Training Days: Part III

Heidi DiGennaro

Heidi DiGennaro


You’ve survived two columns about training. This final column will focus on the trainee’s perspective. One thing to keep in mind: Training is a constant, ongoing process in centers; it’s not easy to learn this job. If it were easy, we would have more people and achieve the dream of being fully staffed for more than a minute. 

When you are new to the dispatch center, the first thing is the overwhelming amount of information you are expected to learn and know. Then to have instant recall once you know it. I’m going to repeat myself here: This is overwhelming. Even if you went through a training academy that gave you the basics, your mind overloads immediately when you hit the floor. Nerves kick in. 

The first time you see your agency’s logo on the computer screen with the warning about improper use, it hits you. “What have I gotten myself into? People are speaking a language I don’t.” My trainer didn’t flinch when she was called names or told to “Just send someone to get here now.” The radio operators have an interrupted conversation between transmissions without missing a step. They remember locations, calls, and people; again, you think “I can’t do this.”

But you can. You are witnessing months of training and months/years of experience. Do we expect you to know what you’re doing when you first sit down? Absolutely not. Even a few weeks in when you’re putting pressure on yourself because you don’t think you’re getting it fast enough, we don’t put that pressure on you. You have benchmarks to meet, and these should be communicated clearly to you. We expect you to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. Don’t dwell on it. Use any mistake as a learning tool and move on. Dwelling will only start you circling the drain of failure.

I once had a trainee who was a former instructor in their previous career. They were worried they weren’t succeeding and progressing on target. I asked them to draw on their past experience as an instructor and questioned their expectations for new people or people in the midst of their training. Were they expected to know what they were doing without making any errors? The trainee replied no, they didn’t expect that until the newbies were taught and had been given the experience to learn and apply their knowledge. The shift in perspective helped this trainee move forward.    

You are your biggest advocate and your biggest critic. I’ve talked about critic; now let’s talk about advocate. What are YOU doing to succeed?  Are YOU reviewing policies and procedures, reading the cardsets during any downtime? Are YOU asking for additional training? Are YOU asking your trainer scenario questions?

Your trainer will teach you and treat you like an adult. You need to maximize your training time; it’s your responsibility to learn. If your trainer isn’t using every minute of the available time, find study material. Ask for verbal quizzes or written quizzes.  

When it comes to evaluations, ask your trainer what’s going to be in them so you know what to expect. Review them in a timely manner. Complete your workbooks and/or assignments on time. This is all there to help you. If you disagree with an evaluation, follow your agency’s chain of command. Sometimes talking things through will make a difference.          

Training is long and scary. Most likely you will tell yourself you can’t do this or that you’ll never get it.  Most of the time, you’re wrong; you will get it. Sometimes trainees will struggle, and one day it’s like a switch flipped. Suddenly everything (mostly) makes sense and you take off. The trick is to have the patience to get to that point. If you need help, check into peer support, your supervisor, and employee assistance programs. Trust us when we say we want every trainee to succeed. It benefits you, and it benefits us. Hang in there!