from the moment they sit down until they leave. The question is how are you judging?

Does your agency have a formal evaluation process? Is it daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or one final evaluation when the trainer thinks the trainee is ready? Daily evaluations accurately reflect each day’s performance. Someone could be great three out of five days, and the other days a train wreck. A weekly evaluation might average out the scores or not cover the specifics.

What categories do you assess? One of them should be stress situations. You could have a trainee who excels at routine operations until they are faced with a “stress situation.” If a trainee has multiple high-priority calls simultaneously, do they freeze? Forget their training? Need a lot of help from their trainer? This category, if scored correctly, shows how an employee does when faced with a high-acuity or high-volume event. Even if it is two high-priority calls and they freeze or fall behind, this is where the trainer needs to score accurately with narrative. If there were no stress situations, then have a not applicable selection. 

Other categories could be problem solving, knowledge/following policies and procedures, listening and comprehension skills, correct units dispatched, correct units placed on call for service in CAD, proper radio etiquette, equipment knowledge (do they know how to physically work the equipment?), maintaining a calm demeanor, and a really important one: follows directions. These are only suggestions. 

Writing the evaluation can be hard. Everyone wants to write—and receive—a good evaluation. Sometimes we are reluctant to document mistakes, or we understate the severity of the mistake. The reluctance does more harm. The trainee believes they are doing an OK job, that the mistake was not as bad as they thought, and the reviewers do not have a clear picture of the trainee’s progress.

There is liability in retaining an employee when they are not successful, or they are not meeting standards. I’m not saying be harsh in your reviews. I’m saying be factual, include what’s needed, and document. One idea is to document what you have reviewed: policies, procedures, processes, practices, everything you spent time teaching the trainee in detail. This prevents the trainee from blaming the trainer by saying the trainer didn’t cover something. “Today we reviewed how to handle an emergency activation, how to shunt on protocols, SOP XXX.  Trainee did not have any questions.” 

Recognize the good things the trainee has done. Make sure to always include something positive in the evaluation. Without encouragement, the trainee will leave, and you have lost a potentially valuable employee. If you’re not sure how to phrase something, ask your supervisor or the training coordinator. It’s all in the presentation. When you need to write about a mistake, stick to the facts. “Trainee 1 did not validate the address according to SOP XXX. This has happened three other times today on calls (a), (b), and (c). The CTO reviewed this information with the trainee on each occurrence and provided a copy of the SOP.” It’s hard for a trainee to argue when the recordings support the facts and there is no personal attack in the verbiage. 

Trainers have a hard job. It’s not easy paying attention to what you’re doing in addition to what another person’s doing—while making sure they’re doing it right. Trainers don’t get enough credit. If you are a trainer, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. Does your agency offer incentives for trainers? If not, it should.