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by Lucien G. Canton: Melding theory and practice

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Emergency Managers Must Be Trained, Not Just Educated
May 14, 2013
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I've devoted my last two columns to the issue of education for emergency managers. However, I don't want to give the impression that education alone is sufficient for success as an emergency manager. As several of my colleagues have pointed out, success is determined by a combination of education, training, and experience. The mix can change depending on the environment and the position but all three are essential.

The question, though, is what constitutes "training?" Where education teaches concepts, training provides the general and specific skills needed to do the job. Education tells us why we do something; training tells us how we do it.

Training can be formal. A good example is the numerous courses offered by the Emergency Management Institute, either as on-site classes or through distance learning. The advantage to these courses is that they bring a certain degree of standardization and uniformity to our training and provide a strategic direction for our profession.

The disadvantage to this type of training is that it is not experiential. That is, it can only substitute so far for practical experience. To remedy this, we turn to informal or "on-the-job" training. In theory, the new emergency manager learns by doing under the direction of an experienced teacher. In actual practice, on-the-job training is at best a sink-or-swim experience and at worst it replicates bad habits.

Following someone around on the job is not training. Handing someone a task without instruction and then correcting failure is not training. Telling someone "how we've always done it" is not training.

On-the-job training is like any other training: you need to identify learning objectives and metrics that demonstrate the accomplishment of objectives. One way I have found effective is to list the tasks that I want my trainee to learn and then have columns for dates when they learn the task, demonstrate the task, and actually perform the task successfully. I then formally assign another employee as a trainer and use this list to monitor the progress of the training. Note that such a formal process not only provides training but allows the trainee to gain experience under controlled conditions.

One last thought - education and training are not mutually exclusive or sequential. I and many other educators typically use the EMI distance learning courses to supplement lectures on concepts and theories with practical skills. Ultimately, we're all in the business of producing the next generation of professional emergency managers and we should seek to prepare them as best we can. And that means balancing training, education and experience in our curricula.

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