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  • Frank Pereira and Marco Juarez

9-1-1: We Have a Hiring Problem

911 call center

A recent Wall Street Journal Article discussed the difficulty in finding workers for 911 call centers. As the labor market tightens, all organizations, not just 911 call centers are having trouble acquiring and keeping qualified employees. This situation reminds me of the “Bear in the Woods” story – no not that one, the other bear story.

Two hunters are in the woods when a bear jumps out of the bushes. The first one starts running. The second one sits down to put on this track shoes. The first guy looks back and says, “Those shoes are not going to make you outrun the bear.” The guy putting on the shoes responds, “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you.” As people have more, and better choices, organizations need to make sure that they remain competitive for those people. Like the hunters, the successful organizations will be the ones that outrun everyone else in acquiring great people.

By their nature, 911 centers have to support difficult work hours on nights and weekends, just like any other round-the-clock operation. Jobs requiring “backshift” coverage can be harder to staff. Benefits and pay are only short-term motivators (most people want to work “normal” hours). Alternative shift schedule options are often a much more significant benefit, especially in today’s millennial world. From years of helping design such schedules, employees consistently tell me that the number one desire they have from working an alternative shift schedule is more days off. Predictable shift schedules are the second most desired benefit.

The only way to get more days off and get the same pay is to work more hours on the days of work. This factor is the driver behind ten-hour shifts. You work two more hours a day, and you get an extra day off a week. Fifty-two extra days off a year! Although most people want weekends off, some people might be willing to work this weekend to get a four day weekend next week. Alternatively, some people might be willing to work nights to get a five, six, or, seven-day break every few weeks. Getting the right shift and right schedule can significantly improve work-life balance which will draw in better candidates and help retain the good ones.

Alternative shift schedules may open the door to attracting retired first responders who want to continue making a difference. Or retirees in any field who miss their working lives but don’t want to go back to working full time. “Wanna-be” first responders, or bright school aged future managers and supervisors looking to get their hand dirty first, could be a great source of labor. The experience future first responders get in a 911 center could help them make better decisions and give 911 centers a motivated source of labor. In the same way, “supervisor” and “manager” training programs requiring future leaders to work one or two years “on the shop floor” could motivate a whole new generation of employees to enter the workforce in jobs they may not have previously considered.

Thinking back on the issue of pay – does everyone want more pay? Yes…but it is essential to remember that pay is a short-term motivator. Bonus and pay raises are often forgotten right after the first paycheck is spent. That said, pay for any job needs to be high enough to get people in the door. In the long run, unless the salary is significantly low, people don’t leave because of low pay. They primarily leave because of work-life balance, job satisfaction, or their boss.

Keeping good people requires continuous improvement and innovation of human resource methods. Organizations need to move quickly to get out of the woods ahead of other organizations.

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