It has never been more challenging to be a PSAP official.
Longer-term considerations include implementing Next Generation 911 (NG911) technology and integrating the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN)—being built under the auspices of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)—into the 911 center’s operations. These are no small tasks.
The one short-term topic that is on everyone’s mind is staffing. It is not something merely to consider—it is the thing under the bed, the thing that keeps you awake—night after night after night. Right now, the 911 community is dealing with an acute 911 staffing shortage. In many cases PSAPs are struggling to keep up with the volume of emergency calls they receive, Obviously, this is placing lives at greater risk, which is a very big problem.
An Already Bad situation is worsening
Staffing always has been an issue for the 911 community. Telecommunicators typically are on the lower end of the pay scale—they don’t get paid anywhere near what they are worth—and the job can be incredibly stressful. So, it is no surprise that churn traditionally has been a problem for PSAP officials.
Unfortunately, the situation is worsening, driven by an economy that continues to pick up steam. Less-stressful, better-paying jobs are in abundance, and telecommunicators are flocking to them. We know of one PSAP located in the same area as a call center operated by a major automotive manufacturer, which not only pays better than the PSAP but also offers an incentive of a new car at a very low lease rate of $200 per month. Is it any surprise that the PSAP currently is operating with a staff that is roughly one-half of what it should be based on industry practice?
The immediate and natural question when faced with competition like that is, “How do we compete with that?” And the equally immediate and natural answer is, “We can’t.” But that’s not the correct answer, which instead is “We must.” The reason, of course, is that lives are on the line.
We Must Adapt, Starting with the Way We Think About STaffing
To compete will require taking the first page out of the evolutionary playbook: we must adapt, starting with the way we think. Stop thinking about staffing and start thinking about workforce optimization, a more holistic approach. Where staffing is about putting people in the seats, workforce optimization is about putting the right people in the seats and keeping them there for the long haul. It is the difference between checkers and chess.
Workforce optimization has four pillars at its essence: recruitment, hiring, training and retention each of which can be impacted by both external and internal factors. Let’s examine how the thinking of PSAP officials might change going forward concerning these pillars.
Rethinking the Recruiting Process
All of this means that PSAP officials need to rethink what they need in a recruit. The idea is to not only put someone in a seat, but to place the best person there. To do that effectively, PSAP officials will need to think well beyond what they need today.
it can be difficult for a variety of reasons to raise salaries, and pay, although important, has been proven in research that it isn’t everything. So PSAP officials need to offer more and better incentives and benefits, and perhaps explore alternatives to providing communications services in the traditional PSAP model. It’s time to get creative.
While the workforce optimization concept might seem foreign and even daunting—at least at first—help is close at hand. MCP subject-matter experts collectively have hundreds of years of experience as PSAP telecommunicators, supervisors and/or managers, and have worked on more than 30 staffing studies in the last two years, alone. We are developing workforce optimization strategies for our clients right now and would love to help you develop yours—please reach out.
Let’s Evolve 911 Together.
Bonnie Maney is MCP’s vice president of operations and facilities. She can be emailed at BonnieManey@MissionCriticalPartners.com.