Go Beyond Safety and Technical Training to Engage and Retain New Employees

Effective employee onboarding should include a solid company culture, progressive career paths and ongoing training and check-ins to ensure retention.

It’s no secret that it is more cost effective to retain good employees than to constantly have to replace people who leave in three months, six months or a year.

While many pest control companies have revamped how they recruit and select new employees, another key strategy to improve retention rates is the onboarding process itself.

When Scott Ballard, director of operations at S&S Termite and Pest Control, joined the company seven years ago, the staff joked about hiring employees from another pest control company after they had been trained, then putting them to work at S&S. Today, the company has its own 90-day employee training program that can be adjusted to reflect the new employee’s level of experience and training prior to joining the company.

With 41 employees in the company, onboarding is often conducted one person at a time, but can also include two or more people hired at the same time. “I meet with the new employee to talk about the company and teach the ‘S&S way,’ which includes our focus on customer service as well as the company’s vision,” says Ballard. In addition to printed training materials, the company also subscribes to an online training service with videos all employees can view.

Another key component of the process is a trainer who is assigned to each new employee, says Ballard. Training techs are experienced employees who are willing to work with new employees and who have strong training skills. “I check in regularly with the training techs to get their opinion of the new employee and to see if they are ready to go out on their own,” he says. “We want to make sure that no one works on their own before they are confident in their ability to handle the job.”

Even employees who will not work as technicians ride along with technicians during their training. When two women were hired to schedule and handle customer service calls, the ride-along was an important part of the training, points out Ballard. “The schedulers were more aware of what a drive from one city to another entails, with and without traffic, so it is easier for them to understand how best to schedule.”

The advantage of a small staff is the ability to have one or two people handle all onboarding, but with more than 2,100 team members and 150 service centers in the South and Southeast, Massey Services has a different challenge. Their onboarding efforts have focused on ensuring that all new employees in all locations receive the same experience.

“Onboarding is a critical stage in our relationship with new team members,” points out Tom (T.J.) Jarzynka, senior director of pest prevention/quality assurance at Massey. “There is no second chance to make a first impression.”

“We handle all of the employment paperwork online before the team members shows up for the first day, so we can have them focus on learning about the company and the job,” explains Sean Clifford, director of learning and development at Massey. “The first 10 days are structured with planned events in the classroom and the field.”

New team members meet one-on-one with their supervisors who provide the onboarding and training by following a checklist that guides them through the same curriculum that every Massey employee receives—regardless of location. Topics covered include a description of the company’s culture—including mission, values and goals, as well as safety and technical issues related to that specific role.

“At the end of two weeks, a pest technician is ready to handle simple accounts,” says Clifford. As the team member progresses and becomes ready to take on more complex accounts, additional training is provided. “We want new team members to feel confident in their jobs, so we give them a chance to learn and be successful before we move them into more complex accounts.”

Even with a well-structured program for the first two weeks, it is also important to keep checking with new team members, says Clifford. “We have check-in sessions for all team members that give them a chance to meet with their supervisors, and our HR staff conducts ‘stay interviews’ at 30 and 60 days of employment.” The stay interviews are simply “how are things going” conversations in which the HR team member asks how the new employee is working with the team, how they feel about the job, what other training—if any—is needed, or any topic the new employee wants to discuss. “If issues are identified, the quality assurance and operations teams evaluate the situation and work with the new team member and supervisor to address them.”

Making sure new staff members are well-prepared for their jobs and can be successful from the beginning is one reason that Sprague Pest Solutions changed their onboarding process at the beginning of 2019. The company serves nine states and has 15 branches with just over 250 employees. All new employees are flown to the main office in Tacoma, Washington for a one-week onboarding session in their first month and again at the last week of the month.

“This decision did create a change in our hiring process at all locations,” says Leila Haas, HR director for Sprague. Instead of having a new employee start as soon as they are hired, all new employees start on the first day of the next month’s onboarding session. This means that someone offered a job in the middle of a month attends the same session and at the same time as someone offered a job at the end of a month.

“Although there was concern at first, those concerns disappeared when everyone saw how successful our new onboarding process was,” says Haas. In fact, Sprague’s retention rates increased by 33% in 2019 following implementation of the new program.

In the first week, the curriculum includes a history of the almost 100-year-old business, an explanation of the company culture, mission and goals, career pathways for employees and safety. “We also spend two days with an outside trainer who teaches test preparation techniques,” says Haas. “Most of the people we hire are not licensed, and it has been years since they have studied and prepared for a test, so we give them resources and tools to help them be successful when they return to their state to take the certification or licensing exam.”

Haas also taps into her previous experience as a high school teacher as she talks to new employees about learning styles so they can choose which study methods work best for them. “We give them flashcards, manuals, access to online training videos, and a number of other tools to help them prepare,” adds Haas.

After the first week, new employees return to their home offices for job-specific training and to prepare for their licensing exam. At the end of the month, they come back to Tacoma for a “check-in,” says Haas. “This is a good time to bring them back because they have experienced our service in the field and gotten to know their local teams, and it gives us a chance to dive a little deeper into safety training and service protocols,” she says.
The secret to Sprague’s success? “We quit thinking about what we needed to accomplish during onboarding and focused on what new employees want to hear and learn during the week,” says Haas. “Look at onboarding through your new employees’ eyes and you will know how to create a program that helps you keep good employees with your company for a long time.”

By Sheryl S. Jackson