When repetitive, time-consuming tasks are automated, Australia’s vital fire and rescue staff are free to do what they do best – keep the public safe.
In the Australian environment, fire and rescue operations provide a vital and longstanding service to our communities. Firefighters are respected nationwide for their professionalism and skill, and that’s the way things should be.
Firefighting organisations deal with a myriad of moving parts every day – bureaucratic demands across the full gamut of local, state and federal jurisdictions, the needs of people in distress, physical danger, simple (and not so simple) mechanics, the list goes on. Add to this the 24/7 nature of firefighting services and complexity skyrockets. It’s a testament to the dedication of members of the service that it continues to fulfil its purpose so effectively and well.
Drilling down into everyday challenges
People management is core to the longevity of such a respected and trusted service – particularly rostering and workforce management.
Across the organisation, there are many levels of skill that must be rostered appropriately to ensure the right skill mix. Fatigue protocols must also be factored into the process, as well as compliance with industrial agreements.
Firefighting is a highly skilled role. To continue to service the community, managers need to look after their teams. Ensuring people are rostered well – and with regard for much-needed work/life balance – is key to achieving strong, ongoing staff engagement and performance.
It takes a sophisticated system to do that successfully.
In a perfect world
Ideally, your rostering and workforce management systems would have six core components:
- Visibility – good visibility across the organisation allows you to see, at the touch of a button, who’s working and where, and who’s available at any given time.
- Intuitive systems – if someone’s shift is about to go into overtime, an intuitive system would automatically alert you, so you can manage fatigue, budget and work/life balance. If someone applies for leave at the same time as another person, they system would automatically find and offer staffing options, all while staying within budget.
- Skill mix – in a perfect world, firefighting crews would be populated by people with various levels of expertise to achieve balance and full efficacy. The right skill mix ensures adequate support and safety for all team members. It also means that those with greater experience in particular areas can mentor others during each shift.
- Staff equity – a strong rostering system creates a base structure that delivers fair and equitable shift distribution for all employees while ensuring you stay within budget. Shifts can also be easily swapped between staff when necessary.
- Mobile access – it should allow mobile access by staff via smart app, particularly shift workers who work outside normal hours and are trying to manage their schedule quickly and without fuss.
- Built-in compliance features – importantly, the system itself should easily handle the requirements of various industrial agreements and regulations.
The problem with spreadsheets and whiteboard rosters
As a long-established part of the community, firefighting organisations often operate under legacy systems, using entrenched processes handed down for generations.
Manual rostering systems have served the sector well. But today’s fire and rescue personnel are under more pressure than ever before – due in part to rising population density and more immediate forms of communication. So it’s not surprising that many stations are waving goodbye to spreadsheets and whiteboards, in favour of automated efficiencies.
Rostering which is managed manually by spreadsheet (or magnets on a whiteboard) is labour intensive, particularly when you factor in unplanned overtime, sick leave and holidays. We discovered one emergency department that uses 50 different spreadsheets to manage its staffing requirements – imagine the effort and manpower involved in keeping such a system up to date and correct!
Manual rostering systems chew through hours and hours of management time, and take away from staff engagement. Their cumbersome nature creates an environment of inflexibility in which staff feel they have no control over their hours.
Without full visibility across the organisation, it can also be extremely time-consuming and frustrating to find suitable replacements for people on annual or sick leave.
In a nutshell, manual systems are no longer fit for purpose.
Major events require true rostering agility
When it comes to a major event, an agile infrastructure becomes paramount. In a life and death situation, the community leans heavily on fire and rescue personnel as their front line of defence. You need to be able to move quickly, confidently and with purpose.
While in the field, mobile communications are critical. They allow you to determine if someone needs to be relieved by another staff member, and what your replacement staff options are.
An automated rostering system can be used to inform a core roster, based on the skill levels required and your budget, so there’s no room for human error. This core roster can then be used as a template for future use in major events. Following a major event, you can then review the efficacy of the core roster and make adjustments accordingly.
The more rigorous your system is, the more prepared you are to manage risk. If something goes awry, you will have supporting documentation to ameliorate any community or management concerns – thereby building better relationships through thick and thin.
What is workforce
Once an organisation employs the use of workforce management software, it immediately develops an entirely new and enormously powerful perspective over its rostering, payment and talent functions.
Proven systems, such as our own Workforce Dimensions, are cloud based and therefore operate in real time, on computers, smartphones and tablets.
Workforce management solutions in action
Systems can be customised to suit specific environments and align with any number of industrial agreements. One workforce management solution we set up for Mater Health Queensland and its 7000 staff had the requirements of 14 industrial agreements built in. This meant the system managed all of the complicated regulatory decisions and prompted managers when they were at risk of falling foul of a specific guideline.
That same solution reduced roster responsibilities from 16 hours per month for each of the 63 nurse unit managers to just two hours per month. Feedback from the nursing staff was that it returned so much valuable time to the hospital floor.
We have experienced similar results with police, SES and fire and emergency services departments, both here in Australia and around the world.
For example, when the Salt Lake City Fire Department moved from a manual rostering system to the Kronos Workforce TeleStaff solution, it saved staffing personnel an impressive 20 hours of time every week.
The solution also means that data is now automatically saved and exported to payroll, saving them 16 hours every month.
Auto-generated reports give battalion chiefs the insights they need to make better decisions about future operations and labour requirements.
The magic of data
Great workforce management software gathers and analyses data for the organisation. It provides regular reports and helps managers to understand exactly what will be needed for regular shifts. Patterns of workers on past declared events can also be analysed to ensure consistently higher performance levels at each event.
The data can be used to identify areas for budget and efficiency improvements. It can also shine a spotlight on the high-performing aspects of the rostering model, creating best-practice examples and encouraging constant improvement.
Importantly for fire and emergency services, such a system can identify talent gaps, both in the present and in the future, aiding recruitment strategy and succession planning.
All labour expenditures are saved to a central database that puts real-time data into the hands of managers, assisting their decision making and giving them the ability to work more efficiently. Insights from real-world data analysis has proven the secret to success for organisations in the government and private spaces, globally. It provides true competitive advantage and is no longer optional for the organisation that intends to achieve the very highest levels of efficiency and performance.
Is it time to rethink your systems?
Workforce management solutions offer firefighters and their managers more time to do what they have been trained to do. It means they are free to be the fire and rescue professionals they dreamed of being before they even entered service. That’s great for them, great for the organisation, and great for the community.
For more information, go to www.kronos.com.au