Extreme workplace learning – L&D in the emergency services

by John Hilton09 Nov 2015
Learning and development at the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) involves teaching volunteers a range of low and high risk activities, such as vertical rescue, motor vehicle rescue and working on roofs.

The NSW SES are an agency of the NSW Government made up volunteers who provide assistance in natural disasters, rescues, road crashses and extreme weather. 

Indeed, it’s a complex task training the volunteers for a number of reasons, said Robyn Barco, L&D officer at the NSW SES.

Firstly, it takes a long time to prepare for sessions in which she has to cater for a wide range of ages, literacy levels and capability levels. 

“I guess the biggest challenge is to meet their needs. We have them for a very limited period - only a couple of hours a week where they give up their time for training,” she said.

“If there is specialist training they may spend a couple of weekends doing the training and then come together to do the assessment another time.”    

Barco added that they bring with them a wide range of skills and a wide range of experience. However, there are also learners who are very new to the procedures. 

“There are people who have never picked up a hammer in their life,” she said.

In order to reach out to this diverse group, she said it’s imperative to get practice at dealing with the expectations that each of the different age groups and learning types might have.

“You really have to tailor your training to meet everybody’s needs otherwise you are going to leave some people behind who are wondering what the heck you are talking about, whereas others are wanting to move further forward, so the real challenge is the balancing act,” she said.

Barco is also involved in training the trainers and assessors across her region which is a big part of what she does.

She emphasises that in order to be effective, it’s paramount to be creative and do two things.

“Know your stuff and love what it is that you do,” she said.

“Because if you don’t know it, you won’t love and you won’t be able to teach people properly.

“Unless you have a passion for it, people are not going to be drawn in to what it is you are teaching them.”