Millennial Civic Engagement

How does a 20-something with a civil service bug break into the public sector?

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Working in a local, state, or federal government environment may be less foreign for a young person who has military experience or familial connections, but what about those without? Where is the door to step inside? Are the steps so high and intimidating that individuals are deterred? This is a huge portion of our young, active workforce population.

These questions examine a topic that is as multi-faceted as anything else. The three points that arise for me are as follows…

  1. Not even on the radar.
    Unless an individual has a personal connection with someone who works in the public sector, how might they ever know about these career paths? It could be suggested to them by a professor, sure – but what if they are not in college? There are few if any media-marketing efforts made to recruit fresh blood into the public sector. With the barrage of attention hooks seen throughout their day, many people lack the information (or any connection) they need to pursue a career in the public sector. The information might be out there, but they’re not seeing it.
    Some people might argue that this is okay – that the public sector is better off hiring those who seek those jobs specifically. I would argue that if a talented individual is just starting out in the world, they are going to keep getting swept up by the private sector companies who are a) getting their recruiters out there, b) actively informing their target audience, and c) incentivizing the hell out of it.
  2. Where do I start?
    Here I will give huge props to communities that participate in career day festivals and offer internships. That’s great! I still think it should be better advertised. Consider the portion of the workforce that is bright and eager but lacking a technical certification or degree. If a community can get their message in front of all of those eyes, they will benefit from casting a wider talent net.
    (This post’s voice will turn towards the public sector management now, but everyone else is welcome to listen in.)
    As internet savvy as they may be, cyberspace is too wide and too busy to simply rely on them finding your job posting. Again, kudos to the communities (and their media managers) who are posting on social media.
    Specifically with jobs that (typically) require no certification or degree – i.e. emergency communications – cast that net wide! Get the word out there. We need good people, and they need to know that they are eligible. If this can be a door for them, we need to shine a light on it!

    3. Stable, sustainable incentives.
    I heard about an agency that is offering a $10,000 hiring bonus for emergency dispatchers. Another retention idea is scheduled pay increases. Shift differential. Tuition assistance. Child care. Retirement matching. Brainstorm what you could offer, and how much is sustainable. Having progressive financial compensation – particularly tied to certification levels, years of experience, continuing education, etc – is really important. They might work for beans at first, but everyone wants to know that some bacon is in their future. The incentives don’t have to be all money – but if a comm center is so short-staffed that you can’t offer them non-monetary benefits like lunch breaks – the situation is not sustainable.


I speak as a millennial with that civic service “bug”. I searched for a door and found emergency communications. The hiring process was so long and drawn out that I actually ended up taking another job for two years (working as a public safety state contractor) before re-applying. I’ll note that the crazy long hiring process is a real deterrent for a lot of people – so if you’re a potential applicant, hang in there! It might take a while. (For those who might roll their eyes and label me as ‘another impatient millennial’, please know that this was ~2009 and my application was caught in a hiring freeze.)
So I figured out where to start, but where to go from there? After three years I became a trainer in our comm center, and later created this blog. I enrolled in a local university ‘public sector leadership’ program in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree with the help of my employer’s tuition assistance program. Still, I wanted to feel that my path was progressing… when lo and behold, another door appeared.
This is my last week in dispatch. I will be transitioning to my agency’s community affairs unit. Instead of being a strictly “vocal” liaison to our community, I’ll have my face out there! I’ll be collaborating with a great team in coordinating our many community outreach events. Our agency strives to engage our citizens through many (many!) different programs, and provides quality-of-life services with the help of donated time and resources. We have a strong team of volunteers from all walks of life that truly believe in strengthening our community through service. While working in dispatch I joined that team of volunteers, and now I’ll have the opportunity to help even more.


What will happen to this blog? (Oh no?!) I will maintain it as I have been, with thoughts and musings about once a month. The 911/PSAP world is changing with new technology (FirstNet Partners with AT&T to Build Wireless Broadband Network for America’s First Responders), and there will always be folks trying to learn about how to be a 911 dispatcher. I remember, I was there at one point!

P.S. I’m keeping up my Telecommunicator license as well as my TCIC/NCIC Associate Trainer certification, so I do expect that I will remain active in dispatch periodically. The “last week in dispatch” line was for dramatic effect. 😉

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National Telecommunicator Week

Last week (April 9-15) was National Telecommunicator Week. If you’re in the industry, you have my commendation and appreciation. As the true behind-the-scenes crew, we are that “invisible gold line” that connects public service through all kinds of communication. I say all kinds because with fast-evolving technology, 911 operators are finding themselves sending text messages to citizens asking for suspect descriptions. In an environment when any delay is too long, waiting for a text back can really try a person!
Moving forward, I would like to send this message out to every community: Take care of those behind-the-scenes folks. The 24-hour, 365-day crew that helps keep your loved ones safe – they are that golden glue that holds things together in the middle of the night.      For all the potential citizen callers, I’ll offer this: Know your location! 🙂 Seriously though, help us help you – try to be concise and patient with the person on the other end of the line. They will do their best to get you help as quickly as possible – there is a method to our questions, so try to trust the process. Particularly with the industry norm of short staffing, please consider that we may be doing three things at once. Time is critical in an emergency, but stay with us an we’ll do our best to get everyone home safe at the end of the night.
These next few weeks may be a turning point for me in public safety – check back soon! Thanks for reading!

Five years, friends!

As of this week, I’ve been in emergency communications for 5 years.
I don’t know if that is above or below the regional/national industry average. I spent about 20 minutes searching online, but couldn’t find any good information about it- just a lot of talk about stress, turnover, and burnout.

I plan to continue this blog, and hope that it will be of good use to prospective applicants. Feel free to send me a message if you have questions or ideas for postings! I have lots of ideas for the future, but finding time between overnight shifts and school has been a challenge.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of links I wanted to share:

Insightful Interview on LifeHacker:
Career Spotlight: What I Do as a 911 Dispatcher

Statistics from the folks who still consider us “office and administrative support”:
US Bureau of Labor Statistics –
Occupational Outlook for Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

 

Should there be an app for that?

One of the assignments in my course (the catalyst for this blog) is to sketch up an app related to the topic of my blog. I’m not 100% sold on the idea of using an app to learn about dispatching, but I like the idea enough to run with it (also digging an “A” in this class). : )

My initial idea for the app is that it would be customized to pull data from an agency’s website, social media presence, and other online resources. For example, the agency that I work for has their city ordinances in a database online (https://www.municode.com/). This element would be incorporated into the app as a job preparation tool. Another element of the app would be the use of Google Maps and Google Streetview to help the user become more familiar with the agency they are/will be working for. Here are a couple mock-up screenshots, per assignment requirements.

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911 Technology

Interested in joining the behind-the-scenes world of emergency communications? As with most industries, advances in technology continue to push a demand for innovation in public services. Within a year of my hire date, I learned how to use a two-screen computer-aided-dispatch (CAD) program — and then learn a completely different one when we upgraded! A year later, we all had to learn how to use an entirely new multi-line phone software platform. Within the past year, our agency has begun implementing a new function that connects our CAD system with another agency that sends EMS within our jurisdiction. New, new, new all the time!

Many people wonder about how basic 911 service works – there are a lot of misconceptions about location accuracy and response time. With upcoming text-to-911 type capabilities, there is an even wider spectrum of potential service to citizens, but agencies are not upgrading at the same time. The decentralized nature of 911 services in the United States creates a daunting environment for upgrades to the (often quite outdated) communications infrastructure. As others have put a fine point on it- why does Uber or Domino’s seem to know exactly where I am, but the 911 operator (sometimes) does not?

If you are interested in becoming an emergency telecommunications operator, I would not recommend that you try to learn all about current technologies in use. Why? Because they are likely going to be outdated by the time you get through your hiring process (a little HR humor there, har har). Instead, I would encourage potential applicants to keep abreast of new and up-and-coming technologies that are being developed- they are often in the commercial news as well as internal industry briefings. You don’t need to know exactly how they work, but have some general awareness- be open to the idea that new tech is always coming down the line. Don’t resist it! Change is good, and change is necessary, etc, etc. Even better, try to cultivate a curiosity about what’s possible – you may stumble across an innovative solution for the industry.

Below are several examples of emergency communications centers utilizing new technology within the past year.

San Antonio 911- Cell phones, smart watches

How the Tech Sector Wants To Finally Fix the Broken 911 System

Smart911 service now available in Round Rock

     On a similar note, here is an interesting read about a teenager whose iPhone app overloaded a local 911 comm center – giving you some idea of the vulnerabilities of the current infrastructure. (Maricopa County 911)

Dumb desperation?

This is doubling as my mid-semester self-pep-talk as I am torn between daily apathy and anxiety.

I came across a phrase this year that resonated with me in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was about 14 years old. The brain spark that fires when you’re expanding your vocabulary, learning a language, and improving your ability to express your thoughts and feelings to others. That phrase is self-efficacy. Its a bit lofty sounding, I’ll admit, but as I absorbed its meaning I realized that I knew its meaning all along. The fact that it was so concisely summed up is what struck me. (Word nerd, right here.)

I stumbled across this phrase in a textbook I was reading for an undergraduate class I am taking this semester. The significance of my enrollment an undergraduate program involves the fact that I was home-schooled for 3 years, never finished the 8th grade, and never attended high school. I was an unreported runaway working two jobs at 16, researched where I could take the GED test at 17, and promptly enrolled at the local community college. In hindsight, knowing the compromises that I faced, I have wondered how I survived. Fast forward to today, and – ah ha! Call it dumb desperation, but it suddenly clicked in my mind that what I had was self-efficacy. When I have struggled, it is because my self-efficacy was shaken.

This concept connects with almost every experience in my life, and likely yours as well. Self-efficacy is as simple as the story of The Little Engine That Could, and so popular that you’ll find an infinite number of quotes, memes, books, and posters shouting the importance of believing in yourself.

Okay, I’ll bring it back around to dispatching: the training experience (and daily experience, for that matter) of being a dispatcher has posed a fierce challenge to my personal efficacy. One of the dispatcher supervisors (who had done my background check) even laid it out for me during a board interview, when I asked what they thought I would have the hardest time with. She said, “You seem like kind of person who is used to being good at everything you try your hand at — but you’re not going to be good at this for a long time.” (Cue wide-eyed gulp.)

The reason I want to bring up this topic on this blog is because it truly is the key to being a successful dispatcher – both learning the job and doing it right. I’m bringing it up because it is so important to keep at the forefront of my mind as both a learner and as a trainer. But even if you decide to go do something else, you should keep in mind that your greatest predictor of success in life is your attitude towards it. If you proceed into dispatching, or any great challenge in life, perhaps this psychology-reminder will help you prepare and press through. If you find yourself in a negative tailspin, recognize it for what it is, and the affect that your mentality can have moving forward. If you are struggling, be resourceful. Own up to your maxed-out-ed-ness (I say to myself), practice self-care, and keep your chin up.

In all of this, I stumbled across a great blog that succinctly lays out important things you should know about self-efficacy and how to wield it. See Tiffany Brown’s Self-Efficacy.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
-Henry Ford

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Image from MyBurnoutThing.com.

*Because I believe in keeping a humorous balance, I am choosing to also include this cartoon, with hopes that it does not undercut any of the above sincere statements. The reality is that working in emergency communications is not for everyone, and that’s okay!

Shift Shirt Humor

In this line of work, if you didn’t have it when you walked in the door (and let’s hope you did), you’ll develop an odd sense of humor. It helps us get through those long shifts, and helps form a bond with your partners that’s strong enough (hopefully) to get you to come back for more! Today I’ll share with you some of the fun dispatcher shirts that I’ve acquired over the years. They are non-agency-specific, but custom designed. Enjoy!

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If you’re looking for custom shirts, check out KidsWithScissors.
Some of from those folks, but I don’t remember which ones, sorry!