Problem-solving for the next generation of emergency dispatchers was the focus of Tiffany Wilson’s NAVIGATOR 2020 proposal. Then one of the biggest challenges of her career—an unanticipated one for sure—proved relevant to a lot of what she planned to cover.
The big challenge was the precautions the Valley Regional Emergency Communications Center (Modesto, California, USA) would take during the coronavirus alert and shutdown. They certainly did not see the pandemic coming when the NAVIGATOR proposal was submitted in early fall 2019 but, all the same, the principles outlined are apropos to gearing up the next generation for whatever comes their way.
While Wilson refrains from categorizing generations and assigning stereotypes, she noticed that new, younger hires do great in the classroom, but when training rolls around, many decided against staying.
“They didn’t feel they fit in,” Wilson said.
The problem was reaching a compatible ground. The younger new hires and chief training officers (CTOs) clashed. CTOs have a certain way they want the job done. The younger generation, she found, possesses a technical savvy that allows them to “see” shortcuts, ultimately conflicting with a CTO’s approach regulated by long experience. Wilson said they could not change the standards or expectations. They had to find a solution within boundaries that was comfortable for everyone.
“They question the ‘why’ and ‘how,’” Wilson said. “They want to do a good job, and they’re eager. But they want reasons for the way things are done.”
Wilson came up with a set of principles encouraging better working relationships. The five principles each begin with the letter R: Rapport. Relaxed. Rationale. Relate. Research. She said the principles set clear expectations in what it means to be a good working partner. They apply to all ages and are modeled after lessons important to getting along, whether at work or play.
Understanding the feelings and ideas of others provides opportunities for developing better personal connections. Wilson said a genuine interest in goals and ideas goes a long way in encouraging new hires to keep with the profession.
This is not about sitting back with your feet on the console. Rather, it’s about taking a more flexible and relaxed approach. Wilson describes a more hands-on approach for the trainee. “Let the trainee do the hands-on and the CTO guide them,” she said. “Coach them but let the new hire drive the training.”
A logical course for a basis of action defies the “That’s just the way we do it” approach. Millennials and generations following want to know the “why” behind the action, Wilson said. For example, “Why do we have to ask questions [in protocol] verbatim?” or “Why do I have to go home? I’m not sick. I’m sneezing because I have allergies.”
The “how” and “why” of a decision has an effect upon the individual. For example, “Why does the CTO correct me when I don’t ask the questions verbatim? How was I supposed to know?” or “Why should it matter if I’m late for my shift?”
The final “R” addresses staying at the forefront of change, Wilson said. “We can’t get stuck in this is the way we’ve always done things, and it takes research to support the changes we make for the good of the people we serve,” she said.
To intercept a situation involving expectations and standards before they become a problem, a mentor talks to new recruits during orientation. “They address the steps in the training manual, such as why it’s important to arrive on time or why we follow the protocols as scripted.” A CTO is also on the floor during every shift to answer questions and provide direction.
Wilson, who started at the center 10 years ago, said the “Five R” philosophy is a start. “We were struggling with new recruits. It’s still fluid but seems a good approach for all situations we encounter in dispatch.”
Audrey Fraizer is Managing Editor of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch.