Who’s in charge of the future? – The challenges of attracting the next generation of Ambulance Commanders

Paul Kudray NWAS_By Paul Kudray MSc MEPS, Director of Resilience NWAS NHS Trust, Chair of the National Ambulance Preparedness Work Stream and EPC Strategic Fellow / Associate Trainer and Consultant.

The last 13 years or so have seen not just the UK but worldwide disasters and major incidents and events occurring on what seem to be a more frequent basis.

In reality, they are no more frequent than they have always been however with the advent of global and social media developments, such incidents are more widely reported and as we know, it is now almost expected to be shown live as it happens.

With such public interest comes increased public expectation on organisations and those in command and control of major incidents and events to be best prepared and ensure appropriate responses and recovery arrangements are put in place.

If we take 9/11 as a starting point, though from a pure research perspective we should go beyond that for obvious reasons, we have collectively gained a great deal of experience, not just within the ambulance service and across the wider NHS, but all multi-agency partners. Those experiences have obviously come with tragic circumstances because people have suffered, as they always will do, in respect of disasters, because disasters affect people.

We probably now have a significant wealth of experience and knowledge of how to best prepare and plan for disasters, how to mitigate them and how to respond and recover from them. Across the ambulance service, we have a good depth of operational, tactical and strategic commanders or bronze, silver and gold levels whichever term you wish to use. We have greater enthusiasm and motivation to share and learn from lessons and experiences and to share commander capabilities across our ambulances services when required, such as the Olympics and other big events.

commanders3Horizon scanning
However, we are at a critical timeline in our development as those experienced and competent commanders are all in and around the same age group. That means we will face significant challenges in future as the inevitable retirement for many of these workers looms on the horizon.

This isn’t an ageism article, it’s a factual piece of reality backed up by workforce records, and a difficult challenge ahead for us all to face because what do we do about the future commanders? Where are they coming from? Who is coming through the ranks? Where are the talented future commanders? Who will be in charge in the future?

The time to look at that question isn’t as and when the experienced commanders start to retire, it is surely now because we have to use the vast experience and knowledge we hold now to help create and shape the right education programmes and opportunities for the future generations to learn from us now. It is our obligation to ourselves and to others to address this now. We cannot afford to continue to have a ‘dead man’s shoes’ mentality – waiting for someone to finish before we look for the next person to step up. Equally we should use opportunities to develop new talent and give them the opportunities rather than re-employ managers who may have retired just because they have lots of experience. That is just a short term fix and simply stunts the growth of the future.

Motivated for promotion
We are aware of the normal progression routes for positions of command now. But some of those traditional routes arose because promotion was seen in terms of managerial roles and with that came increased responsibility and salary. However in today’s Agenda for Change (AFC) environment, there is a distinct danger that talented individuals are put off promotion into managerial roles because they ‘lose’ unsocial hours payments if they come away from direct clinical roles. This is obviously going to present us with a challenge over the next 10 years or so.

It is interesting on which side of the fence you look at the loss of unsocial hours payments. To the clinician who is reluctant to lose the money, they see that as the big de-motivator. To others, it is important that everyone understands unsocial payments are for working unsocial hours. People don’t ‘lose’ the payments for nothing, they are simply no longer working those patterns so therefore don’t attract the payments.

It is semantics perhaps but the reality is we need to look to attract the new generations into managerial roles and get over the issue of financial payments. In the past, promotion meant increased salary; in today’s environment within the NHS, promotion can mean that people take a reduction in salary for the reasons discussed.

NEAS_HART2Being in charge of the future
So how can we look to attract the next generation of commanders to enable us to develop them for the future? Well I believe we need to start to create an academy programme that helps identify and encourage talented individuals; to educate them and develop skills around both people and change management and command and control specifics.

We need to develop what the ambulance leader of the future needs to be able to do. The concept of the Health Service Commanders Award© or HSCA© for short, will help provide some significant progress towards this aim of the future commanders but at the same time, we need to influence and change cultures across the ambulance service and demonstrate the quality opportunities that managerial and command positions hold. The opportunity to influence and lead others; to take wider responsibility and ownership surely should be a motivation for individuals who can become the future commanders. Talented individuals can be in charge of the future and shape and influence a better and a great service to work for.

There is a clear time and opportunity to make a change and plan for the future. We have to lead by example now and help develop the future leaders. That is actually an exciting prospect and we need those leaders now to step up to the plate. Look around you now and say, “Where is the next you or me coming from? Where is the resilience in our future commanders?” If you can answer that positively then you are in a much better place and you must have solved a problem already.

But if we look critically and think of the challenge and motivation for potential commanders of the future, the loss of income factor in getting promoted, the reality is we have not addressed this problem with quality yet. Let’s accept the challenge and be part of the future now and develop the next generation in a far better way than we have done so in the past. It’s our duty to take that challenge on.

Paul Kudray MSc MEPS
Director of Resilience
North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust
Email: paul.kudray@nwas.nhs.uk
Direct Tel: 0161 279 4891
Mobile: 07812 304214
www.nwas.nhs.uk