Stolen Rest Days and Training

Those of you who have followed me for a while will probably have noticed my complaint every now and again about stolen rest days. Allow me to shed a little light;

The police service relies on staff being on duty and available to meet the demands the public place upon us. Each team/group/block/scale (called different names in different forces) will have X number of staff. From that number they will lose staff to court appearances, attachments to other dept’s, sickness, annual leave, re-rostered rest days and training. Not all at the same time but sometimes a combination of several. We call such losses abstractions and they can cause untold problems when teams run short of staff and there is no overtime available to provide additional support.

It was identified several years ago that the need for ongoing training in the police was essential. Officers used to receive basic training and annual refreshers for baton/cuff, self defence and public order but there was little to no provision for new legislation or policy. Managers agreed this was a gap that needed filling but were thwarted in this plan because such training would decimate staff availability and seriously undermine front line policing. The solution was to steal a rest day from officers and rebrand it as a training day. As compensation the hours would be given back, not as a full day but in blocks of 2-3 hours off some shifts. Shift patterns vary but most follow a pattern that repeats itself after a number of weeks. My pattern is every 8 weeks but the common VSA arrangement comes in at 5 weeks. One training day is inserted into these 5/8 week cycles.

You may think this no great hardship and agree that officers need to be bang up to date on legislation. We do, but consider your Mon-Fri job (if that’s the hours you do) with every weekend off. How would you feel if your employer decided a training day could not be squeezed into your working week so chose to cancel one of your Saturday days off every 5 weeks? You don’t get the day back when you choose, instead you will get to finish at 3pm instead of 5pm on a number of your normal shifts. No doubt you would be a bit angry. For want of a better word it’s a bit “crap.” The bottom line though is this has been introduced and bastardised by forces who to my mind have abused the spirit of VSA’s (Variable shift arrangements) under the nose of the Federation. We are now stuck with it.

To this end, every 5 or 8 weeks those in command of uniform divisions/dept’s across the force have to fill a day of useful, essential and necessary training input. If you work for the police you will know that sooner or later the topics for training will dry up. At this point an ethos endemic across many forces walks through the door. “Training for training’s sake.”

Training is important. Nobody will disagree. However, experts in the field will advise that training must be relevant, applicable to role and put into practice immediately. Training for something 6 months in advance of application date is futile. Staff will forget and are likely to need refresher training nearer the time. There is also “stable door” training. This is where an officer has conducted a role for some time, implemented it correctly and then to satisfy the bean counters has to be officially taught how to do it. Training that is not role specific is often masqueraded as “awareness” training but in the majority of cases is unnecessary and wasted time. In order to eliminate this problem there is often a general loosening of the role requirements and a vaguely tenuous link is established. This engenders a situation where a round peg is forced into a square hole on the basis that both elements are wood and therefore must be linked….however loosely.

The determination to continue with training when there is nothing relevant to teach is indicative of a blinkered approach that insists that training must be seen to be done regardless. A box can be ticked to show how good we are in this business area but the actual content is somewhat less important. Flexibility seems to have been forgotten. There are numerous ways staff could be more effectively deployed. Clearing warrants, an operation or simply backing up colleagues covering the streets. I could even go as far as the ridiculous suggestion of giving the day back and reverting the shifts to the normal finishing time. How radical!!

Forces around the country are looking to make savings in every business area. I’m a transferee. My previous force invested considerable money training me to be a PNC specialist. They did the same with my numerous advanced driving qualifications. You can probably imagine what happened. My new force did not trust my qualifications notwithstanding they all followed national guidelines. After much argument I was begrudgingly granted basic PNC access and a standard response driving authority. Anything further would have to be subject to further in house training. I spent 10 months as a custody Sgt before being told I had to attend a three week introduction course. I refused and again after much argument they relented, allowed my OTJ (on the job) experience to stand and sent me on a one week refresher for existing Sgt’s.

I may gripe and whinge about my stolen rest day but let me be clear. Training is valuable and necessary but when the day is filled with irrelevant “stocking filler” training I become angry at my lost day and the importance of training is undermined.

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