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How 911 communications centers can improve recruitment, scheduling

24 Nov 2017 8:21 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Kassondra O’Hara, Communications Training Officer, Troy Police Department

One area that often receives little attention in the communications field is that of recruiting new employees. The 911 communications center profession is often overlooked and misunderstood by the general public, and recruitment is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to explain what the job entails.  

Due to the number of specialized skills that communications center employees are required to have by the completion of their training period, it is almost impossible to find the needed number of applicants when you are reliant on them finding you and your agency. Implementing a realistic recruitment campaign will ensure that all applicants get an accurate picture of what the daily life is like in the communications center.

Transparency during recruitment

Issues such as stress, overtime, shift work and the physical effects of the job should be described thoroughly and honestly so that the potential recruit can make a sound decision on whether this is truly the career they wish to pursue. Communications centers are often guilty of sugar-coating the stressors in front of new employees and this can back-fire when they eventually realize that this is not what they signed up for. Prospective employees are more likely to be receptive to training and will be better mentally prepared if they are given the full description up front. 

All recruiting campaigns should include the center’s current employees one way or another. Let current employees know the center is actively recruiting, ask them to refer candidates and tell them that potential applicants may want to meet with them and also observe them in action. In addition to allowing potential employees to be able to meet and speak to current employees, giving them a better idea of what to expect, this also helps to improve morale within the center.

Employees enjoy the opportunity to help in making decisions and being a part of the progression of their center. Recruitment can take place at job fairs, open houses, community events, social media, college and high school campuses, and even from current employees’ everyday contact with people who may be interested in our line of work.

Dedicating extra time to finding quality employees will pay off in the long run as there is less of a chance that that time will be spent later in replacing an employee who was a poor hiring position.

Scheduling new, current employees

Depending on the extent of unfilled positions in any given communications center, scheduling may have to be reevaluated to make sure that all shifts are covered with the mandatory amount of people. Just keep in mind that while overtime is expected in our profession, employees need days off, scheduled and for emergencies. This may require a change in shift hours such as eight-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts. Or it may include rotating shifts, changes in off days, rotating off days or transferring of shifts.

Before making any changes in scheduling, the pros and cons need to be assessed and the communications center supervisor needs to be prepared for some push-back or dissatisfaction among employees. Making scheduling changes is often something that causes employees to be discouraged as some may be on their preferred shift or have their preferred days off. It may also affect an individual’s family life (e.g. child care options) and even cause short-term physical stress (e.g. shift in sleep patterns).

Unfortunately, any significant scheduling changes will disappoint employees. Therefore, all communications center supervisors must keep each employee’s preferences in mind and communicate the reasons and expected time frames for the change. The more communication that takes place and the more opinions that current employees can express will increase the chances of a smooth transition to a more conducive schedule.

Overall, communications center supervisors must realize that while they are in overall control of how a center operates, that they must work with their current employees as an inclusive team to ensure that operations run smoothly.

Without the cooperation and respect of those that they oversee, everything that a manager attempts to accomplish will be in vain. As more attention is brought to the emotional, mental and physical health of those in the emergency communications field, hopefully we will soon be on the road to making the constant understaffing of centers a thing of the past.

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About the Author

Kassondra O’Hara is an Emergency Communications Operator at the Troy Police Department in Troy, AL and has served since 2006. She has functioned as a Communications Training Officer since 2010. She has recently become certified to train regionally through APCO and is currently serving on the IPSA Communications Committee.

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