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Never Stop Learning - In Your Career or In Your Life

By: Trae Maeder

We’ve all been there, voluntold to go to some training class. Isn’t this the same one I went to last year? And of course, it’s happening on your day off, and of course for us night shifters, requires a bunch of schedule rearranging. Super inconvenient, right?

Even if it’s a class you have already been to, and an instructor you have already had, shift your schedule and take that opportunity! Walk into that class with the largest mocha choca latte yaya something or other you can find (or a caffeine IV. If you can find one let me know!), a pen and paper, and an open mind. Embrace this training, you need it, your center needs it, and the people we serve need you to have it.

But seriously, we are asking the WORLD to see us. We are asking congressmen and senators on the state and national levels to look at us and see that we are elite professionals who deserve first responder classification. How do we take our group of dark-humored, highly caffeinated, mostly sarcastic, call takers and dispatchers and get a bunch of suit-wearing professionals to see the work we do and recognize the need for a change. Continuing education, annual certifications, and specialization training are all a huge piece of establishing us as professionals. Our public safety counterparts (police, fire, EMS) are all constantly training and honing their skills, or getting specialist certifications. Why shouldn’t we be doing the same?

“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” – Benjamin E. Mays

But what do we mean when we say continuing education? We have SO many options available to us, some very formal, some very personal, and everything in between. First, we should look at our major authorities in public safety communications, like the International Association for Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). If your agency has memberships with one of or any combination of those authorities, you’re off to a great start. Each of these agencies offers various in-person and online training curriculums for foundational certifications and continuing education. NENA and APCO both offer free webinars to members, usually every month.

APCO also offers industry-recognized leadership programs such as Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL) and Certified Public Safety Executive (CPE) which are both intense certification courses, up to a year in length, which require service projects affecting the communication industry on a large scale. Humanizing the Headset is a great example of that service project! Then NENA offers the Center Manager Certification Program (CMCP) and Emergency Number Professional designation (ENP) which are both rigorous programs, but teach you so much about self-improvement, leadership, and making your agency successful. As a side note for ENP, even if you’re not sure if you want to take the exam, you can find several FREE study groups to enroll in and build your knowledge on leadership and public safety communications.

FEMA (yep, I said it!) offers several free self-paced certificate training online through their Independent Study program. FEMA’s courses tend to look at the bigger scale of public safety and service and are packed full of information and resources which you may find useful to bring back to your organization.

Want to have some specialized certifications in this industry? Look into Tactical Dispatch courses from NENA or APCO, ask your agency about becoming a certified member of your Telecommunications Emergency Response Taskforce (TERT), deploying to help other centers during a major disaster. Look into FEMA’s Incident Tactical Dispatcher (INTD) certification program, or even seek certification in Hostage Negotiations. There are some awesome options to set you apart as a specialist in our field. Check out our podcast on TERT if you’re curious to learn more!

On the less formal side, there are SO many great blogs, websites, and podcasts that regularly provide brief training, awesome infographics, and endless entertainment for you or your agency. Humanizing the Headset (hi that’s us!), On Scene First, We Speak Dispatch, Within the Trenches, The Healthy Dispatcher, the 911 Training Institute and 911der Woman are all great resources. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend searching them up on your favorite podcast app or searching for their blogs and checking them out.

There are several private organizations like Showalter and Company, the Public Safety Training Consortium, and The Dispatch Lab, which offer excellent in-person training courses. I highly recommend asking your agency leadership or your training coordinator to look into bringing them in for a day or two and hosting some classes for your agency.

Conferences. Conferences, conferences, conferences. The great pandemic of 2020 and beyond (we’re not going to name names or anything) really changed the world of conferences and dispatch training. Conferences are known as priceless events for public safety communications, full of networking, training, and more. While the pandemic initially held us back from in-person conferences (though they are making a comeback), our resilient industry leaders didn’t let that stop us and we ended up with FREE virtual conference programs like Dare to Be Great, Be the Difference, and several state APCO/NENA chapters. In most cases these training platforms allowed the hosting organizations to keep the content online, and if you registered, you can go back and re-watch any of the training sessions on-demand (I know I’ve used this and asked some coworkers to watch some interesting conference sessions with me!). The most amazing thing about virtual conferences is that it extends training opportunities to those who otherwise couldn't attend while increasing your networking capabilities well beyond what you would typically. It’s still not quite the same, and we all greatly look forward to getting back to some in-person conferences this year.

Have any of you volunteered on a committee with NENA or APCO? I just started this year and it has been eye-opening. Having the ability to work with and learn from peers and industry leaders throughout the country is incredible, and then you realize that the work you’re doing with them is going to have an impact on our entire industry. What an awesome opportunity for hands-on learning on the fly. The committees and our industry need all the help we can get, and insight from dispatchers like yourselves on the direction of our industry is priceless.

Okay, this one is important. Learning outside of dispatch. I repeat, learning outside of dispatch. There are endless avenues here, but online platforms like Udemy, Nebula, and Lynda, Educational YouTube channels (Thomas Frank, Ali Abdaal, Wendover Productions) and local or online college programs are great ways to continually educate yourself and never stop learning (does your agency offer tuition waiver/reimbursement?). Even something as simple as setting a personal goal and reading 10-15 books a year (I recommend a mix of fiction and non-fiction) challenges our brain with reading and language skills that keep us sharp!

The key thing here is, Never Stop Learning. Never ever. Keep yourself educated, keep your mind sharp, and battle burnout and complacency by continually seeking new knowledge and sharing it with your friends and peers. Read, learn, and have discussions with friends and coworkers about what you are learning. Be a part of the charge to fill the public safety communications field with educated, specialized, professionals. It starts with you and me. From there, the possibilities are endless.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we are curious – and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney


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Thank you Trae! Greetings from my agency to yours.💛


Paula Kiger
Paula Kiger
Jan 04, 2022

I love this so much. I'm not a dispatcher, but I'm a dispatcher ally and love a commitment to lifelong learning. Thank you for making it sound so compelling!

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