Take the TRAIN to Success

Want your firm to flourish? A first-class training program is key.

In today’s tough economy, some pest management firms are struggling to stay afloat—and as a result, many have moved training programs to the back burner. However, studies show a lack of continuing education can be harmful to a company’s health.

According to a 2010 Louis Harris and Associates poll, 41 percent of employees with poor training opportunities said they plan to leave their current company within a year as compared to only 12 percent of workers who considered their company’s training opportunities to be excellent. In other words, companies with superior continuing education programs enjoy a retention rate more than two-thirds higher than those with lackluster training opportunities.

To top it off, employee development can improve employer bottom-line profitability by increasing revenues and lowering expenses, according to research by the National Network of Sector Partners.

“The [pest control] industry has made great effort to raise its level of professionalism, and professional development is a key component,” remarks Greg Baumann, Vice President of Training and Technical Services at Rollins, Inc. “I think as an industry, we’ve gotten into a mindset that what the states require is all the people really need. But training is a real investment and something we all need to take very seriously.” Baumann says pest management companies need to offer training to ensure their employees stay sharp in all aspects of the business: from customer service and equipment maintenance to biology and pest control.

Shay Jones Runion, Chief HR Officer at Arrow Exterminators reflects this sentiment, saying professional development is crucial to a company’s success. “Professional development is so important in this industry because our team members are going in to homes of our customers, which is a unique service relationship,” she explains. “We must focus on customer service and respect the families and properties we serve. The industry is evolving, and staying abreast of changes to technology, inspection and application techniques and equipment is a necessity.”

Training Wheels
Although every pest management company must meet minimum training requirements, some firms offer extensive training programs that go far above and beyond these regulatory obligations. “At Rollins, Inc., we go way above and beyond the state and provincial minimum requirements,” says Baumann. “We take training very seriously.”

At Rollins, Inc. every technician must complete the company’s “blended learning” program, which includes a combination of online training, on-the-job-training, exams and even live broadcasts. “Because we have 10,000 employees nationwide, we reach them through an interactive live broadcast,” Baumann explains. “This allows them to be in a branch or even in their own home and take a course live, and they can be called on to ask questions and participate in instant polls.”

If a participant has a question during these live broadcasts, he can simply press a button that says, “Raise hand.” The class instructor can call on him so everyone listening can hear his question. Additionally, Baumann says they offer text chat during the broadcasts. “So, as the technicians are watching the course, someone can type into the text box, ‘Yeah I’ve had that problem too,’ and they can share their story with everyone watching,” Baumann explains. “It’s really interactive.”

When Rollins recently conducted a live broadcast on a few technical topics for state recertification, Baumann says it was a huge hit with their technicians. “At one point, we had more than 300 people watching it in one time zone…and none of them were here at the training center where we were broadcasting live,” he comments. “It may not be practical for most companies, but because we’re so large and spread out, it’s a really good tool for us.”

In addition to the broadcasts, Rollins technicians are also required do their pre-work, which is mostly online, and post-work, which is primarily an exam. “We also have people out in the field called certified field trainers,” Baumann adds. “These trainers actually go out with new hires and work with them face-to-face and hands-on to affirm what they learned on the broadcast.”

Of course, Rollins, Inc. isn’t the only company with an extensive training program. In fact, quite a few pest management companies have individuals or even entire teams devoted solely to training and development.

For example, Arrow Exterminators, based in Atlanta, Georgia, has a dedicated Training and Professional Development Team known as Arrow University. This group is responsible for creating, developing and implementing training programs throughout the entire organization.

“The team works closely with various departments throughout the company to research specific training topics so that the development of courses will fit the mission, vision, needs and goals of Arrow,” Runion explains. “The Arrow University team is made up of Arrow team members who have all worked in different aspects of our business and were promoted from within. They work to ensure all training delivers a consistent message throughout the organization and thus create a culture of learning and career development.”

Arrow also employs Field Trainers, Customer Care department trainers, Customer Care Specialist Trainers and Home Evaluator Sales Managers/Trainers that are in the field each and every day working with their team members.

Arrow also offers 24/7 training through Arrow University’s E-Learning Center. For continuing education and compliance training, Arrow employees are required to attend quarterly training which meets licensing requirements in all the states where the company operates. To top it off, Arrow provides safety presentations and training programs at each of their service centers during Friday morning meetings.

Runion says new hires attend New Employee Training either in-person at the National Training Center or through the E-Learning Center. “Each position also has a training checklist for onboarding as well as for compliance training,” she explains. “In addition, Service Professionals receive hands-on, on-the-job training from our Technical Field Trainers.”

Plus, Arrow University offers licensing and certification training materials from their resource library, and all team members have access to cross-training, leadership training, computer, personal finance training and more through the E-Learning Center.

“We want our team members to have a sense of pride for what they do day in and day out,” Runion emphasizes. “They are important in protecting the health and properties of the families we serve. With adult learning we know that training has to be interactive, interesting and provided in different formats.”

One Size Does NOT Fit All
When it comes to training programs, cookie cutter solutions simply won’t pan out. That’s why it’s important for each pest management company to create a unique training program based on their size, geographic location, philosophy and other factors.

“One size does not fit all. Most pest control companies are a lot smaller than Rollins, so what works for us may not work for someone else,” Baumann explains. “You have to find the optimal training program for your company.”

As pest management firms build a professional development program, it’s also important to take the generational differences of technicians into consideration. “The pest control industry has to look at the new generation of hires we’re attracting,” Baumann points out. Because this new generation is constantly on-the-go and permanently attached to their smartphones, pest management companies need to offer more mobile training solutions.

“People we’re hiring today live on their smartphones, and we can’t make them sit down and watch an hour long 20 year old video by the industry—they’re not going to get anything out of it,” Baumann adds. “They need interactive, and we really have to look at what the values are of the generation of new hires and adjust our training to meet their needs rather than them meeting our needs as trainers.” In fact, Rollins, Inc. is currently working on iPad and iPhone apps for training, including pest identification tools.

Runion whole-heartedly agrees, saying pest management companies have to get creative when it comes to effectively training this younger generation of technicians. “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,” she explains. “At Arrow we pride ourselves in leading the industry into the future through the use of our STEPS field kits and technology such as handhelds and iPads.”

Reap the Rewards
Although each pest management company offers its own unique spin on training, one thing certain: The firms that invest time and money into training are reaping the benefits.

“Rollins as a company has done very well, and I think training is a large part of it,” Baumann states. While he admits it can be difficult to measure just how much training contributes to their success, he says Rollins handles a lot of large, sensitive accounts such as schools, hospitals and aircraft—and he believes their training offers an added level of comfort to these customers. His advice to other pest management companies is simple: “Try to optimize your training, and don’t make it the lowest priority because training pays huge dividends.”

“We want to see our team members succeed,” Runion says. “Arrow University’s motto is ‘Training Today for Tomorrow’s Success.’ We know we must prepare our team today for us to meet our future growth needs. A solid professional development program can create an internal bench of talent and help you move your company to the next level.”