Bridging the gap: how to reach and engage your next generation of paramedics and EMTs

Takeaways from our recent panel at the American Ambulance Association Annual Conference

What we'll cover

In April, Blink attended the American Ambulance Association Annual Conference & Trade Show (a.k.a. AAA)  in Nashville, TN. As the premier event in the ambulance industry, leaders gather at AAA to discuss the trends and pitfalls they face, find innovative vendor solutions, and hear from experts about the future of Emergency Medical Services (EMS). 

We had the honor of sharing the stage with a few of those trend-setting industry experts. Blink hosted a panel discussion, “Uncensored: Cutting The BS On Employee Communications,” with two of the industry’s most straight-talking COOs: Danielle Thomas (Lifeline Ambulance) and Meredith A. Lambroff-Brown (Armstrong Ambulance Service). 

Keep reading to discover some of the employee communications insights Danielle and Meredith shared with the audience. 

Why good employee communications matter for EMS agencies 

First, let’s set the stage to understand why frontline communications are so critical for ambulance companies. EMS frontline workers—paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs)--play a critical role in society. Ambulance companies face a difficult task, however, when it comes to keeping a strong workforce and staying connected with them. 

Frontline roles in healthcare related industries are notoriously challenging to keep filled—and EMS is no different. Over the last few years, turnover rates have increased, with an average of 11% turnover in the US and a peak of 20% turnover in high response volume areas in 2022. The turnover problem is compounded by waning applicant pools, with nearly two-thirds of agencies reporting a decrease in applications. 

On top of that, EMS practitioners are a young and increasingly diverse workforce. In California, for example, the EMS workforce is younger on average than the rest of California’s workforce. In the US, more broadly, EMTs are one of the youngest workforces, with a median age of 29.7 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What industry COOs are saying about employee communications

Against this backdrop, what advice and insights did Thomas and Lambroff-Brown have for companies struggling to communicate with a young, mobile, and diverse workforce? Here are a few takeaways from the talk.

Panelists speaking on stage with presentation

1. Comms is a must-have, not a nice-to-have

In many ambulance agencies, the practice of communications is often viewed as an afterthought, rather than what it really is: one of the most powerful tools available. A good communication strategy has the power to educate, motivate, connect, and focus workers; a bad communications strategy can tear down people and workplace culture. 

2. Master the building blocks of communications

When working on your internal communication strategy, pay attention to the three main building blocks of communication—what you say, how you say it, and how you deliver it. Each company will need a different voice tailored to their audience, so play around with these facets to ensure your message is being heard. 

3. Create a relevant and sustainable comms strategy

Getting employee communications right is hard because language and culture are always evolving. What worked yesterday isn’t guaranteed to work today. That’s why leaders need to constantly ensure their comms are specific, set clear expectations, and provide a model for the rest of the workforce. In other words, “what you put up with, you end up with.” 

4. EMS leaders are scared to over-communicate, but shouldn’t be 

In any organization, the comms team will need to handle sensitive topics. Naturally, leaders are scared of over-communicating and causing uproar over certain topics. But, rather than letting the fear of an outcome shut down communications, focus on building trust with the workforce through constant communication. That way, you’re more likely to be given grace to make a communication misstep by employees who feel connected to you already.

5. Build the culture with your posts

Your communications strategy plays a critical part in building the company culture. This is especially important—and challenging—for frontline organizations where workers often work alone or in pairs. Don’t shy away from posts that may seem “fluffy,” and be sure to tailor those posts to your workforce. For the younger EMS workers, the COOs take advantage of videos in the Blink Feed, because that’s how that generation consumes information.  

6. Control the narrative

Rumors and misinformation are an unfortunate part of managing frontline communications. Rather than avoid tough topics, the comms strategy needs to prioritize getting ahead of the narrative. Whether it’s discussing the disparity between racial representation in the workforce and in leadership roles or an emergency issue like an error with gas card payments, set the terms of the discussion early and provide clear next steps to fend off the rumor mill. 

7. Measure the operational impact of your strategy

Good comms are measured by more than anecdotes. Inefficient communications and misaligned technology hinder frontline workers and contribute to waste and high turnover. When Lifeline Ambulance switched to Blink for their communications and HR tool, the company saved $420,000 in the first year—nearly 10x more than their investment in Blink. Understand the operational cost of your current strategy, find new strategies and new tools like Blink, and measure the impact regularly.

In summary, a good frontline communications strategy is one of the most important things an EMS agency can do.  But communicating with a young, diverse frontline workforce can’t follow the same playbook as your office-based staff. Ambulance agencies need a communications strategy that is tailored to this mobile, fast-paced, highly-dispersed workforce.

If you can find what works for your agency, it can help reverse the turnover trend and help create positive employee engagement that propels the business forward.

It was a compelling, hour-long discussion with both COOs. This summary is just a fraction of the insights the audience walked away with. 


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