By Anne Camaro, Assistant Director, Cambridge Emergency Communications, IPSA 911 Telecommunications Committee Member
Training is always needed in public safety, but its methodology, delivery and perceived success of the training is often a subject of controversy. Fiscal resources, staffing and time constraints are often impeding an agency’s ability to form a consistent and well-developed training program.
The private sector recognizes that developing meaningful, impactful and task-focused training will improve business performance, and of course, the bottom line. Private companies seem to have an easier time gauging the impact of talent development. Training effectiveness can be measured by looking at several indicators, including an employee’s cost-effectiveness.
But what is the public safety bottom line? Perhaps the bottom line in a 911 communications center can be defined as the ability of the dispatcher in managing incidents. But how is that quantified or measured? There are myriad possible bottom lines when it comes to public safety call taking and dispatching that the water gets muddied when trying to determine how to measure the effectiveness of training.
- Should 911 communications centers measure how calls are handled?
- Should 911 communications centers measure how field units are dispatched to determine effectiveness of the dispatch and time to scene arrival?
- Should 911 communications centers measure whether call takers are gathering the necessary information from callers for an effective response?
- Should 911 communications centers measure a successful shift by the number of field responders who arrive safely at home at the end of the shift?
- All the above?
Agencies must go back to the basics of risk management and needs assessment, and have a continuous process to identify training needs, desired outcomes and measure whether the training model being used is addressing the needs.
Three training steps
In his book Work Rules, Laszlo Bock talks about the need to create a culture of learning within an organization. He highlights a few steps organizations can take to create this culture of learning.
Step one: Deliberate practice creates improvement. Organizations that focus their training in breaking down job duties into small practicable tasks encouraging employees to perform these tasks repeatedly have more success in improving performance with training. Bock cites the work done by K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, who studies the acquisition of expert level skills.
Ericsson found that individuals who attain expert level skills in any task, mostly learn by breaking down those tasks into smaller ones, and repeating them over and over after receiving feedback, or observing their results, making small adjustments to their tactics to improve. Ericsson refers to this as "deliberate practice: intentional repetitions of similar, small tasks with immediate feedback, correction, and experimentation.” Public safety agencies can maximize their budgets by utilizing downtime for these practice exercises.
Step two: Identify internal subject matter experts and invite them to teach. Many agencies when faced with training needs go to third parties (e.g. consultants) for classes, but they fail to consider that the consultant has never worked in their agency and do not have a true understanding of the agency’s organizational culture.
While the information received at these classes is often relevant, if not enforced or immediately applicable, it will likely be forgotten within a couple of days. Teaching from within the agency will allow for topics to be relevant to daily tasks, and employees will have easier access to the instructor for follow up questions.
Step three: Identify and measure the intended outcomes from the training. When implementing a new training program in a department, unit or division, agency leadership must be diligent in identifying and measuring the intended outcome from the training. Bock suggests implementing a controlled study in which employees are placed into two groups and only one group is exposed to a training course. Then, after a period time, compare the performance of the two groups. If the group that received the training is performing better, then the agency can reasonably infer that the training was effective.
Bock’s three steps in creating a culture of learning addresses many of the common complaints of public safety agencies. When agencies get creative and leverage internal talent and resources for training, they can address their training needs without having to constantly rely on budget approvals and balancing out staffing and time constraints.
About the Author
Anne Camaro is the Assistant Director of Administration and Training at the Cambridge Emergency Communications Department in Cambridge, MA. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, and a Post Graduate Certificate in Local Government Management and Leadership. Anne is passionate about the 911 industry and has devoted a lot of her time to developing and implementing training programs.