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The Developmental Training Cycle

Daniel C Olsen, Senior Consultant, SDAO

Training is vital in retaining volunteers. However, we sometimes manage to make it a “routine”.  It can become a duty and drudgery.  Training is necessary because there are a number of state and national qualifications for your emergency service volunteers to meet. There are also legal issues related to the levels of training.

Training offers the opportunity to energize your volunteers. Remember the “3 C’s”.  You want volunteers to be competent, confident and contributing

·       Competent in their knowledge and skills.

·       Confident in their ability to perform, especially in difficult circumstances. 

·       Contributing to the success of your organization.

I ask you to consider the Developmental Training Cycle and incorporate it into your volunteer training program.

The Developmental Training Cycle involves a five-step process. 

·       Plan

·       Presentation

·       Evaluate

·       Celebrate

·       Rest and Refresh

Often, training programs place the emphasis on “presentation” and “evaluation”. The Developmental Training Cycle gives you a balanced approach and can enhance your retention of volunteers.


Plan out the training.  Set goals. Have a long-range plan for your volunteers and organization.  Planning gives focus and direction.  This includes having a ‘career’ ladder for the development of your personnel.

 Are your training goals specific, meaningful, meaningful and current?  Review your training goals annually.

Consider the frequency of the skills versus the risk they present.  Example: some skills are a low risk of performing but are a high frequency of use.  Others may be at a low risk of performing and a low frequency of use (routine skills and practices). 

Example: high angle rescue.  You may have two alarms during the year (low frequency) but there is a very high risk of when crews are performing them.  How and when do you schedule high angle rescue training?  How are allocating the time available for training?

In planning your training sessions, how are you promoting them?  Create more interest by showing your volunteers the “upcoming attractions” of scheduled training sessions. Promote your training by:

·       posting photos of what the training will be. 

·       remind them of the successes they have had due to being competent in their knowledge and skills.

·       Post quotes from different volunteers and the positive difference different training has meant to them.

Planning also involves scheduling. Plan the best time to train.  Consider the weather and time of year.  Example, summer is more conducive to outdoor sessions, winter for indoor sessions.

Certain times of the year have less distractions (such as holidays).  Have longer sessions when there are less distractions and shorter sessions, or eliminate training sessions, when there are other events going on (such as school breaks and holiday festivities).



When presenting training sessions, utilize various methods to instruct, practice and review.   Effective sessions always involve coaching and feedback.

Sometimes, the challenge is making refresher training more interesting.  How do you present the training to create more interest?  Consider a new perspective.  Can you simulate a new situation?  How can you make the experience new?   What if something unexpected happens?  How will they adjust?  What if trainees have less resources? How will they handle the incident?  Where the trainee must be creative? 

Incorporate self-study and different media into your training.  Can some of the training be done by self-study, allowing more time for hands-on sessions? There are so many instructional technologies available to better fit into differing schedules and maximize your individual volunteer’s time the available time for training.


Evaluate the success of the trainees.  Have they learned and can they perform?  Are they performing in an efficient, effective and safe manner as an individual and as a team member? How thorough is the evaluation?

 In addition to the trainees, how about the instructors?  Evaluate the methods and performance of the instructors.  Develop your trainers with constructive feedback and positive reinforcement.  Improve their competence, confidence and contributions.


After evaluation and success, celebrate!  This is an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of your volunteers.  It is time to appreciate the volunteer, their time and commitment they made to learn and develop their skills. People talk about “volunteer burnout” but how about “instructor burnout”?  This is an opportunity to demonstrate support and appreciation for your trainers. 

Mark the completion of training and their accomplishment with a celebration.  It should be appropriate to the time expended and the degree of achievement.

Rest and Refresh

After all is said and done: Rest.  Build these rest and refresh segments into your plan.  Take time off or shorten your sessions.  Shorter sessions are a good time to review or have refresher sessions.

When you physically workout, such as resistance or weight training, rest is a necessary part of the process.  Consider this in your training and development of your volunteers.


·       Plan your training throughout the year   

Are the training goals specific, meaningful, meaningful and current?  Consider how you better promote and schedule your training sessions to increase interest, attendance and increase retention of your personnel.

·       Presentation   

Employ various methods to instruct, practice and review the subject being presented.

·       Evaluate the success of the trainees

Evaluate the instructional methods used and the performance of the instructors. 

·       Celebrate   

Mark the completion of training and their accomplishment with a celebration. 

·       Rest and Refresh  

Build these rest and refresh segments into your plan.


Train to retain. Train your volunteers to be:

·       competent in their knowledge and skills,

·       confident to perform them efficiently and effectively and

·       contributing to the success of your organization and the services you provide to the community