During the past 20 years, EMS education requirements have expanded. In response, volunteer organizations often treat education as a detriment to recruitment and retention. Although it may put some agencies at a disadvantage, initial and ongoing education benefits could actually improve the quality and number of members. Providing access to higher education, both within and outside your organization, is an important benefit to offer.
Many organizations have already successfully initiated a program to sponsor members through paramedic school. In return, members must stay with the organization for a contracted amount of time, such as two to four years at one shift a week, in order to receive the benefits. Contracts can also require that if a member leaves they have to repay part or all of their tuition fees. This helps the agency ensure these members will stick around for a definite amount of time.
Some organizations have been reluctant to initiate a program like this because they_re worried members will take their new skills elsewhere, especially to a commercial service. That_s shortsighted. It_s almost a given that members will take their learning elsewhere eventually. But if education is considered a recruitment and retention tool, the organization was investing in its member and, in return, received service from the member while they were volunteering. The challenge is to determine what length of service is required to balance out the money invested in a member_s education.
The math isn_t difficult, but it requires putting a dollar value on a member, which can be a daunting task. Depending on whether your organization is in a scramble or staffed format, the measurement may change from hours to number of responses, but the basics are the same. Members would earn their education credit by providing some level of service, and typically, they have to serve time both before and after they receive the sponsorship.
For example, if a member had to serve two years before they were eligible for the credit, and two years after they were certified, they would provide five years of service (adding one year for the paramedic course). If the member averaged one eight-hour shift every week for five years, they would have served more than 2,000 hours.
With the example of 2,000 hours, and the average pay for an EMT in your area, it_s easy to figure out how much your department would save. Using $10 per hour (which is easy on my math skills), your organization would theoretically save $20,000 over five years of volunteer service, minus benefits and other associated employee costs. If a paramedic program costs $10,000 in your area, and the member leaves the day their contract is up, your community invested $10,000 but received $20,000 in service.
This cost-benefit calculation is important for your board, town or whoever controls the purse strings. Although there_s no way to guarantee that a member who goes to medic school will stay longer than their contract requires, there_s still a quantifiable benefit in providing education that improves the member and your service. The member can_t leave without buying themselves out of the contract, and most likely won_t leave during the training, making it a no-lose proposition for the organization.
Because some people aren_t interested in becoming a paramedic, or they already are one, you could also sponsor members earning a college degree in public safety or another profession. Whether you choose to sponsor non-related degrees, the cost-benefit analysis is practically the same, and some colleges will even offer discounts for a corporate relationship.
If you don_t have an accredited EMS or public safety program in your area, I recommend two distance-learning programsƒCharter Oak State College (www.charteroak.edu) in Connecticut at the associate and baccalaureate levels and University of Maryland, Baltimore County (www.umbc.edu/ehs) at the graduate level. Distance learning allows your members to pursue a degree at their own pace and location.
College degrees may be more expensive than paramedic school, so your contracts may have to be different, but these degrees are attractive to a wider variety of members. There_s a current trend for retirees and those farther along in their careers to go back to school. In some cases, these members can earn credit for prior field experience through portfolio assessments or examinations, as well as for certifications and credits earned at other colleges or universities.
Providing education benefits is an effective recruitment and retention tool. These opportunities encourage personnel to make a long-term commitment to learning and to your organization. And by investing in our members, we raise the bar for the profession as a whole.