No bombing please
Tara Dillon takes things personally: her job, her organisation, her industry. Recently she gave The Leisure Review the time of day in the riverside headquarters of the RLSS and explained where she is coming from and where she is going.
Tara Dillon: at the helm of the IQL
On her PR agency’s website Tara Dillon, who has been the executive director of the Institute of Qualified Lifeguards (IQL) for the last two years, describes herself as “humorous, determined and fair”. Which of course means that when TLR met her our first question was: “What are you doing with a PR company?”
The answer is that she has a case and she wants to make it and her ambitions for IQL lie beyond being merely the deliverer of the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ). “My first priority was to get our profile up. Everybody knows who the RLSS and the IQL are but too many fail to see past the obvious, which is our fault not theirs. That’s why we engaged Promote [the PR company in question], as a reminder to the industry that we’re here and that we’re here to advise and help; we don’t make the rule, we just help people keep to them.”
She is adamant that she wants to be seen as a friend to the industry rather than a drain on its resources. But are the RLSS and IQL seen as a cost rather than a benefit? Dillon smiles ruefully as she recalls early encounters with industry figures. “Lots of people seemed to want to take their vexation out on IQL when at worse we are only the messenger and at best a supportive ally.” It goes unsaid that very few industry colleagues take pot shots at her these days.
Apart from the need to increase recognition and perhaps alter the perception of IQL, what else motivated the decision to commission public relations expertise? “I set out to raise the profile of lifeguards as a profession. They could do with a boost; working long hours on poor wages and for little recognition. And the profile of our T-As [trainer/assessors] who are unbelievably loyal and work way beyond their job descriptions.” Perhaps its because she worked at virtually every operational level in the industry that Dillon is passionate about the roles of the people who lifeguard pools, teach swimming and take the stressful role of duty manager. “I love this industry, I absolutely love it. Sometimes I even miss all the - shall we call them ‘less glamorous’ - aspects of running facilities. ” So why is she doing a job where the whiff of chlorine is just a fading memory? She prefaces her answer with an apology about its cheesiness: “Getting this job has let me give something back to this industry that I have gained so much from. I have colleagues out there that I have worked with for years and I feel that if I know all this I should share it.”
She returns to how she wants IQL to be perceived: “I don’t want to be an organisation that gives out memos saying ‘This is the latest legislation, now do it’. That just gets on people’s nerves. Having a better dialogue with the industry is important and I feel I still know what the problems are as in part of my head I am still ‘operational’.” And she clearly has an in-depth knowledge of the business having worked her way up from poolside and equally clearly she has an agenda.
High on that agenda is the issue of corporate manslaughter. Having heard a presentation from health and safety lawyers Walker Morris, Dillon was so impressed that IQL now partners with the firm to spread the word. To back up her first-hand knowledge of the realities of facility management she commissioned an industry-wide survey and what she found has led directly to the latest development in IQL’s portfolio, a qualification Dillon says is “ long overdue” She adds “You know, I wish I’d been able to do this when I was a muty manager”. She explains her thought process: “In conducting the survey I was either going to wind everybody up or I was going to tell them something they already knew.” What she found was a critical gap between poolside and the higher echelons of management into which falls all the manuals, all the necessary training, all the good intentions that turn policy into good practice. Since getting the results (which are due to be posted on the IQL website) she went on the road. “I have been all round the country speaking at seminars, at the ISRM conference, I was at a SPORTA conference last week, I went to SIBEC and spoke to people about it and the good news is that none of the organisations said: ‘Oh no, not my duty managers.’ And that’s good news. The bad news is that they are acknowledging that there is an issue. They have all said: ‘Yes we have great procedures but the custodians of those procedures aren’t getting them.’” Which, with corporate manslaughter legislation as it now stands, is all that will take for the organisation and senior managers – not the front-line staff – to be find themselves in court.
Dillon was faced with a choice: “Do I go round scare-mongering while washing my hands of the problem or do I, now cognisant of the problem, do something about it.” Her response has been to position IQL to be the first port of call for people with houses to put in order. The IQL is using a five-unit qualification, which is currently in its final pilot stage with organisations queuing up to be involved. “We don’t make duty manager’s experts in all of these areas but we give them enough knowledge to understand the law.” After a first e-learning module that effectively filters the candidates, the areas studied include health and safety law, risk management using computer simulations, normal and emergency operational procedures, lifeguarding, recruitment, managing training and serious incident management. “There is no validity period but the law will change so we expect them to get some CPD [continuing professional development],” she says. “Everybody I’ve spoken to, without exception, has said ‘twenty years overdue; how do we get involved?’”
With the driver of corporate litigation, initiatives like the new qualification will doubtless move forward apace and Dillon gives the impression that this is the speed setting she prefers. The subject of the sector’s professional body is raised and she issues a plea, or perhaps a challenge: “We work with the FIA, we work with SkillsActive, we work with the ISRM, the ASA and the STA. And others. And we get inundated with telephone calls; literally hundreds a day but not about our products. We get calls about pool plant, about numbers in swim classes and from health and safety managers. We all work together to a greater or lesser extent so why don’t we all extend those partnerships for the good of the sector. Say all these bodies meet – maybe twice a year – with no big hooplah and agree who deals with what? If the FIA get a call about water, give them my number. If I get a call about risk management in pool operation, I’ll give them the ISRM number and I won’t worry about it. I think there’s more than enough work out there for all of us without duplication. The industry is going to struggle in the next couple of years and now is the time to shake off precious attitudes, forget egos and work together; for the industry and the customers’ sakes.”
Tara Dillon is clear where responsibility lies for the safety of pool users, for the future of the industry and for the development of the Institute of Qualified Lifeguards. It is likely that the PR company will not be having to work too hard to raise this industry leader’s profile in the next few years.
The Leisure Review, March 2009
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