Ten years ago this month, the United States Congress recognized April as “National 911 Education Month”, and ever since the 911 community has organized dedicated events throughout their communities to support public education about this vital, life-saving service. This month also is a fitting time to look inward and focus attention on how much emphasis is placed on education within our own organizations, whether it be a 911 center or a company like ours.
At MCP, we view professional development and mentoring as an integral part of our culture. Not only does it help our staff members cultivate their knowledge and remain current on technological and operational developments, it also plays an important role in employee retention. Every year, we invest more than a million dollars in development and training because we recognize that not investing in our staff could negatively impact how we serve our clients.
For our clients, and public safety professionals in general, the same holds true. Invest in yourself and / or your agency and you will reap the rewards.
Professional development and mentoring in emergency communications has never been as important as it is today for two reasons.
Disruptive Technologies Are Reshaping Our Industry
The public safety sector is moving faster than ever thanks to disruptive technologies. Driven by a combination of that disruptive technology and the ever-increasing expectations of the public, PSAPs and emergency communications have already evolved dramatically, particularly over the last two decades.
But what's coming in the near term, and beyond, has the potential to completely transform our industry. Telecommunicators, and their leaders, also must evolve their skills to address these new realities.
Recruiting and Retention STRUGGLES Remain Unresolved
Second, but an equally important issue, is that 911 leadership continues to grapple with recruiting and retention issues.
For instance, last year, we asked our clients what the biggest challenge facing their organization was and more than half reported, “finding skilled employees, recruitment and retention, morale and/or high turnover”. Many 911 centers are staffed at levels far below what they are authorized, a vicious cyclical crisis that often worsens retention issues and will continue to get worse if workforce lifecycle management does not evolve.
One of the most strategic things an agency can do to prepare for these changes and address staffing struggles is formalize a professional development and mentoring program.
Key Professional Development Takeaways
Here are five key ideas for 911 leaders looking to create such programs, or for 911 professionals looking to advance their careers:
Employ a holistic approach to professional development that brings technology and operations together.
One of the biggest gaps in professional development that we see today surrounds holistic, all-encompassing approaches to public safety that bring technology and operations together.
Being able to understand and embrace the big picture, especially concerning the networks and systems within the emergency response process, and how they’re interrelated, is becoming increasingly important. Simply put, everything affects everything else in some manner and those that will be able to embrace this will have a greater impact on their organization.
Go beyond training at the telecommunicator-level and hone in on professional development for leadership.
As employees advance in their careers, it’s easier than one would think to lose sight of how the emergency operations organization runs. This makes it difficult to understand how to prepare for and embrace emerging technologies and the impact they will have on 911 operations, thus adding to the complexity that already exists in terms of replacing legacy systems with today’s more advanced Internet Protocol (IP) and cloud-based solutions.
Remember that professional development and coaching for leadership is as important as education at the call-taker and dispatcher level.
Implement a formal coaching or mentoring program.
The long-term impact of coaching and mentoring can be life and career changing. If you don’t have a mentor present in your career today, go find one. If you’re managing a public safety communications center, assign a mentor to every staff member hired by the organization, and encourage a frequent communication rhythm between the mentor and the employee. The difference between trainers, coaches and mentors is that a trainer teaches tasks and processes, while a coach focuses on training specific behaviors that support stronger performance, and a mentor provides a source of wisdom, teaching and support.
Look for creative ways to educate yourself and your staff.
While NENA and APCO offer beneficial opportunities for 911 professionals to advance their knowledge, there are also a variety of other creative and low-cost—even free—means available to stay abreast of significant changes impacting the industry. MCP is just one of the many public safety providers that hosts complimentary, monthly webinars to 911 professionals, as well as an Emergency Number Professional (ENP) study group to help emergency communications specialists prep for NENA’s ENP certification exam. RapidSOS recently featured "10 Public Safety Blogs for 911 Dispatchers and Call Takers" public safety blogs that can help 911 professionals learn about best practices, discover new technologies or connect over shared experiences.
Bottom line, learning comes in many flavors, and there are many opportunities available today, thanks to technology, to further your professional development without incurring major expense. It never hurts to look beyond what you currently do to see what else is available.
Implement a succession plan for key individuals at your organization.
Personnel changes at your organization can have a major impact on staff morale, decrease performance, and increase costs. Arguably worse is that your strategic plan could stall if a key staff member leaves unexpectedly. We typically see a lack of support for succession planning, especially at the middle management and executive levels, because leadership is either distracted by other priorities or concerned about their own job security should leadership potential be seen in others.
Take the time to implement a succession plan for your key positions to be prepared for inevitable turnover. We recommend using a tool like the 9-box grid to evaluate each employee’s current and potential level of contribution to the organization, to pinpoint future leaders and identify what training, coaching and mentoring is required to groom them for advancement.
Remember that focusing on employee engagement through professional development not only plays a key role in improving operations, it also boosts employee morale, loyalty and commitment, and often contributes to higher retention rates and longer-term job satisfaction—which is in everyone’s best interest.
Learn more about Mission Critical Partners' public safety communications leadership coaching and training program. Or, if you're interested in taking your career to the next level, view our current openings at MCP.