Monday, October 29, 2012

Pick Me! Recruiting Dispatchers

How does your agency find new hires? Does the Human Resources post a job ad? Does Personnel & Training send an employee out to local high schools or colleges? Do you put an old-fashioned ad in the newspaper, print and on-line, and just wait until the deadline passes to see how many applications come in?

How does a perspective dispatcher find a job these days?

Think back to when you, the Public Safety Telecommunicator, found out the agency you work now for was accepting applications.

My first dispatcher job was simple: the boss asked me if I'd be willing to train as a dispatcher to fill in for breaks. The next time I saw an ad in the Sunday newspaper, long before personal computers. Even when I applied for an agency, the job was listed in a newspaper.

Many of the veteran dispatchers I have spoken with, in person and on-line, have told me their first fire and/or law enforcement dispatcher position application process was very informal. In some cases, a simple job application was filled out. A few said they just had an interview with the Chief. Those same agencies put the field personnel through an intensive process but didn't bother to do so with their dispatchers.

Hmm, makes me wonder why the Chiefs didn't think a background was merited for communications center employees. Dispatchers had access to a warehouse full of sensitive information, yet they didn't 'qualify' for even a simple drug test?

At some point, the hiring process changed, not because department heads wanted to make it tougher, but because the Department of Justice - FBI mandated any agency who accessed criminal history database records needed to go through certain backgrounds first. Law enforcement departments had to change the procedures of dispatchers or possibly lose their access privileges.

Did recruiting techniques of dispatch personnel change? No, not really; the process of posting open positions did.

A few agencies would add dispatcher recruitment when they went to job fairs. Unfortunately, dispatch position jobs were posted in newspapers and trade journals. When the Internet blasted out to public use, the job boards slowly took over from the print newspapers.

The problem with posting jobs on the Internet is those searching for job don't know where to find them. Which site is the one having the posting? Sure, working dispatchers may know to check APCO or NENA, but a person without any experience seeking an entry level position has no idea what APCO or NENA is. Which job site should be checked? Job boards carrying jobs go through trends. Should you check Craigslist or USA jobs? Are the listings current?

The State of Nevada may be mandated to use a particular job site while the US Federal government uses another and a county sheriff a different one altogether. Three jobs for dispatching in the same county, but for three separate agencies all on three separate job sites.

Is it any Human Resources claim they can't find qualified candidates, while job seekers say they can't find jobs? It sure was easier when jobs were listed in newspapers.

Talk with dispatchers, supervisors, or managers and someone is bound to tell yo Public Safety Telecommunicators are difficult to find. Why? Because only 2-5% of the total population has the necessary multitasking abilities to handle the job. In other words, not very many people can walk, talk, chew gum, and juggle three tennis balls at the same time. Of those who can, only half want to do the job.

Getting folks through the process is a headache. Entry level dispatchers must run a gauntlet almost as tough as a firefighter or law enforcement officer (we don't run a physical fitness course). Written tests, practical test, oral board, psychiatric test, medical test, hearing exam, polygraph, drug test, fingerprint check, and a background investigation. Pass all of that and you start training.

Does every agency utilize every part of the above procedures of the hiring? No, not to the survey results I'm receiving. Some agencies administer a polygraph. Many agencies waive the written and practical tests if a dispatcher is a lateral (worked at another law enforcement agency for a set amount of time within a certain time frame). Hearing tests are optional, and also vary from a person standing at one side of a room whispering a sentence (that happened to me at one department) to a formal test conducted at a hearing specialty center (had that done, too). Not all departments perform polygraphs, as they have discovered the results can't be used against the subject in certain situations. Although, if you have nothing to hide and answer questions honestly, you should have no problems with one.

Department Personnel & Training or Human Resources are now actively recruiting for dispatchers. No longer are dispatchers an after thought at job fairs. Colleges offer Public Safety Telecommunications Peace Officers Standards of Training (POST) certified courses. If you consider dispatching as a career, and your local college offers a POST course, it is worth your time to take the class. One can also contact a local police or sheriff and ask to do a sit-along. You can see what the job entails before enrolling in a class and wasting a lot of time going through an application process.

Stay safe out there!

I'll save training for another day.

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