Create a Culture of Training

Want to drive your business to the next level? Get those training wheels turning.

Aristotle once wrote, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” This may explain why the most exceptional companies have at least one thing in common: They all offer a comprehensive and continuous training program.

In fact, organizations that offer top-notch training programs enjoy higher employee retention rates and igger bottom lines. Companies investing $1,500 or more per employee per year on training average 24% higher profit margins than companies with lower annual training investments, according to an American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) study.

This is why it’s critical for pest management companies to build and foster a culture that focuses on learning.

Keeping Pace in a Dynamic Industry

It’s no secret that pest management is an ever-evolving field. The rules, regulations and best practices are constantly changing, and it seems new technologies and innovations emerge every day. As a result, ongoing training is particularly important for pest management businesses.

“Things are constantly evolving, as we know,” says Leila Haas, PHR, Director of Human Resources for Sprague Pest Solutions. “Technology evolves, society evolves, new tools and studies come out. It’s important for people to become critical readers and constantly challenge the status quo—and you can only do that through ongoing learning.”

Nancy Troyano PhD, BCE, Entomologist /Director of Technical Education and Training for Rentokil North America echoes that sentiment. “Pest management is a dynamic industry, producing a steady stream of new technologies, emerging pests and changes to laws and regulations,” she emphasizes. “Ongoing training is essential in order to stay current as well remain in compliance with the law.”

In fact, she believes training is more important than ever for pest management businesses. “The pest management industry has come a long way in the past few decades, evolving into a science-based profession, where education on pest biology has become the backbone of our management strategies,” she explains. “Therefore, the work environment at a pest control company must foster a culture of learning, because the answers to solving most pest problems will come from a book, rather than a spray container.  And with so many pests out there, the reality is there is always more to learn!”

Rentokil places a heavy emphasis on training because the company believes well-educated technicians correlates with service quality, Troyano explains. “We also recognize that learning never stops, and foster a culture of education and training for every technician throughout the duration of their career,” she adds.

She says in this day and age, pest management technicians are no longer “exterminators,” but true professionals. “Gone are the days of the ‘baseboard jockey’ who was programmed to make pesticide applications along every available baseboard, regardless of whether or not there were even pests present,” she says. “Present day technicians are professionals who are required to have extensive knowledge on everything from pests, to pesticide applications and equipment, to laws and regulations, in order to perform their services safely and effectively.”

This is why it’s critical for modern-day technicians to have access to a wide variety of training materials and professional development opportunities.

Tried and True Training Tips
So how can pest management businesses create a culture of training to ensure future growth and success? Here a few tips and suggestions from pest management pros who specialize in training and development:

• Create a cycle of knowledge.
As you build your company’s training program, it’s critical to collect feedback and information from your technicians. “If you think about it from a technician level, they’re out there in the field seeing and doing,” says Haas. “It’s important that there’s a cycle of information that occurs between the technicians and the managers. You have managers and senior managers and CEOs who are helping to create that strategic vision, but they can’t create that vision unless they understand the reality of the world every day from the technician’s eyes. So one part of development is to give knowledge to those people, and another part is to gather data from them as well.”

• Set clear expectations from the get-go.
Troyano says it’s critical to inform employees about your training expectations from the very beginning—even as early as the interview process. “Let new prospects know up front what they will be mandated to complete by your company (and possibly by the state) in order to become a pest management professional,” she explains. “Most people new to our industry are surprised when they learn about the amount of education necessary to successfully and legally manage pests.”

• Make training a job requirement—not an afterthought.
Haas says some companies make the mistake of viewing their training program as a collateral duty. “It’s an additional thing you do on the side, but it’s not a part of who you are or what you consider to be your job. So from a technician’s standpoint their job is being out there working as pest professionals and taking care of pest control problems,” she says.

On the other hand, companies with a culture of training see development as a top priority. “In our organization, the technician’s job is to constantly develop themselves and do pest management,” Haas explains. “It’s a totally different mindset. We focus on development first. Everyone knows coming into this organization that it’s an expectation that you are constantly evolving, engaging yourself in development opportunities and creating that increased knowledge base as you grow with the organization. We have year-long development programs, and it starts the day the person walks into the organization. A lot of people see training as an event; we look at development as an ongoing opportunity—from our new hires all the way through our ten-year technicians. Everyone in the organization is expected to engage in development.”

• Always encourage questions.
If you want to foster a culture of learning, you have to create an environment where technicians are comfortable asking questions. “Many people are reluctant to ask questions because they think it may reflect negatively on how they are viewed at being capable of performing their job. But, due to the nature of pest management, questions are inevitable,” points out Troyano. “Let [technicians] know that the only bad questions are the ones not asked.  Allow time for questions before or after company meetings. Consider placing an anonymous question box in the office, and post the answers to questions nearby.”

• Don’t forget about soft skills.
The vast majority of pest management companies focus all their training efforts on technical pest control skills. However, soft skills—such as communication, personal habits and leadership—are equally important.

“We focus a lot on communication, understanding one another,” says Haas. “We believe in comprehensive development. We don’t just want to make people better technicians or better at customer service; we want to make people better. Better for their families, better for their community, better for them to contribute to the world.”

• Provide some form of compensation.
Most technicians will be more enthusiastic about training if you offer them some form of reward—whether monetary or non-monetary. “Even when fun and engaging, there are some individuals who don’t see the value in spending their time training, when they could be out making money servicing accounts,” Troyano remarks. “Therefore, training programs should have monetary compensation or other benefits tied into them, to motivate technicians to continue their education. For example, pest management companies should consider utilizing a career advancement program that provides pay increases as technicians complete specific training requirements.”

• Offer a variety of training methods.
Because everyone learns differently, it’s important to incorporate a variety of training styles. This is particularly important for younger generations who generally rely on smartphones and tablets as their primary source of information. “Pest management companies have to get creative when it comes to effectively training this younger generation of technicians,” says Shay Runion, Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior Vice President of Professional Development for Arrow Exterminators. Arrow has a dedicated Training and Professional Development Team known as Arrow University, which is responsible for creating, developing and implementing training programs throughout the entire organization.

“We all do some type of on-the-job training, but having a blended method of training for those who learn differently can help reiterate key points,” Runion adds. “It is important for our companies to evaluate different adult training methods. Not everyone is going to learn by simply reading materials your company provides or participating in an online module or sitting in a lecture. Including hands-on training, peer learning and a variety of methods can appeal to more learners.”

• Keep it convenient.
Technicians are more likely to fulfill their training requirements if you make materials and classes easily accessible. “Online training programs provide the flexibility pest management professionals need, so they can fit training into their busy schedules,” Troyano says. You should also provide technicians with the tools and resources they need for ongoing education. “Give them a list of pest apps for their smartphones as well as some trusted websites for pest biology and management information,” Troyano suggests. “Have a ‘library’ at the office, with textbooks, industry magazines, etc. for technicians to increase their knowledge on a subject or to investigate a topic in order to solve a pest problem in one their accounts.”

• Make it fun.
Ensure your training sessions are engaging and fun. “Not only will technicians be excited to learn, but there’s a better chance that they will retain the information,” Troyano explains. “When learning as a group, make a game out of the topic.” She says a fan favorite in her technician training class is a game called “Stinging Insect Jeopardy,” modeled after the popular game show. “We divide the group into teams and ask them questions on stinging insect biology and control.”

Looking to the Future

As the industry landscape continues to shift and evolve, pest management companies cannot afford to view employee training as box to check. If these businesses want to survive and thrive, they must fully incorporate training and development into their company culture.

“In the pest management industry, we must become life-long learners,” says Runion. “The industry is always evolving, and staying abreast of changes to technology, inspection and application techniques and equipment is a necessity. Building a culture of learning today is helping to train for success in the future.”