Today happens to be National Teacher’s Day. Be sure to show some appreciation for the teachers and professors who have influenced you and provide quality experiences for your kids. Also consider expanding the definition of ‘teacher’. In the public safety professions, we do a lot of training. Some of us have structured academies, and while others may not, there are a lot of training opportunities provided locally, state-wide, and nationally. Depending on the size and scope of your agency, you may run your own training program for internal, and potentially external stakeholders.
For a few years, I ran the training and exercise program of a state emergency management agency. We delivered training programs state-wide to a variety of stakeholders. We also developed some training programs to address needs which curricula from FEMA or other national providers could not meet. Fundamentally, delivering training is easy, but properly managing a training program can have challenges. Some thoughts…
- Find the right people for the job. While we hired some personnel full time to be trainers, we also used people from elsewhere in the agency, as well as personnel from partner agencies, and hired some as 1099 employees. There are a lot of highly qualified individuals in public safety – if you don’t know any, just ask, and they will be sure to tell you! Assuming their qualifications are valid, are the most experienced and knowledgeable people always the best instructors? Absolutely not. While they may be subject matter experts, it doesn’t mean they have good presentation skills, much less comfort in doing so. On the flip side, you might also have someone with little experience who has great delivery skills. That might be a person to develop.
- Quality control. When people are delivering training, peek in once in a while. I traveled around the state regularly, and once in a while would see if one of our courses was being held somewhere along my route. If I had the time, I would stop in and see how things were going. While the visit was a surprise, our instructors knew this is something that might happen. There are a few things this accomplishes. First of all, it gives you an opportunity to observe and provide feedback. Everyone can improve, and hopefully they can handle some constructive feedback. Evaluation, formal or informal, is positive for the instructor and the program. Look for consistency of practice (see the next bullet point) and professionalism. On one of my surprise visits, I found an instructor wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. When I discussed it with him, his response was that he was ‘retired’ (teaching for the agency was a retirement job for him) and that he could do whatever he wanted to. After that discussion was happy to retire him further. Stopping in also shows support for your instructors and for the program as a whole. Weather traveling across the state or down the hall, instructors want to know they are being supported. A big part of support is simply being present.
- Consistency counts. Training programs should be consistent. While we might change around some examples or in-class scenarios, training delivered in one location by instructor a should largely match the training delivered another day, in a different location by instructor b. Coming up through the ranks as a field trainer, I was part of a group that wanted to heavily modify the courses we delivered. As I rose to management, I realized how detrimental this was. If improvements are warranted, work with your instructors to integrate those improvements into the course. Make sure that improvements are in line with best practices, not only in instructional design (remember: content must match objectives), but also with the subject matter. Consistency not only ensures that all your learners are provided the same information, but also makes your curriculum and instructors more legally sound. Too often we see instructors ‘going rogue’, thinking that they know a better way.
- Programs need systems. A big part of building and maintaining a program is having adequate systems in place. Systems require policies, procedures, and tools. This is largely the behind the scenes stuff of a training program. This includes annual curriculum reviews, performance reviews of instructors, selection/hiring and firing of instructors, maintaining instructors (see the next bullet), ordering course materials, maintaining training records, posting a course, course registrations, course cancellations, and so much more. While it sounds bureaucratic, there should be a piece of paper that covers every major activity, identifying how it’s done, by who, with what approvals, and at what time. Systems make sure that things aren’t missed, give you a basis of performance to evaluate the system and to train new staff, and help ensure consistency. Systems contribute to your professionalism and are also good practices for business continuity. Lots of credit to Cindy who was highly dedicated to establishing systems!
- Keep instructors engaged. With either a large or small training shop, it’s important to maintain contact with your instructors. Not just in handing them assignments and shuffling paperwork, but to really engage them. We established twice a year ‘instructor workshops’, bringing our instructors together for two days. From a management and administrative perspective, we used some of this time to express appreciation for their work, and provide information on curriculum updates and other information. We encouraged much of the workshop agenda to be developed by the instructors themselves, with professional development provided by their peers. This could include instructor development, after action reviews of incidents, case studies, and a variety of other activities and information.
Those are just a few tips and lessons learned. I’m sure you may also have some to add to the list – and please do!
© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP