NWS Wakefield SKYWARN
Amateur Radio Support Team
WX4AKQ Wakefield, VA
Our Full Disclosure Policy
It's great that so many hams have a passion for community service and want to be a part of many different EMCOMM programs. ARES/RACES, VDEM-ARCA, and SKYWARN all provide an extremely valuable service, and also provide great learning opportunities for members. These programs are all popular, but despite their popularity, they are all having trouble meeting service obligations to their served agencies.
From our own experience and from talking to some of our partners in these other teams, we have pinpointed two main problems: over-commitment and under-engagement.
Here, we will talk about these two issues and what SKYWARN is doing to try to turn things around.
(Click here to download the SKYWARN NCO Realistic Job Preview document.)
Over-commitment occurs when a team member "wears too many hats" and ends up spread too thin. The impacts are:
We believe some of the leading causes of over-commitment are:
When evaluating these factors, SKYWARN was able to identify specific procedural and culture changes that could be made to improve our performance in making prospective team members aware of what they were signing up for.
Under-engagement, or simply "low participation" is often the direct result of over-commitment. We believe implementing changes to assess and prevent potential over-commitment will inherently improve team member participation, but it is not the only cause, since team members who only commit to serve a single volunteer group may also suffer from it. What else might cause low participation?
When evaluating SKYWARN's performance in these areas, we determined that our training program-- while good-- was not nearly as effective as it could be.
What We're Changing
Beginning with our Spring 2014 Net Control Operator training classes, we are using a three-page Realistic Job Preview document. All prospective team members are required to read and understand what's in it before they can sign up for a Net Control Operator class.
This document provides an overview of the fundamental expectations of a Net Control Operator with regard to capabilities and availability. It talks about how we train, when and how often we activate, and how we measure our performance. This should give prospective members a better feel for what they are committing to before they go through the training program, rather than during the classroom session.
A key component to this document is the final page, which is a "Commitment Reality Check" that asks the prospective member to consider any and all existing obligations prior to joining our team. Whether it's work, another EMCOMM team, or some other volunteer commitment, they need to think about how joining SKYWARN will impact their ability to fulfill their existing obligations... and how those obligations will impact their ability to serve SKYWARN.
We are encouraging prospective members who belong to another EMCOMM group such as ARES/RACES and VDEM-ARCA to go back to their leadership and discuss any potential conflict if they are uncertain about their ability to balance SKYWARN with their other commitments. If they choose to scale back or step down from their existing roles, they are urged to let their leadership contacts know so their roster and other records can be updated accordingly.
The flip side to that is letting us know if interests and commitments change. If someone wants to leave SKYWARN to go focus on something else, we will hate to lose them but will appreciate being notified of the change in interests so we have an accurate head count.
We know the immediate and most visible impact will be fewer participants in our Net Control training classes. We estimate that fewer than 35% of hams who came to one of our classes from 2008 through 2012 went on to ever run a net, and fewer than 20% remained active beyond a few months. While we may bring in a lower number of participants in each class, we anticipate seeing a higher quality of candidate.
Of course, getting them in the door is just the first step. We also have to train them better than we have been, to make sure they have the tools and confidence to do their job.
So, we're changing our training program for 2014. In the past, we tried to cover everything a new team member might need to know in the course of a two to three hour classroom session. We realize now that's not realistic.
Now, prospective team members who have reviewed the Realistic Job Preview document will be given a downloadable Net Control Operator Training Manual to review, along with the current SKYWARN Operations Manual. These materials will provide the operational knowledge and background on the team, allowing us to focus on actual on-air activities such as report logging and simulated nets during the class. This way, the first time a new Net Control Operator runs a net isn't during severe weather and on a wide-coverage repeater, but rather from the safety of a classroom with a couple of HT's.
For our Partners
Virtually all of the materials we produce, including training manuals and other tools, are out there for your evaluation and use. This Realistic Job Preview document is no exception. If you think we're taking the right approach, please adopt something similar. You are welcome to use our document as a template.
What we are doing isn't just for the benefit of SKYWARN. It's for the benefit of your team, too. We want you to see and understand that we are not telling anyone they have to commit exclusively to SKYWARN. This isn't a game of "us or them" and we aren't asking anyone to leave or not join another team. Quite the contrary, actually. We feel the skill sets we give our Net Controllers is a valuable asset for other EMCOMM teams, and vice-versa. Cross-pollination can be good! We just want to be sure people aren't getting in over their heads, and that they communicate their wishes when interests change.
We continue to learn from our mistakes and we continually evolve our processes based on the feedback of team members and partners. If you would like to comment on these changes, please send an e-mail to our Amateur Radio Coordinator. We look forward to hearing from you!