Level 5 In-service Training

May 10, 2012

A Comprehensive System for Campus Recreation

Matthew D. Griffith, M.S., RCRSP
Georgia Institute of Technology

The practice of in-service training is critical to keeping your employees prepared to prevent injuries and respond to emergencies. Despite the fact that the importance of on-going training for staff has been almost unanimously agreed upon in some recreation program areas for years (e.g. aquatics), other areas are much further behind when it comes to in-service training. Employee in-service training programs can not only prevent skill erosion and improve emergency preparedness, but also facilitate individual employee development into contributing members of the community. That’s where the concept of Level 5 in-service training comes in. Developed by the author and Dr. Joseph Walker, it addresses observed deficiencies in current practices and maximizes the impact of staff participation. It will enhance the development of the individual and also function as a recruiting tool for future employees.

“Level 5” refers to a structured, comprehensive system that incorporates all required skills and knowledge. But it takes this a step further with an outcome-oriented, benefits-based approach that enhances individual development. A Level 5 strategy is not required to have a successful in-service training program, but it does ensure that in-service training reaches its maximum potential. Although originally developed for and applied to lifeguards, Level 5 in-service training can be equally effective for any employee in the recreation department.


Level 5 is the highest level in the hierarchy of recreation staff training. Each level of training continues to build and develop a competent and effective employee. As each progressive level is implemented, the organization gets closer to “filling the bucket” of an employee’s training. Components of Level 5 could be incorporated alone, but to achieve all the benefits Level 5 training (and a “full” bucket), they must be implemented with the training acquired in the previous four levels.

Level 5 in-service training is one of the best risk management/safety strategies available to recreation professionals to ensure employees have the ability to respond effectively to emergencies and, more importantly, have the skills to effectively prevent many emergencies from escalating or ever occurring. This structured system comes in the form of weekly or biweekly sessions that are one to two hours long. Over the course of twelve weeks (about one semester), all knowledge and skills are reviewed and practiced multiple times. To maximize efficiency and effectiveness, as well as ease facilitation, each session follows the same general format. Example categories for one session might include:

  • Team building
  • Policy and procedure review; professionalism; and guest service training
  • Preventive actions
  • Emergency response skills
  • Leadership and mentoring

All necessary skills and knowledge have been systematically categorized and scheduled throughout the twelve weeks (many topics appear multiple times). For example, the emergency response skills required for lifeguards are categorized into four basic topic areas: CPR/AED, first aid, spinal injuries, and water rescues. One topic is covered each week, with each topic reviewed at least once per month. A similar process can be applied to the skills and knowledge required in other recreation program areas, including site-specific information to be supplemented by each agency and facility. This structure ensures that no aspect of the emergency response plan is inadvertently neglected, and also provides very strong legal support that each employee is competent in all the required skills.

There are a few important components to a successful training program that are purposely left out of the Level 5 structure. These include health and safety certification and pre-service training/orientation. Because these are the essence of Levels 1 and 2, they should be addressed separately, realizing that without the foundation of basic lifesaving certification and quality pre-service training, Level 5 cannot be attained. Both components, along with the training in levels 3 and 4, are needed in addition to the other parts of the system in order to reach Level 5 potential.

While skill development and reinforcement are important components of Level 5, the key benefit of Level 5 is mentoring–and it can have a far-reaching impact. Through mentoring, student employment programs have the potential to be one of the recreation department’s most effective services. To have the greatest impact, however, a reliable mentoring model must be applied, such as the Benefits-Based Staffing Model (see Griffith & Walker).

Application of the Benefits-Based Staffing Model is one of the attributes that sets Level 5 apart from, and above, the other levels of employee training, but it does require the manager to take on the role of mentor. While many managers recognize the benefits that mentoring can have on staff, few know the principles to perform it effectively with part-time employees. To use an analogy, a mentor is a salesman. The question is then: What is the mentor selling? Mentors, in the employment context, must sell employees to themselves. It is the utmost responsibility of a mentor to recognize the potential of individuals and help them to reach it.

Mentoring can be accomplished through well-designed in-service training. It is during training, more than any other time, that managers have the absolute attention of the employees. But it extends far beyond the confines of in-service training and must take place continuously. Managers must seize teachable moments as they occur. Another method is through expanding educational opportunities available.

If implemented successfully, current staff and former employees will be able to articulate the benefits of the mentoring program, and will become ambassadors for the department and university long after they have worked for the organization. The program may also have an epiphanic impact on some of the student employees, who will then go on to become future campus recreation professionals. After all, many current professionals chose the field in part due to a mentor recognizing their potential and encouraging them.

Regardless of how managers achieve it, mentoring is the key to realizing the potential of Level 5 training. A highly structured in-service training program covering all the job-related skills can only take you to Level 4. However, by incorporating the Benefits-Based Staffing and Level 5 concepts in your program, you will ensure that in-service training maximizes its impact on employees and contributes to the holistic growth and development of the entire community.
To learn more about Level 5 in-service training and how to implement a comprehensive system in your program, look for the upcoming webinar (Fall 2012) developed in collaboration with McGregor & Associates.

Griffith, M., & Walker, J. (2008, July). Benefits-based staffing: Maximizing your impact on seasonal staff. Parks and Rec Business, 6(12), 46-47. http://griffithaquatics.com/Articles_files/Benefits-Based%20Staffing.pdf


Editors Note:
An article on ‘Benefits-Based Staffing’ by the current author will appear in the September 2012 edition of the Newsletter.

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