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How to Become a Dispatcher: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a public safety or emergency response dispatcher. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in dispatching. View article »

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  • 0:03 Should I Become a Dispatcher?
  • 0:50 Career Requirements
  • 1:25 Steps to Become a Dispatcher

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Dispatcher?

A dispatcher is someone who works as a communications liaison for a business or government agency. The job involves transmitting information and assignments to field employees, as well as receiving and recording data regarding the status of a call.

While some dispatchers coordinate the transit of freight or passengers, most dispatchers work with public safety and emergency service units, including police, firefighters, and paramedics. Some stress might be involved with the need to deal with life-or-death situations calmly. Dispatchers often work overtime hours, as well. The median annual salary for fleet dispatchers was $41,926 as reported by PayScale.com in January 2016.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or GED
Certification Requirements vary by state
Experience Prior customer service experience may be preferred, although intensive on-the-job training is often provided
Key Skills Oral and written communication skills, customer service skills, ability to multitask and stay calm under pressure, quick decision-making abilities, knowledge of Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) software, typing speed of 30+ words per minute, and communication radio operation knowledge
Salary (2016)* $41,926 per year (median salary for fleet dispatchers)

Sources: Online job postings from October 2012, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), *PayScale.com (January 2016)

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Steps to Become a Dispatcher

Let's go over what steps you'll have to take to become a dispatcher.

Step 1: Meet Training Requirements

A high school diploma or GED is all the education that's generally required for public safety or emergency dispatchers. However, after being hired, a dispatcher must typically undergo several weeks or months of on-the-job training and a probationary period. Trainees learn the various operations for each department, as well as how to handle distraught callers and emergency situations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that some employers prefer candidates with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or communication. Additionally, a number of community colleges offer certificate programs for aspiring emergency dispatchers. These programs usually last 1-2 semesters and cover topics like communications center operations, criminal law, emergency telecommunications, interpersonal communication, stress management, and transcription. They also might include a fieldwork component.

Success Tips:

  • Become CPR certified. Some states require that dispatchers have CPR certification through the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. Employers also might prefer job candidates with this certification.

  • Develop typing skills. Dispatchers must enter information and updates into a computer system in a timely manner. Many employers require that job candidates pass a typing test at a speed of 30+ words per minute. Instructional typing software is available online, and instructor-led classes are often offered at community colleges. Some colleges award a certificate of completion that may need to be provided to employers.

  • Prepare for a background check. Many agencies require that dispatchers pass a background check prior to employment. Background checks often include credit reports, DMV records, court records, and prior employment information. Individuals may want to check their own records before applying to make sure there are no problems.

  • Learn conversational Spanish. Being bilingual may increase chances for employment in areas with a large Hispanic population. Bilingual abilities may also qualify dispatchers for higher pay rates. Spanish classes are usually available through local community colleges.

Step 2: Earn Certification

Some states mandate certification for public safety dispatchers. Qualifications vary but typically include completion of a training program and passage of an exam. States also might require dispatchers to serve a probationary period before certification is granted.

Emergency dispatchers also can pursue voluntary certification through the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). Dispatchers applying for NENA's Emergency Number Professional designation must meet education and/or experience requirements and pass an exam.

Step 3: Become a Senior Dispatcher/Administrator

Once experience is acquired through a dispatcher position, employees may have the option of becoming a senior dispatcher. With the right skills, experience, and credentials, this is made possible. There is potential for further advancement in the field by becoming an administrator and focusing on a specific area.

To become a dispatcher, you'll need at least a high school diploma and on the job training; certification may also be required.

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