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The challenge of implementing IPDS within the Fire Service

The implementation of a personal development system within any organisation will always present challenges, however in a fast moving environment, with a strong centrally driven modernising agenda and other human resource challenges such as "rank to role transition" and the increasing demands for proven competence and skills based remuneration there can seem to be an enormous hill to climb.

Fundamentally however for the Fire Service, the goal is clear and unambiguous. It is largely what it has always been:

  • To have the right people, with the right skill sets, in the right place, and at the right time to deliver a set of services to the public at the time when they most need them.

The services to be delivered will be largely determined by individual organisational business plans, informed by Integrated Risk Management Plans (IRMP) and demands placed upon the service by central government standards and the legislative framework. These business and strategic plans will determine not only the range of services to be provided but also the timeliness of their delivery.

IPDS is the link in the chain that allows the organisation to determine who the right people are and the skill sets that they have. Importantly this needs to be auditable, current, and appropriate.

IPDS then forms a part of an overall framework of controls and processes that will assist the organisation in meeting its objectives effectively and efficiently.

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What are the unique features of the Fire Service ?

The Fire Service has several unique features, which will make the implementation of IPDS more difficult:

  • 24/7 Service provision with rotating shift system
  • Mixture of both uniformed and non-uniformed staff
  • Complex command and control systems, which require an operational hierarchy to exist at incidents
  • Middle Managers in both operational and non-operational roles
  • Multi faceted service provision
  • Highly structured training regimes
  • High cost of training and development activity
  • Geographically dispersed workforce

A traditional view of the service is that it is fairly homogeneous in terms of the relationships between different Fire Services, however a casual examination shows that the level and types of equipment used and the skill sets required can be quite different, particularly in peripheral activities such as water rescue and search and rescue operations. Add to this the different crewing systems in place ranging from nucleus/day crewing to the differing use of part-time/retained fire-fighters and it becomes clear that there are significant differences between Fire and Rescue Services throughout the country.

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Difficulties with Training

Training, as mentioned above, is an expensive activity, which is often difficult to co-ordinate. Fire-fighters in training by definition are usually "off the run" particularly in the case of retained staff. In order to overcome this many brigades have attempted to introduce more "on watch" training although this can be difficult to moderate to ensure that standards are maintained. Retained and part-time staff can be particularly difficult to train to an appropriate standard.

Training can be difficult to schedule as it needs always to be mindful of the leave system to allow staff to take annual leave and plan their own home life activities. Training therefore tends to be carried out in particular "windows" of time.

The demands for training are increasing rapidly as the range of services provided increases.

Particular training, such as managerial and specialist training may be carried by external bodies such as the Fire Service College or local colleges and universities.

Given the cost of training and the fact that staff are soon to be paid for particular skills is it reasonable to train everyone to do everything and incur all the additional remuneration costs? If not then it will be necessary to balance watches to ensure that the necessary competencies are present on each watch at the start of each shift. This could challenge most crewing systems.

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Maintenance of competence

Initial training is only part of the problem, competence needs to be maintained in such a way that it can be proven if required.

Brigades currently have a range of systems for recording both on watch and off watch training but what of actual experience? Is being trained to carry out a particular task sufficient or is it necessary to have actually performed it on a regular basis? How is this experience recorded and moderated?

Are members of staff who are temporarily promoted actually competent to carry out the roles that they are promoted into or are they just filling gaps?

Development of staff and succession planning

Succession planning has never been a particular process that public sector bodies carry out as it is seen as likely to interfere with Equalities policies and objectives. This need not be the case and particularly in organisations where staff are often acting up into higher roles it is important to ensure the competence of these staff. It is also necessary to consider the development of staff, not only within their established roles but also to enable corporate objectives to be achieved and appropriate skill sets to be developed.

Development needs to be planned and controlled.

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What is IPDS really all about ?

Fire Service Circular 15/97, which first introduced the concept of Training for Competence, led to the somewhat simplistic belief that IPDS is primarily concerned with training. As mentioned above however, IPDS is part of an overall framework of management, which is founded on widely accepted principles of organisational performance management and which will be used as one of the cornerstones of Comprehensive Performance Assessments carried out by the Audit Commission.

In the context of IPDS, performance management is a strategic and integrated approach to delivering sustained success by improving the performance of people by developing their capabilities.

  • Strategic in that it is concerned with broader corporate objectives and the achievement of long term organisational goals.
  • Integrated

    Vertically using cascaded objectives from service through teams and individuals.

    Vertically using cascaded objectives from service through teams and individuals.

    Functional linking functional strategies throughout the business

    HR linking different aspects of HR management, development and remuneration

Phase 1 Implementation

In order to successfully implement IPDS it is necessary to take a top down view of the organisation such that business planning, risk analysis and corporate objectives are mirrored in both the structure of the organisation and the roles within it. In simplistic terms the model might look as follows:

The key message from this model is that the organisation needs to remain focussed on what it is really trying to achieve and not become "bogged down" in trying to satisfy a range of central government requirements by producing a range of planning documents and strategies which are not integrated. The safest model is to produce a single business plan informed by central government targets and Performance Indicators, Best Value objectives, the IRMP and the internal risk profile to allow the organisation to clearly see the role of functions and the contributions required from individuals within those functions.

Subsidiary strategies such as HR, Finance, Community Safety Plans and Procurement support the overall business plan and must not detract or deflect from it.

One of the more disturbing aspects of this model is that it represents a significants workload to arrive at an integrated business plan, supportive structure, set of required competencies and supportive policies and strategies.

There are few computer based packages that can offer any practical help in getting to this position although there are a number of quality models such as EFQM and Balanced Scorecard which may assist to some extent.

Phase 2 Implementation

Having established the structure of the organisation the roles required within it will need to be assessed against the national role maps. How many station managers, group managers etc. and what are the skill sets and competencies required at each of the levels?

It will then be necessary to map the existing resources against these requirements and carry out some form of gap analysis to identify both total skill shortages and individual shortfalls as well as those staff members who are currently deemed competent in role.

Phase 3 - Bite and hold

The first two stages describe the "bite" when, at a point in time, the organisation has a clear vision of its direction and objectives underpinned by a set of plans, policies and strategies not to mention a series of project plans to implement various risk control measures and new developments.

The organisation will have completed the task of identifying required roles and competencies and the rank to role transition will have been completed.

Although a mammoth task in itself the "hold" phase is more intensive and arguably much more important. The IRMP will be an evolving document and new targets and initiatives arrive on an almost daily basis. Without continued maintenance all this hard work will quickly be lost.

Protocols will need to be established for the audit and review of performance at individual, team, functional, and organisational level. Auditors and assessors will need to be trained and some form of mentoring would seem appropriate in order to guide individuals and managers through the process. There also needs to be a process of review and action planning to ensure that actions result from poor performance to ensure continuous improvement.

There will be a requirement to continually assess the development and performance of individuals, teams and functions and to record this appropriately. Development activity however, unlike training, does not only take place in a training environment (although some may) and therefore any recording tool needs to be flexible enough to deal with formal training, coaching, records of achievement and actual practical experience.

The last of these requirements creates a problem in that it is difficult to measure or assess the standard of practical experience however it is arguably the most valuable of all measures. Knowing that an individual has been trained to carry out a task is useful but knowing that they have done it twice a week for the last two years is invaluable. Also knowing that they have not done it since their last refresher is also useful.

The value of a system of work, which allows individuals as well as the organisation to take some ownership of development, training, competence, and performance is inestimable however without proper support systems in place the workload involved in maintaining such a system would be prohibitive.

It is here however that computer software can be of the greatest service particularly when there are requirements for audit trails and performance management, assessment and monitoring. This will be true not only of individuals but also of functions and organisational objectives bearing in mind that IPDS is an organisational development tool and not just about training.

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What should a computer system do?

Set out above is a somewhat simplistic methodology for achieving an integrated organisational development and performance driven environment. Simplistic not because it cannot be achieved but because many of the tasks outlined in a single sentence may take months of hard work to complete. Nevertheless in essence this approach is the correct way to achieve a fully integrated system.

Computer systems can do little for the organisation during the "Bite" phases, however they should allow for data to be collected and maintained even from an early stage. Not all organisations will be ready to take a fully integrated approach and may wish to use any computer system simply as an advanced form of training record until such time as they feel confident to introduce all their business planning processes into it.

Even as an advanced training record any suitable system must allow for competencies to be recorded, roles to be defined, training and other learning experiences to be recorded, validated and auditable. The system should be able to plot scheduled training such as Breathing Apparatus refresher courses and EFAD refreshers by reference to available courses, individual requirements and notify individuals who are not booked on appropriate courses. Ideally the system should allow individuals to take ownership of course bookings if required. Team and functional objectives and performance targets should be able to be recorded and monitored to ensure that appropriate management action can be initiated.

Reporting is paramount and any system should be capable of providing up to date information to individuals, line and strategic managers. Interfaces should be available between IPDS and existing HR systems and performance management systems where these are already in place.

Most importantly however if the system is to be truly owned by individuals access must be straightforward and easily available. Individuals may wish to access records from home or from a variety of places of work and therefore a full internet enabled system would be desirable.

Future developments might include the ability to transfer data between organisations in agreed formats and allowing external training providers such as the Fire Service College to access and amend data.

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brite-sparks advance

brite-sparks have given a great deal of thought to the challenges and opportunities presented by IPDS and have set this within the overall context of the Fire and Rescue Service. Advance is not an "off the shelf" solution tailored to meet the perceived needs of the service from within an existing product range. Instead it is a product designed specifically to meet the needs of the service, which is responsive not only to current demands but is kept under constant review.

It is a product, which organisations may choose to implement in a phased way or go for full integration from the outset. The brite-sparks technical team believe this is the only product in the marketplace designed specifically for the Fire and Rescue Service, which has put the needs of the service first by design. It offers all the specification items set out above and many more. Both Fire Service personnel and staff at Moreton in Marsh have been consulted on its design and functionality to ensure that it is seen as a "home grown" product for the service.

White Papers Index

The challenge of implementing IPDS within the Fire Service

What are the unique features of the Fire Service ?

Difficulties with Training

Maintenance of competence

What is IPDS really all about ?

What should a computer system do?

brite-sparks advance

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