Being the officer in charge of training is often times a lonely proposition: limited staff, limited time, limited funds and limited equipment. As we have discussed in a previous article entitled, "e-learning 101for the fire service", distance learning can improve a number of situations for the training officer. It can present the "knowledge portion" of the subject matter so that the Training officer can be free to develop or oversee the manipulative or skills portion of the training. Distance learning can also reduce the T/O's workload in developing the initial lecture and lesson plans. This is where the time savings really counts! Any experienced instructor knows that the preparation time can easily exceed a 5:1 ratio of time needed for development versus time needed for delivery.
The objectives, knowledge checks, course outline, lesson plan and visual aids are pre-produced so that the T/O can focus on developing a believable "local application" to transform the lesson from theory into the realm of reality. "This can and may happen at this address, so I need you people to listen up and get ready to respond to XYZ." The local application step and the evaluation of individual or company proficiency becomes the focus of the training officer's time, effort and attention.
Recently, the Phoenix Fire Department opened their command training facility. They have developed an "Abbottville" mock-up of their city to be used in the training. When officers are confronted with a "what-if" scenario at their training center, it is based on an actual, physical building or situation that can (or previously has) occurred in Phoenix. Student attention span is dramatically increased as personnel acquire necessary skills that truly approximate reality. This concept must be included in your training (whether by distance or face to face) if you want students to participate as if their life depended on it.
When I talk to local training officers about the benefits of e-learning they nearly all agree.*
*(I've only had one training officer who instead bragged about having the largest training division staff in the state. It equated to himself and 2 Lieutenants. He also had a circa 1940's training tower (sorry, no fires allowed!) and an office space in the basement of a single engine company's quarters. He sat at his surplus, civil defense-metal-desk and told me that if he used any outside help (to include: videos, CD-ROM, internet, satellite, etc.) that he would jeopardize his staffing if training productivity increased! )
Besides, this guy, most training officers can immediately see the benefits of e-learning but most are unable to find the funding to purchase software, upgrade current PC's or fund student tuition and course fees.
There are several sources or "buckets" of money that are available to the training officer within your own department budget. Typically, these are not shown in the training program line items within the budget, and so, they are frequently ignored when funding projects with a direct training benefit. It has been my experience that these "buckets" can be "tapped" if you use the right approach.
The first and largest bucket is overtime. Most training in career and combination departments has an overtime expenditure associated with training. Either the students are on overtime or the instructor is on overtime or there is a backfill or coverage cost for the students that are unavailable to respond because of the training. Using e-learning opens up a lot of options. If students can complete the training on-duty in their assigned district or station, there is a direct savings of overtime.
Many training officer's have been successful in projecting a 5% or 10% reduction in overtime for refresher training on some mandated course and have requested that the projected savings be transferred into the training line item to fund the system and courses. The finance officer only has to be shown that the cost of year one will not be needed for years two through five and that a true savings of four years of overtime will be attained if the expenditure is made up front.
If more courses are added, then more overtime is reduced and additional courses may be added to the training program. If these courses are mandated by the State, OSHA or NFPA standards, the justification is even stronger and may be approved on a more routine basis. What Fire/Rescue or EMS Chief does not want to be known for working on reducing overtime costs?
Another "bucket" is the "Travel and Lodging" line item. This line item gets fat from conference and out of town travel for training. One strategy is to propose a 25% reduction in training related travel and lodging and move the savings into the "Training Supplies" line item. Why send your personnel out of town to receive training and incur overtime when you can purchase an e-learning solution and refresh multiple employees for the same costs? The budget analysis should highlight the overtime saved as well as the efficiency provided by having personnel in town and available for emergencies.
Other training related costs outside of the training division budget are sometimes the "Contract Services" line item. Any costs of out-of-town instructor/presenters in next year's budget are usually in this bucket. Maybe you can transfer the costs to buy a comprehensive course that has a 3 to 5 year shelf life instead of buying a one-time presentation. Again, Overtime should be saved by using the distance learning option.
As a training officer, I've been successful in getting the HR or Personnel department to budget for a course under their "Risk Management" funds. When the training is completed, it meets one of their budget objectives, and it didn't cost you any of your budget money. Another method might be to cooperate with another community department such as: Police, Sheriff, Public Works or Environmental Health that also has a mandate to stay current in CPR, blood-borne pathogens or Confined Space entry. Have each department fund a percentage of the course and the fire department provides the personnel (on-duty) to conduct the hands-on portion at no cost.
Some community insurance carriers will lower the premium if training on high-risk activities is conducted by city personnel: Negotiate with the carrier to see if they will purchase the distance learning course with their funds and reimburse themselves with the premium savings after the training is complete.
You see, the "real" cost of training is more than the $1,200 dollars in your "Training Supplies and Services" line item. Insurance, overtime, cost-sharing arrangements and other approaches have a direct cost and benefit to your department. Funding distance learning programs takes the same drive, determination and innovative approach that most training officers use to develop current programs with limited resources. It has become a daily survival skill!
The "real" cost of training is far above the T/O's line items. Class development, motivation, presentation, local application and evaluation all add up to a workforce that is ready to face any challenge that the duty day might provide. Getting home safely after every call and every shift is one goal that is always worth the cost.
You know, I'd hate to calculate the cost of not training.