Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Training Games: Listen/Watch/Do

I'm training a new hire to be the newest member of our dispatch staff. She comes to us as an experienced Public Safety Dispatcher. This is nice: it means I don't have to teach her how to do the job - I only have to teach her to to do the job our agency's way.

With that said, what is the best way to train a lateral hire verses an entry level dispatcher? In all honesty, there should be no difference. Lateral hires and entry level hires should be treated the same when it comes to training. Why?

Every agency has its individual policies & procedures (P&Ps), standard operating procedures (SOPs), and radio codes. A example of this is found in the California Bay Area: two neighboring city police agencies use completely different types of codes. One, City 'A' utilizes a series of nine-codes while over the jurisdictional border it's neighbor makes use of a combination of ten & eleven codes. The dispatch staff are directed to speak in plain talk when calling one another to avoid any miscommunication.

Consider hiring a dispatcher one one of these departments to the other, Sure, learning geography wouldn't be too difficult as would the State criminal offense codes but what of the radio codes? Now think about the P&Ps and SOPs. Quite a difference there. Let's change focus and see how a person from another State might need more assistance.

Say, for example, a dispatcher from Agency 'J' is hired to your department. Agency 'J' is a large department where the radio is divided in to districts, fire & police are separate centers, and fire provides emergency medical dispatch (EMD) instructions. Your department, Agency 'F' is a mid-size combined police / fire / ambulance (ems) where everyone rotates through each radio channel and call-taking positions and there is no emd.

Could the lateral dispatch hire from Agency J come on board with the on-the-job training and be expected make probation with flying colors?

I say no: the larger an agency is, the more restricted the P&Ps are. At least it appears that way from what I've gathered by talking to other dispatchers. It seems to me that small to mid-sized departments allow more leeway in regulations for their dispatch personnel.

Why is that? I believe it is due to the familiarity of the Communications Center staff with the law enforcement & firefighter personnel. The dispatchers know many, if not most, of the first responders from face-to-face meetings. The working relationships are firmly cemented by participating in drills, policy groups, and social events.

How many of you in these small to mid-sized departments know your units by voice, which is a definite advantage when a frantic call for help comes unidentified over the radio.

Back to training again...

Treating a lateral as if he or she was an entry-level ensures that no part of the training information has been skipped. The trainee can't come back later with the infamous 'No one ever told me or trained me in that' skill or knowledge. Yes, I understand the urgency in getting hires on the floor as fast as possible. It doesn't mean that the lateral's training process can't be expedited - what I'm saying is go ahead and cover all of the material you would normally do with a person who'd never been a dispatcher strictly as a CYA factor. It won't hurt the trainee or the department and in the long run in the event the lateral doesn't make it, for whatever reason.  Should the decision come to termination you will be able to show good faith in having done your best to provide every training opportunity.

How should you train? Adults are hands-on, visual learners. First, explain what the knowledge or skill is. Next, demonstrate the what you have just explained. Finally, let the trainee perform or explain the skill or knowledge. This is the listen/watch/do style of learning. Most of us learn new information this way. With some repetition, the knowledge will sink in to our grey matter.

Augment the verbal lessons with audio-visual materials: hand-outs, radio & phone tapes, ride-alongs, practice in computer aided dispatch (CAD) training programs while listening to live dispatch radio (if available), and providing trade journals to read about appropriate incidents. Obtain maps of your agency's jurisdiction and have the trainee fill in the beats/response areas with colored pencils. Have he/she look up every address shown in the CAD system that he/she is not familiar with.

Do you have any training ideas to share? Let me know - I'm always looking for new ideas.

Stay safe out there.

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