Why do Fire and Emergency Services need a special kind of LMS?

Posted by Bruno Cozzi on 30/08/2019
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The LMS market can feel like an alien landscape for the Workforce Planning and Development Manager of a fire and emergency department. If you are that manager you'll be looking for clues that tell you how easy or difficult it will be to implement and get value from the many Learning, Performance and Talent Management Systems that will be presented to you at this point in your career.

LMS vendors have typically headed off in one of 3 directions:

The "content is king" brigade

These vendors have developed their reputation on building online content. In many cases they've adopted or developed an LMS mainly for the purpose of presenting and selling their content. If online content is what your department needs you may well find a company like this has great content, both off the shelf libraries and services to build your custom content. Your students will be engaged and most likely you'll have a great online learning environment with quizzes and SCORM tracking. These are great ways to streamline "part" of your curriculum.

What might you be missing out on if you went with the "Content is King" brigade:

  1. Fire and Rescue is a very physical, hand's on workplace environment. It is highly unlikely that your need for online training will exceed your requirements for face-to-face training and assessment.
  2. An LMS that was primarily designed to show-off great content is unlikely to meet the needs of a generic workforce development environment, let alone the demanding needs of your industry-specific environment. 
  3. To put an Australian spin on the topic, you may well be an Enterprise RTO. It is highly unlikely that a Learning Management Solutions with a content-is-king focus is going to deliver an AVETMISS-complaint solution that enables you to streamline your RTO reporting obligations.

"All training organisations are schools" brigade

This group of LMS vendors believe that if you educate and assess people you are basically a school. And they have great solutions for schools - so why not you?

While this may be true in theory at a very high level we all know that in practice, workforce development of employees, expected to perform effectively in a team, under hazardous and quick response environments is hardly equivalent to a class of 5 year-olds rocking up to kindergarten with their crayons and their lunch boxes.

You'll see terms like grade-books, tests, school-books, parental approval and many more terms that are totally irrelevant to your work environment. Perhaps this is a little dramatic, but industry-related terminology is one of the major disconnects when adopting LMS platforms in the emergency services industry.

What you could be up against when you sign up with an "All training organisations are schools" vendor is:
  1. Terminology used throughout the system may be related to academia rather than the terminology you're used to, e.g. training and assessment, training events, fire roles and capabilities, accreditation, regions, districts, brigades, incidents, deployments, etc.
  2. The focus is classroom-based and online learning with minimal regard to on-the-job, work focused training. Assessments tend to be written assignments, exams and quizzes rather than observation, experience and professional development.
  3. Verification of competencies or 'validation' tend not to exist since these platforms don't really consider the work environment.

The "can't measure it, can't manage it" brigade

These vendors have used the old idiom "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it" to generate a plethora of expensive, complex software systems. They'll go under names like Performance and Talent management. At their heart these systems implement HR and Performance management processes that may well be outdated and out of step with the key factors that genuinely motivate and develop your workforce.

They tend to focus on too many HR processes, doing few if any of them well. How many times have you or your colleagues had to remind your employers that "training and assessment falls under, Learning & Development, not HR". The reason your company employs you to look after Learning and Development is because they recognise L&D as a "specialist" field. Shouldn't we apply the same logic to the systems that our organisations depend on? After all API integration is the 'modern way'. Small light-weight cloud-based modules that communicate and exchange data with each other are displacing big, heavy, clunky and expensive systems that force you to adopt ineffective and outdated performance ideologies. 

Worst of all they bolt on half-baked inferior LMS platforms that further immerse you in outdated doctrines that do nothing to engage, train and motivate your workforce. 

This may be an over simplified example - not that it hasn't happened! But imagine what could happen if your fire fighters were paid on KPIs like: the number of fires put out and the number of incidents attended. While this might sound like an honourable way to reward hard working firemen it might also lead to unscrupulous arsonists starting lots of fires and making themselves available to fight them.

What could be the downside of purchasing systems that rely heavily on key performance indicators (KPIs) and other outdated assumptions?

  1.  Many of them force you to adopt processes and operating procedures that are based on outdated ideologies and concepts. These may not suit your industry or your organisation. Uprooting your existing system, retraining staff and the pain of adopting a new and complex business system can be exorbitant.
  2. They tend to treat L&D as a poor second cousin (not all of them!). The LMS becomes an "Add-on" module rather than a system worthy of it's own room in the architecture of your organisation. L&D processes emanate from the same flawed concepts and can be poorly implemented.
  3. If you're an RTO your chances of finding a performance / talent management system that can meet your AVETMISS reporting obligations are virtually nil. You'll be forced to compromise, integrate or customise your systems. That can be a costly exercise, on top of your expensive new shiny toy.

The "effective learning and development" brigade

If all of the above lead to sub standard systems that are unlikely to deliver effective workforce training and development, then what should you be looking for? To clarify; they're not all bad. This article highlights some of the possible issues to consider. The most important take-away is that your decision needs to start with your own learning and development, i.e. learning the pros and cons of what's out there and developing a specification that caters to the unique and special needs of your fire and emergency services business. Only then will you be in a position to purchase and adopt a system that's right for your organisation. This checklist might be a good starting point. 

  1. Can the LMS implement the fire and emergency roles held by career and volunteer firefighters?
    1. In accordance with AIIMS
    2. NEOs
    3. Business as Usual
  2. Can the LMS identify the training profiles and progress of capabilities of the workforce
  3. Does the LMS cater to your and your partner organisation structures?
    1. State
    2. Region
    3. Group Brigade (Work Centre)
    4. Brigade
    5. Shift
  4. Does the LMS implement the accreditation stages of development, e.g.
    1. Role Development Plan approved
    2. Enrolled into a training event
    3. Attendance at the training event
    4. Assessment
    5. Validation 
    6. Accreditation
    7. Currency
    8. Expiry (Accreditation / Currency)
  5. Does the LMS cater to internal staff, external organisations, individuals, partners, and volunteers
  6. Does the LMS integrate face-to-face, online and blended learning and assessment
  7. Does it provide the reports you need when your need them, and can you customise them in-house?
  8. Does the system facilitate registered certificates that can be externally verified?
  9. If you're an RTO,
    1. Can you meet your nationally accredited training requirements and issue SOAs
    2. Can you verify and submit AVETMISS NAT Files?
  10. Does the LMS enable career pathways?
  11. Does it enable staff and managers to track and maintain currency?
  12. Does it provide user portals that implement privacy rules and access control?
  13. Does the hosted platform comply with the ACSC cyber security guidelines
  14. Does it have an API enabling your to integrate with your business systems:
    1. Incident Control software
    2. Personnel / HR Management System
    3. Resource Management System
    4. Office 365 and Power BI
    5. Separate authentication models for internal and external users (AZURE AD / OAuth)
  15. Do you get appropriate support with satisfactory SLAs
  16. Does your vendor understand your environment and your system requirements
  17. How easy is it to implement changes and defect rectification
  18. How frequently is the software updated / patched, and how are you notified?
  19. Do you have ready-access to self help tools, documentation and knowledge base
  20. Can your training staff, course authors, administrators, managers and tech interface & access it?
  21. Is the licensing model predictable and flexible, allowing for easy workforce expansion.

This is only a guide. You'll have many other items to add. It may sound like a tall order and highly specific to your industry. Is it even possible that one vendor would provide all that out of the box? YES.

TOPICS Emergency Services Learning Management System API L&D Fire and Rescue Incident Control