I often talk to managers who spend their days ‘putting out fires’ and going from ‘one crisis to another’ claiming that they do not have time for training. How refreshing it is then to work with managers from East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service who really do put out fires and still have time for personal development.
Like most public sector organisations, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) is undergoing a transformation, driven by the need to make savings in the face of funding cuts. Recognising that staying the same was not an option, ESFRS has been working hard to be as efficient and effective as possible and that included looking at the way it trains and develops its managers.
When most people think about the fire and rescue service, they rarely think about the management and leadership skills needed in the role. Curious, I asked Steve Whittlesey, Learning and Development Business Partner at ESFRS, what he believes are the main management and leadership challenges facing the fire and rescue service today.
“Currently, the Fire & Rescue Service is undergoing many changes due to the financial restraints from the budget. One of the many challenges is the need for staff to engage in the cultural changes brought on by the reducing budget and staff numbers.”
These changes have been extremely challenging and have resulted in new systems, processes and new training and development needs. Many organisations and managers say they do not have time for training, but just imagine how difficult it must be for the emergency services given the nature of the operational demands of the work they undertake.
How is ESFRS doing it?
Steve explained, “The development of operational staff needs to be flexible to enable them (managers and officers) to pick it up (or put it down), working around emergency calls. This is one of the reasons for choosing an online/ distance learning programme.”
One piece of advice that Steve would give other public sector organisations which are looking at offering distance learning/ online programmes is motivation. Steve said, “One area that we are addressing currently is the problem with self-motivation and staff having to work unsupervised. We have identified some learners who have not progressed as far as we would have expected them to and there is a need to ‘tie them down’ to a deadline for completion.”
ESFRS chose Exponential Training and the Chartered Management Institute qualifications because of the range of qualifications on offer, and the flexible, practical, but rigorous approach adopted by Exponential Training.
“Exponential Training is one of the providers that we use across a wide selection of training providers – they offered us the best product at the time that we were looking (and still do).”
With value and performance being so important today, I asked Steve how he is measuring the impact and success of programmes both from the individual’s perspective and ESFRS. Steve replied, “Line managers carry out periodic review meetings with learners on development programmes to ascertain their progress. We, the Learning and Development Department, monitor the outcomes of these meetings along with feedback from training providers.”
To anyone who says that they do not have time to learn and develop because of the nature of their work, I say take another look at the way Exponential Training delivers its distance learning programmes. Not only will you have the time to put out fires, but you will also acquire the knowledge, skills and tools to prevent the fires in the first place!