Help wanted: Technicians
Stalking the wily Radioman
“June is a-bustin’ out all over,” or at least it will be, by the time you read this. Well, everyone else might be happy about the rebirth of life in spring, including baby animals, colorful blooming flowers and freshly budding trees, but we’re having an ongoing problem finding radio technicians.
When he was appointed to the number-one spot in the Lenexa Fire Department, Kenny Hobbs was the youngest fire chief in the state of Kansas, so we still call him the “Boy Chief.” Kenny is a great source of knowledge and a master of sayings, cliches and golden chestnuts, including this dandy: “You can get good help, and you can get cheap help, but you can’t get good cheap help.” Profound as this sounds, it barely scratches the surface. We’ve been having trouble finding any help at all, which, on reflection, makes no sense at all. Our small organization isn’t that much different from other shops or firms seeking technical support staff members. The metropolitan Kansas City area, where we are located, is fairly rich with high-tech, electronics-based employers, and the area has its share of qualified technical schools, colleges and universities. So, why can’t we locate and recruit a radio technician?
A brief survey (phone calls to three of my counterparts in the area) revealed that there really isn’t a pool of radio technicians from which to draw because that unique creature, Radioman, is an evolutionary aberration.
Simply put, we cannot hire what we need and want because Radioman doesn’t exist outside his native habitat. So, we set about to locate, observe and learn about this elusive creature.
Studying Radioman closely, we find his lair usually to be a small den with the smoky scent of pine resin and the commingled aromas of coffee, tobacco and scorched Formica countertop. Radioman frequently eats with his hands and consumes food wrapped in sheets of paper or thin cardboard. Radioman seldom leaves his lair, preferring to remain in its protective confines with his environment of electronic devices. When Radioman does emerge, it is often with a companion, and they travel in motorized metal containers that rattle and clank loudly, each laden with an abbreviated collection of the artifacts and effluvia found only in the den.
In an open area, Radioman sets about his tasks, remains shy, and is not easily distracted from his work. Our observations clearly show that Radioman is a unique creature.
Perhaps, then, the best way to attract Radioman to our shop is to snare an incumbent technician away from a competitor (that is, stealing from a former friend or business partner) and hope that Radioman won’t be lured away again later. The worst we can hope for is a series of new-hire interviews in which none of the candidates is really Radioman, but all of whom bring three intellectual possessions: 1) Extensive digital training (they will call it experience), which is shy of any exposure to RF (except for watching a pot pie cook in the microwave oven); 2) The conviction that they should immediately start work in a “management position” (like maybe “manager of file cabinet alphabetization” or “director of control cable cleaning and coiling”); 3) The ingrained attitude that they are interviewing us to see if our outfit measures up as a “workplace and lifestyle fit” for them.
Cheer up! Things could be worse (and may get that way yet). The candidates could ask if “deceased” means “dead,” as an insurance industry acquaintance reported. Or they could profess to have antenna installation experience, but do not climb towers and do have a fear of heights. Perhaps this railing about employable candidates is founded in the familiar mantra so frequently chanted by aging managers (and the older generation in general) that states simply that “Kids today are no good.” Not only have I professed this very thought, but I’ve even heard myself saying it out loud (which combines two of the first signs of senility). But this really isn’t true. Both our sworn and civilian staffs liberally comprise younger people, most of whom are eager for challenges and only lack basic guidance and leadership to meet them.
I have finally concluded that we must squarely face the truth about Radioman: While he is an ingenious and adaptive character, cellular replication isn’t providing adequate numbers of his replacements. But the secondary truth is that Radioman is really “made, not born,” which means that a period of conditioning (shop training program) might transform a regular human into Radioman. We’ve always insisted on two-way experience for applicants, but so few possess any familiarity with RF that we’ve turned to a loosely organized in-shop training program, and it’s been successful for us.
As a public safety entity, we have the luxury of starting our new techs on the basics of installation with a seemingly endless supply of city vehicles. As the individual’s interest grows (and migrates), we try to sustain them with more specific, product-oriented training. We’ve found that the training that combines operating theory with equipment specifics works well. Because there isn’t a progression of technical sophistication with the various equipment and products, we’ve found that the techs are eager to share their experiences and knowledge with each other. Our goal in all this is to encourage technical familiarity with system equipment as well as the development of good judgment, improved learning skills and a personal streak of self-confident independence-all of which are characteristics of the wily Radioman.