Staying up-to-date with training in the emergency response community can be just one more hurdle to jump in an already chaotic environment. And although required training can have an impact on the normal schedule of any public safety agency, the goal is not to create busy work, extra long shifts, or even longer weeks. The goal is to identify emergency responders’ needs and avoid reliance on overtime – while still being able to give your employees access to the education and resources they need to succeed and improve your organization’s operations.
First responders often face unique challenges in their career, and unfortunately fitting training into the schedule is no exception. There are two types of training, continued training and new-hire training, that need to be considered when deciding the best approach to scheduling training for your unique agency. With this in mind, there are two options available:
Option 1: Pay employees overtime to train – either the person who is receiving training, or the person who is covering for them. You can simply accept that cost and move on.
Option 2: Plan for the training and build it into the schedule and staff appropriately from the beginning.
By planning for the training, management is accepting there is an upfront cost in the form of minimum staffing levels, but because it’s allocated in advance, it’s not detracting from the required minimum schedule. In this scenario, everyone's’ base schedule includes hours set aside every week, two weeks, month, etc. to receive the necessary training.
Building training into your coverage plan for the first time can be a challenge, as training times can vary from 30 minutes to 8 hours. It’s important to balance what is needed and what is reasonable in terms of hours per week or hours per month. If your agency is struggling to find content for training, consider asking your staff for input on areas they would like to receive more training, you may be surprised by their creative suggestions.
With building training into the schedule, management will also need to plan for a reduction in the base hours of minimum staffing – meaning they will need to hire more people. This is the number one recommended method for training, but it can be difficult to achieve – especially with public safety agencies facing historic struggles with loss of personnel.
To begin this process, managers must demonstrate the need for ongoing training in black and white – pointing to state mandates and industry best practices in the event the need or cost is questioned. That said, at the end of the day, this is a matter of ROI when it comes to your employees. To determine whether or not option two is the best fit for your agency, perform an analysis of your employees – you know your agency and personnel best, only you can evaluate the cost and how the potential added hours will affect your team.
In certain cases, there is simply not enough time or staff to fit training into the rotational shift schedule. In these situations, paying employees overtime to cover shifts of employees that are training may be the only option. But, in most cases, planning ahead and having an available, easily communicable schedule that gives allowances for training will ensure first responders are aware of their schedule, and that their personal time will not be interrupted due to unplanned training. If training times are scheduled and announced outside of the normal schedule, almost certainly a significant percentage of employees will have already committed to other obligations and not have that time available. The options then become disrupting them, or trying to find even more time –neither of which are ideal for your employees or organization.
Although you may have an older scheduling software, or even a manual process, beginning to investigate more advanced options, such as a cloud-based solution, can help provide your leadership with a great tool to begin including training into monthly shift operations.
And, as always, remain flexible. Not all training can be laid out and planned for. Be adaptable to training needs, shifting schedules, and, sometimes, even paying for overtime. Every day, public safety agencies prioritize serving their communities – while also supporting each other. With that in mind, be sure to review your process and determine whether or not there are better ways to schedule your training that can effectively serve your employees, and your agency – improving both operations and morale.