Traditional Training Has a Lot of Peripheral Costs
but Failure to Train = Catastrophic Liability
As an agency head, I was constantly coping with the ebb and flow of funding. Sadly, the latter years saw more ebbing than flowing. Budget reductions and unanticipated shortfalls necessitated a relentless cycle of reprioritization, force reductions, equipment replacement, schedule modifications, reductions in services, deferred purchases, consolidations, and all the other things that executives do to sustain operations, maintain acceptable standards, and keep the ship afloat without forfeiting the safety of our people. This reality followed me from municipal, to county, and to state government.
If expectations, liability, and statutory mandates ebbed and flowed with the resources, we would have a significantly broader range of management options; but they don’t. Industry standards that govern our performance and, often times, shield or expose us to liability do not flex in sympathetic response to our budget environments. Additionally, each legislative session results in a bushel of changes (often in the form of unfunded mandates), which demand time, energy and money to implement. Needless to say, they are also accompanied by an array of consequences for failing to do so. The fact is, each budget challenge piles atop the wreckage of those preceding it creating a cumulative, crushing effect on the agency, its performance, and morale.
Another side-effect of compromised performance is a compromised relationship with the community. But – and this is why I love my public safety leader colleagues – this is what we do for a living. We greet the ugliest realities as they come; we evaluate them with a (some would say twisted) sense of fascination; and through steadfastness and creativity, we craft a solution, resolve the issue, and skip off to the next one. We all see challenges as little more than the clay we sculpt great ideas from.
One of the tougher challenges to overcome is that of training. Much of our training is required. It is governed by administrative rule, statute, or simply industry best-practices as established by our national and state standards & training entities. Some training requirements are unique to the specific municipality, county, or state we serve. And other training is discretionary. Regardless, we all know that training equals:
- Employee safety
- Risk mitigation (budget defense)
- Professionalism (favorable community perception and policy-maker/constituent support)
- Efficiency and effectiveness (force multiplier)
- Consistency (bias-free, fair, and equitable policing)
- And vicariously, as a result of all of these, agency head longevity
But we also know that much of what we do is critical in nature – literally life-and-death. We are often times the sole source provider of the services we deliver within our respective jurisdictions. So, when a chief, sheriff or colonel is confronted with a choice like: keep a badge on the street or skimp on training; or replace the patrol car and reduce training-X for the next few years; or keep a pod open in the jail and eliminate training-X; or keep a telecommunicator and eliminate the training position, it’s easy to see how, when the music stops, training is often without a chair. None of our choices are savory and it’s often a matter of throwing the dice and guessing as to which option might get us sued less.
But there is an attractive option that represents the “win-win” we’re always searching for. And, based upon its explosive growth the past several years, it is both meeting the operational need and minimizing the encroachment on agency wallets. It’s called Elearning. Elearning is internet based training that can be accessed and taken on a computer or even mobile devices. It is available 24/7, and is perfect every time. It can be highly interactive; the content and course rigor is determined by you; it can test; it can capture and record the results; it can integrate those results with your agency systems; it can issue and track certifications; it can send recertification reminders; and so on. In fact, the content is largely irrelevant. If you want to deliver a course online, from your agency/government website, or a highly secure 3rd party learning management system (LMS), it can be done. Furthermore, the integration and automation options promise benefits not just to you, but to other entities such as Human Resources, etc. So you can boast meaningful benefits not just at your agency, but at the enterprise level, which is often well received by mayors/city administrators, county commissioners/judges, and state or local administrative services entities. Oh, and by the way, it’s cheaper. You pay to have your course built and you’re done. You can deliver it as often as you like, whenever you like, to as many as you like. Oh, and it’s safer. Once built, there is no fluctuation in content or delivery. It is perfect every time and that means it is defensible every time. Oh, and it’s exclusively owned by you. Oh, one more thing; elearning:
- Minimizes training travel costs
- Minimizes trainer travel costs
- Minimizes training facility costs
- Minimizes training equipment costs
- Minimizes training OT costs (students take it when it’s convenient, on their shift)
- Minimizes back filling trainee shifts
- Minimizes disruptions to operations
- Minimizes training related liability
- Allows for more frequent training
- Tailored specifically to your agency, your policies, and your expectations
- Elearning offers a great return on investment
(Q) Is every topic suitable for elearning?
(A) Absolutely not.
Critical skills training, for example, will always be largely in the firm clutches of the hands-on, instructor-led methodology. Let me qualify that by saying that things like firearms, pursuit driving, use of force, and so on can all be complimented by, and supplemented very effectively with elearning. Things like range safety, or range supervision, or pursuit driving orientation, pursuit policy, and use of force policy are incredibly well suited for an elearning format. But much of what we train is always well suited for elearning. Examples include the annual battery of topics like HAZMAT, harassment, workplace violence, information security, and a host of others. Employee orientation and much more can occur through elearning.
(Q) Is it just for internal (employee) sorts of training applications?
In fact, some of the best applications are public-facing learning services that customers/citizens can access from your agency website. Examples might include form completion how-to tutorials, overviews of the agency, educational presentations about the community, civic participation of agency employees, or explanations of services and programs. The applications are limited only by your imagination and creativity.
There is no doubt, based on national events the past several months that agencies need to maximize their interaction with the communities they serve. More importantly, agencies have to embrace the way that their constituents access information and interact with entities. If you want to reach your citizens, you need to do it via the internet. If you are not engaging the community via their computers and mobile devices, you are not engaging the community!
Chris Brown (Ret.)
Proud member of:
Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association
IACP (State & Provincial)
Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police
International Police Association
For Further Reading
- Training ROI: Use of Return on Investment for Training Programs
- Debra Ruh: Inclusion Branding: Revealing Secrets to Maximize ROI
- Creativity within Constraints: When Cost, Resource Scarcity, or Deadlines Make Effective Elearning Seem Out of Reach
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