June 7, 2013
By Ivan Whitaker
Hiring & Human Resources
Every agency needs an established criterion to contro
l turnover. More importantly, hiring practices must serve to create a sound applicant pool while weeding out less suitable candidates. Conversely, communication center management should encourage HR to market dispatch as the profession it is, rather than a stepping stone for an applicant’s foot in the door.
Finding the right person
Finding the right person takes work. Knowledge, skills, and abilities must be evaluated with the assortment of tools available:
•Testing—multitasking, behavioral, aptitude
•Background and work history evaluations
An agency should develop an appropriate mix and complete the process in an acceptable amount of time; a lengthy, unwieldy process could result in the loss of viable candidates. The front-end costs may seem pricey but will pale in comparison to the consequences of hiring the square peg for the round hole.
You may also consider new hire contracts that establish agency expectations, which, at the same time, give applicants strong indication of the importance placed on their decision. For example, the contract might include language—approved by your legal department—rescinding certifications for an employee leaving prior to an agreed time period or repayment of a portion of the fees associated with the certification process.
Keeping the right person
Training: An analysis of telecommunicator skill requirements should be conducted on an annual basis. This serves to recognize the job’s increasing responsibilities. Focus training on maximizing skill levels and stay ahead of the industry’s demands, if possible. It is important to note that excessive turnover will drastically impact an organization’s ability to train. New hires with limited experience quickly become trainers. Trainers with vast experience are pressured to train employees year round, oftentimes with little to no incentive.
Promotions: Nothing loses employees faster than lack of opportunity. Establish clear pathways that lead to advancement in areas of management, training, and operations, and avail everyone to the information. Promote individuals as soon as they meet requirements and apply the process consistently across the board.
Salary/compensation: Each position should be represented autonomously. For example, moving from Telecommunicator I to Telecommunicator II may mean a minuscule increase on the pay scale, yet require an extensive number of certifications, extra training, and several years of experience. Adjust accordingly and, while you’re at it, evaluate the skill requirements of each position and base salaries of other positions with the same level of knowledge, skill, and ability requirements. I suggest not isolating your pay analysis to 9-1-1 Telecommunications. Assess the pay of other professions that require the same skill level.
Conducive schedules: Structure innovative ways to provide an array of shift types, rather than conforming to standard 8- and 12-hour scheduling patterns. Consider conducting a trend analysis to take advantage of altered shifts to handle peak volume. Adjust your staffing accordingly. More consistent work schedules may be desired later in an employee’s career. Oftentimes, telecommunicators are forced to choose the steadiness of a consistent work schedule over the love they have for the profession.
A good dispatcher or calltaker does not always make a great leader, but it takes a leader to recognize and develop the skill-sets of personnel capable of leading the center into the future. Those chosen for supervisory positions should have a conceptual view of the system, and despite intrinsic leadership aptitude, enroll in leadership courses geared toward improving leadership skills. Leadership skills beyond day-to-day tasks should include the:
•Ability to effectively resolve conflict
•Ability to improve the performance of their subordinates
•Ability to assist the subordinates with meeting short- and long-term goals
•Ability to meet current and set new organization goals
In our current economic climate, some communications managers believe that requesting additional personnel may equate to career suicide. This fear warms the waters and strengthens the hurricane of turnover. The weight of an increasing call volume ultimately breaks the levy and results in, at times, irreversible conditions. This leads to an increased workload, the inability to perform impossible tasks, and costly errors. New hires are pushed through training before they are ready. Do you regularly analyze your staffing needs?
Many communication centers are understaffed even when their staffing allocation states they are fully staffed. Managers must use quantifiable variables to calculate staffing needs. While turnover is a tremendous burden, the effects are intensified when coupled with an inadequate staffing allocation.