By Josh McFadden
The renowned philosopher, scholar, and scientist Aristotle once remarked, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
There are few professions where “acting rightly” is more critical than in dispatch.
After all, with any given call, a person’s life might be on the line. In some cases, your ability to respond correctly and accurately and to quickly relay the right help might determine the fate of multiple people.
Across the world, dispatchers are overwhelmingly performing their work tremendously, especially those who have access to the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS), Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS), Fire Priority Dispatch System (FPDS), and the Emergency Communication Nurse System (ECNS).
Nevertheless, there are constant changes and tweaks to the protocols as International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) leaders and emergency dispatch professionals seek for improvements to help save lives.
James O. Page, Lifetime Emeritus Member of the International Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatch, acknowledged that some people might struggle to understand why change has to occur. He said, “Some insist that if the system isn’t broken, we shouldn’t try to fix it. In a discipline where processing information quickly and accurately is paramount, there are many that will resist adding steps and time to the process. Where experienced communicators have learned to distance themselves from the gritty reality of the emergency scene, the suggestion that they get involved with caring for patients—through pre-arrival instructions—may cause discomfort.”1
However, Page concluded that, “As we look back over the many EMS improvements that have occurred during the past three decades, it’s obvious that many gaps in the system have been closed.”2
With such an important job adhering to an evolving but critical system, is it any wonder that the profession needs well-qualified, well-trained people who are dedicated to “act[ing] rightly”?
The general meaning and purpose behind training
Merriam-Webster, one of the foremost authorities on word definitions and meaning, has defined the verb form of the word “train” as “to teach (someone) the skills needed to do something (such as a job): to give instruction to (someone).” Other definitions include “to form by instruction, discipline, or drill” and “to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient.”
Shelley Frost, a researcher with the consulting firm Studio D, succinctly stated that training “presents a prime opportunity to expand the knowledge base of all employees … training and development provides both the company as a whole and the individual employees with benefits that make the cost and time a worthwhile investment.”3
Regardless of the type of job a person performs, no matter what the industry may be, starting an employee off on the right foot with proper training and instruction is vital to the person’s success. Clearly, in the dispatching world, comprehensive training and orientation should be non-negotiable. Dispatchers may resist it, but any good manager knows that lives depend on a well-equipped, confident dispatcher.
Frost further outlines four purposes of training. Each of these is particularly applicable to the communication center.
Turns weaknesses into strengths
Sometimes we hate to admit it, but each of us has weaknesses and areas in our work where we need to improve. No one is perfect. Even the most naturally gifted and talented dispatcher needs to iron out some wrinkles and refine rough areas. A major advantage with a training program is that managers can easily identify any flaws and then appropriately address them. By training employees, managers can assess any gaps between an employee’s current skills and the competency needed for certain tasks. Next, the manager and worker can discuss what steps to take to make up this difference.
In Frost’s words, “Providing the necessary training creates an overall knowledgeable staff with employees who can take over for one another as needed, work on teams, or work independently without constant help and supervision from others.”
Training isn’t just for the new employee; it’s vitally important for even the most experienced workers in an organization.
More so than many other jobs, being a dispatcher brings a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. Each day is a challenge, and these can take their toll. Burnout, emotional overload, lack of motivation, and other factors can lead to the erosion of one’s performance in the communication center. Dispatchers who once exceeded expectations and performed with excellence can easily falter under the heavy loads of difficult calls and exhausting days and weeks. Fortunately, training offers a fresh new start and course correction in these situations.
In addition, a well-trained employee gains valuable confidence. This confidence may urge the person to perform even better and think of new ideas to excel. Continuous training also keeps your employees on the cutting edge of industry developments. Employees who are competent and on top of changing industry standards help your company hold a position as a leader and strong competitor within the industry.4
Dispatchers should have a sound understanding of the importance of being consistent. After all, that’s one distinct advantage of using the Academy’s protocols. When all dispatchers in a comm. center are using the same protocols—and when centers around the world are using it as well—it increases the likelihood that the right care is being administered to patients in need. It also holds all dispatchers to the same standards and keeps everyone on the same page.
It’s the same with training.
“A structured training and development program ensures that employees have a consistent experience and background knowledge,” Frost said. “The consistency is particularly relevant for the company’s basic policies and procedures. All employees need to be aware of the expectations and procedures within the company. This includes safety, discrimination, and administrative tasks. Putting all employees through regular training in these areas ensures that all staff members at least have exposure to the information.”
Helps employees like their jobs more
Imagine if new dispatchers were simply “thrown to the wolves” and left to figure things out on their own. Obviously, the notion is ridiculous, but without a good training system in place, this is how a person would feel.
Organizations that invest the time and effort to train employees and arm them with the necessary tools to be successful have a significant advantage over those organizations that lack a structured training program. When employers care enough about their employees’ personal development to spend effort training them, the employees feel appreciated. And when people feel appreciated at work, they are more satisfied with their jobs.
Furthermore, training can boost the morale of the entire organization and inspire loyalty. A recent poll conducted by the firm Louis Harris and Associates found that among employees with poor training, 41 percent desired to leave their company in a year or less. Conversely, of those employees who reported they had access to excellent training opportunities, only 12 percent had any intention of leaving their company.5
How organizations benefit
Businesses that focus on generating profits and making sales will find that well-trained, proficient employees help the organization’s bottom line. Employees who respond to sound training practices are in a much better position to do their jobs effectively and are thus able to get more done in a much quicker fashion.
While the focus is much different in a comm. center, the principles are the same. Author Jerry Shaw states, “Effective training saves labor by reducing time spent on problem-solving and saves money in the long run by producing a better workforce.”6
Cost and time savings
Dispatchers know as well as anyone how precious time can be. In your work, every second that ticks away could be the difference between living and dying. Time is a valuable commodity, so the more you can work efficiently, the better off you and your center will be.
Newer dispatchers (and perhaps more seasoned ones as well) may lament that training takes too long and requires far too many steps. But think of how much better it is for your comm. center when employees get excellent training and happily and effectively do their jobs for a long period of time as opposed to a team full of poorly trained, unmotivated, undedicated dispatchers. The latter come and go with frequent turnover. For managers, this means more hiring, more training, and more headaches—over and over.
Turnover and replacement cost includes exit interviews, administrative functions related to termination, severance pay and unemployment compensation, attracting new applicants to fill positions, entrance interviews, testing, travel and moving expenses, pre-employment administrative expenses, medical exams, and employment information.7
Better performance as a result of training can minimize this turnover and can even mean supervisors spend less time and energy worrying about team members’ output.
With a robust training program firmly in place, every member of your comm. center will understand from day one what is expected for on-the-job performance. This ensures greater consistency in everyone’s efforts and can help eliminate confusion and frustration that comes when employees don’t know what is expected of them.
Training programs establish standards that comm. center employees must follow. In turn, employees are motivated to measure up to these requirements and constantly improve in their work.
Another bonus for the comm. center is that good training virtually eliminates valid claims from employees who say they were unaware of expectations. When a person commits an error or overlooks something in their work, he or she can’t plead ignorance and say, “I never knew that” or “No one told me that.”
Consequences of poor training
Resist the urge to skimp on training. The results of inadequate training can be disastrous for your comm. center and for the dispatchers and team members who work there.
Being a dispatcher is challenging enough, even when the person is armed with all the tools and resources needed to excel. But combine an arduous job with little or no training, and you have a recipe for major problems.
If managers and supervisors fail to invest in their employees by offering instruction, guidance, and correction, when needed, employees will feel unappreciated, undervalued, and unimportant to the organization. When these feelings persist, it won’t take long for the person to dread coming to work and develop an apathetic attitude toward his or her daily tasks.
“Employees are interested in performing their jobs well to advance the company, feel a sense of pride for a job well done, and advance to higher positions,” states business writer Tina Amo. “When there is no training, employees do not understand how to do their jobs and none of these goals are possible. This leads to low morale among workers, which results in employee turnover. A company with a reputation for high employee turnover is also unattractive to potential job candidates.”8
“Untrained employees cannot produce high-quality products. They also lack adequate knowledge and skills to provide satisfactory customer service.”
One of the very last things you want to see in a comm. center is a dispatcher who no longer cares about his or her job.
The callers suffer
In the emergency response profession, dispatchers and responders work with a unique set of customers. Your customer is the person on the other end of the phone—frantic, exasperated, terrified, and possibly clinging to life or relying on you to render aid to a loved one whose life is in the balance.
In other professions, poorly trained employees will have insufficient knowledge or motivation to help customers. Consequently, the customer will become frustrated and upset and will seek service from a competitor, possibly never to return to the business that was unable to satisfy their needs.
But that’s not often the case for communication centers. Your task is so much more important than selling a product.
“Untrained employees cannot produce high-quality products,” Amo writes. “They also lack adequate knowledge and skills to provide satisfactory customer service.”
Like any other business, your service to the customer is paramount. But unlike in retail, food services, or similar industries, when you fail to deliver, lives are at stake..9
Don’t take it lightly
By using the protocols, you have the best chance to succeed in your job and to assist callers with a variety of needs. Learning how to use the protocols and how to respond to a multitude of situations comes through dedicated training. No one can step inside a comm. center from the street, sit down at a console, and handle call after call with efficiency without properly learning the tools of this all-important trade.
Managers and supervisors must place the highest priority in making sure their staff members are thoroughly trained and ready to tackle the most difficult calls. Similarly, dispatchers must be willing to accept the training and apply it to every facet of their job.
Every link in the emergency dispatch chain wins when the dispatcher has the skills and training to succeed.
Clawson J, Dernocoeur K, Murray C. Principles of Emergency Dispatch. Fifth Edition. International Academies of Emergency Dispatch; Salt Lake City, Utah. 2014.
See note 1.
Frost S. “The Importance of Training and Development in the Workplace.” Chron. Hearst Newspapers, LLC. 2016. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-training-development-workplace-10321.html (accessed Oct. 17, 2016).
See note 3.
“Increase Productivity & Job Satisfaction – Hire a Business Coach to Train Your Team.” Diad Consulting Inc. 2016. http://www.diadconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Increase-Productivity-and-Job-Satisfaction-22-to-88-percent-rev-3.pdf (accessed Oct. 18, 2016).
Shaw J. “Effects of Training on Employee Performance.” Chron. Hearst Newspapers, LLC. 2016. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/effects-training-employee-performance-39737.html (accessed Oct. 18, 2016).
See note 6.
Amo T. “The Negative Effects of a Lack of Training in the Workplace.” Chron. Hearst Newspapers, LLC. 2016. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/negative-effects-lack-training-workplace-45171.html (accessed Oct. 19, 2016).
See note 8.