Hiring crisis

I’ve been getting a lot of depressing mail lately from teachers, professors and employers. Here’s one from someone who hires emergency dispatchers. Because of the stress and the bad hours, there’s a lot of turnover. Replacing dispatchers is difficult.

I begin by arranging a group orientation and testing for applicants, in order to verify the applicants’ concept of the job, and to weed out those who cannot read and comprehend, spell, write or organize thoughts, and carry through basic multi-tasking exercises.  The spelling test is 50 words and was devised at random from a combination of a Civil Service Exam and a beginning “How to Become a Dispatcher” book found at a local bookstore.  An 80% on all tests is required to pass on to the next phase of testing.  During the last round of applicant testing, all of the 52 applicants had the required high school diploma or equivalent, and some had current desk-type jobs for which the above skills are necessary (or so I thought).  Six out of 52 people passed the spelling test.  And the results of the other tests were not much better.  So, I had six people to move into the next round of testing, which is geared more toward the specific required skills and abilities of a communications officer.  In the end, four people were qualified to interview.

She’s looking at the tests to see if they’re too hard, but worries about “mediocre service from a dispatcher who might be attempting to help save a baby’s life over the phone.”

About Joanne


  1. Anonymous says:

    Asking a person to spell Forty (40) words correctly out of 50 (all of which can be found at the bookstore in the aforementioned book) is not being UNREASONABLE. Serious accidents or even death can occur from the inability to READ and FOLLOW instructions to the letter (happens a lot in electricial areas).

    If potential applicants cannot read, write, or comprehend well enough to pass this kind of test, perhaps someone should investigate the high school they claim to have received a diploma from.

    The fact that any number of books to pass civil service exams are available at the local bookstore (or at the local library) and a little self-motivation could produce very good people in any given field (all comes down to how bad someone wants to get an interview).

  2. Tough job, hard hours, tests to qualify…. What does it pay? How was the job advertised? Did the applicants only come from the welfare rolls, or was this an open process that actually tried to recruit actual members of the public? It sure sounds like many of the “applicants” were there to keep their unemployment checks coming while waiting for a better job.

    The missing information suggests: stress, low pay, unhealthy environment, employees treated like dirt, little opportunity for advancement, and bad management. Actually, based on those tested, there has to be bad management.

  3. Walter Wallis says:

    Just teach them please PLEASE not to tell someone to calm down. That is like spanking a child to make him stop crying, and it is infuriating as hell.

  4. Walter Wallis says:

    jon, I don’t know where you live, but at least in California civil service jobs are far from low paid. That is part of the reason California is up the creek.

  5. I’m in college, and one of my pet peeves is people who can’t spell. The number of friends I have who can’t spell simple words and don’t care that they can’t is amazing. I have to wonder . . . and I go to a pretty good college, too.

    . . . let me check this for typos before I post, after what I said.

  6. Sometimes you get what you pay for. I think that if we want good service from highly-skilled and highly-paid paramedical, police, and fire workers, it is probably a good investment to pay their dispatchers a good salary. In this case, I don’t know if there were morons in search of low-paying or insearch of high-paying jobs. But I have my suspicions.

  7. Andy Freeman says:

    Before I go to the trouble to check if Jon’s suspicions reflected reality, perhaps he’d tell us what he’d accept as proof that they were wrong.

    They are falsifiable, right?

  8. The excerpted(?) letter told me that many of the applicants couldn’t spell worth a damn. And I know what the job is. My question: is the pay equal to what the writer thought were the demands of the job. As it is, I don’t know. But I do know that there are many jobs that go begging that just happen to be the kind of jobs where begging is a necessary moonlighting activity.

    As to whether or not my suspicions can be verified, falsified, quantified, justified, or refried, we’ll know once I know how much the job paid. That’s all.

  9. Mad Scientist says:


    What do expect is a fair wage for dispatch work? $20K/year ($10/hour)? $50K ($25/hour)? $200K ($100/hour)?

    The point is, while we would all like to make $100/hour, very few of us have the skills necessary to earn $100/hour.

    And aren’t you just a tad lazy? Why do you insist that someone else look this up for you? You seem to be connected to the internet, and finding it out shoud not be too difficult. I looked it up, and it took me all of 15 seconds.

    These jobs pay better than starting teachers in most parts of the country.

  10. Only someone without other options would apply to be a dispatcher. How many times have you seen tapes played on the news of dispatchers? I wouldn’t want to be one because of the liability factor alone. I also suspect that your employers wouldn’t back you up in a difficult situation but would gladly sacrifice you to the news media.

  11. An email from “someone” who hires “emergency dispatchers” isn’t enough for me to find the salary. Which search engine did you use, ESP.com or Conjecture.org?

  12. I know it’s skewed because it’s a high-cost area, but my former home town of San Jose starts out new, inexperienced dispatchers at $46,000 a year, plus an additional $1.40 to $1.60 per hour for swing and graveyard shifts. The pay scale for experienced dispatchers goes up to $67,000 per year. That includes far better benefits than most people get, too.


  13. A quick search at 911hotjobs.com for dispatcher positions yielded a range of wages/salaries:

    Plano, Texas starts at $14.40/hour
    Nampa, Idaho is $12.31/hour (with rotating 12 hour shifts)
    Honolulu pays $2221/month
    Decatur, GA: $26, 416-$27,727
    Calistoga, CA $2,949-$3,585/month

    That was an unscientific survey using a random sampling at one website (I aimed for geographic diversity, but didn’t do too well at it.) I’d still like to know where the letter writer was seeking employees.

  14. jeff wright says:

    Jon, you’ve missed the point and you’re just wasting bandwidth. The point of this whole exercise is to illustrate the skills or lack thereof of a representative sampling of high school graduates. Who cares what dispatchers make or about their working conditions?

    Or is it your thesis that all of those high-fliers amongst modern HS graduates don’t take these kinds of tests and are just waiting for those cushy, low-stress, high-paying jobs that employers reserve for those multitudes of really hot folks with high school diplomas who choose not to attend college? With the corollary being that illiterate HS graduates go into the nasty jobs reserved for the likes of them?

    I didn’t know it worked like that.

  15. ralph phelan says:

    A few years ago I worked for a large industrial firm in Rochester NY, and we were looking to hire some folks to work as technicians in a clean room. Landing a job at this place was generally considered a good thing by area residents.

    We had some really simple tests:
    “This etch bath removes five microns per minute. You have to remove fifteen microns from the substrate. How long should you leave it in the bath?”
    “Here’s the MSDS for ammonia. If a coworker gets some on his skin, what should you do?”

    Only a very small fraction of the folks who showed up could pass.

    Never mind being a technician – if you couldn’t answer the second question we couldn’t hire you to be a friggin’ janitor!

    That’s right, a lot of these high school graduates had insufficient skills to be janitors.

  16. Yes, high school graduates can be as stupid as stones. But this wasn’t listed as a “Stupidity Crisis” but as a “Hiring Crisis”. Hiring involves having an opening, advertising a position, getting applicants, and parsing through them until hiring can begin. I think that there is a big chance that there were problems with the first two steps. It’s not an appealing job and the applicants weren’t very good. That’s a hiring crisis. The stupidity crisis followed.

    And I don’t think I’m wasting bandwidth. If more of the story was given, I wouldn’t have gone off on the salary tangent. Since the facts weren’t there, it’s not a waste of bandwidth to question the missing facts. Money and working environment are probably the top two things potential employees wonder about. I knew the job had high turnover but didn’t know the money. Sorry to ask so many questions, I’ll just go to the back of the class and draw pictures of world leaders on sticks.

  17. ralph phelan says:

    Jon –
    The salary and working conditions might explain why only crap candidates showed up, but it doesn’t explain why they had diplomas in their hands.

  18. Agreed.

  19. The dispatch center boss who wrote didn’t want to be identified. Her center is in a state that’s . . . average.

    Emergency dispatch jobs are very stressful and dispatchers often work night and swing shifts. On the other hand, there’s no heavy lifting, and dispatchers can feel satisfaction in knowing they’re helping people. In the Bay Area, it’s one of the best-paid jobs open to high school graduates.

  20. The obvious solution to this is to pay dispatchers more. If they offer more money, they’ll get more qualified applicants with better skills.

  21. Mad Scientist says:


    Sorry, I haven’t answered sooner, but I was out of the country for a few days.

    As I recall, I used the most obscure search engine I could find (Google), and typed in something like “pay for dispatchers” and “California” in the search bar.

    You should try it before you show what a lazy slug you are. And what an ass for saying I just made this up with no effort to try ot for yourself.

  22. Mad Scientist,

    How did you know it was California? I was able to find results the same way you did, but I wasn’t able to say they matched the original letter. Why not? Because I didn’t know the origin of the letter. Maybe I was an ass to say you were (or may have been) pulling numbers out of yours, but I had no evidence to the contrary.