It’s hard to determine the best time to hire a new person or create a new position within a company, but often growing pains and daily demands ultimately make the decision. Having a technical specialist within a company shows that professionalism and education are highly valued. They can enhance a company’s expertise as highly trained individuals can coach others in the field, train new hires and even act as problem solvers in difficult pest-related situations. Their exact role may differ depending on the company’s needs, but technical specialists usually enjoy working in the field, teaching others, and are very interested in keeping up with new methods and technologies in the industry. Often, technical specialists have entomology degrees or other professional certifications and a high level of subject-matter expertise. In addition, technical specialists typically have great communication skills and can organize and manage large scale service jobs. Communication is key for this position, as they may need to give a presentation on bed bugs to a nursing home, troubleshoot an issue with a high-profile client, or answer media requests.
Travis Aggson, ACE, Executive Vice President of American Pest Management in Manhattan, KS, has personally experienced the growth pains associated with trying to fulfill training and regulatory requirements while running other aspects of a pest control business. Travis has been with his company for 25 years and was primarily responsible for overseeing all aspects of technical training while still handling day-to-day business operations. Like many others, Travis found that he didn’t have enough time to dedicate to training due to the rate at which the company was growing. In 2010, one of American Pest Management’s 10 employees expressed interest in taking on a new challenge within the company. Travis feared that he may lose a great employee if he didn’t think of something, so the solution was to create a new role within the company. That role was American’s first ever training-focused position, called the Technician Supervisor. The primary role of this position was to lead internal training and to assist with difficult pest situations. Now, American Pest Management has a Technical Director that spends 40% of the time training technicians, consulting, troubleshooting and implementing new IPM strategies while still doing physical work and routes 60% of the time because the demand is not quite enough to have a full time technical position. Today, American Pest Management has about 42 employees and has started a new career track to becoming a Technical Specialist that any technician can pursue, regardless of if they have previous experience. Additionally, this internal career path helps technicians become Associate Certified Entomologists (ACE) or Board-Certified Entomologists (BCE). These certification programs are provided through the Entomological Society of America for pest management professionals to prove their level of professionalism and to enhance their education in the pest control industry. Currently, there are four technical specialists at American Pest Management, and they help create training videos, service protocols and select products. The Technical Specialist position is highly coveted and considered a prestigious designation at American.
Rose Pest Solutions, headquartered in Michigan, has over 300 employees and, partly due to its size, has a large technical and quality assurance department. According to Mark Sheperdigian, BCE, Vice President of Technical Services at Rose, known to many in the industry as “Shep,” there is a range of board-certified entomologists within the company that have different roles such as Service Supervisor and District Manager. In addition to these credentialed specialists in various roles at Rose, there is a technical department of about eight people and a Quality Assurance Department that handles audits internally. Shep says that having qualified people that are trained is vital and recognized at Rose; however, the costs and benefits of having support staff that do not necessarily create revenue but increase efficiency and effectiveness in the long term must be considered.
Mike Patton, ACE, President and CEO of Patton Termite and Pest Control in Wichita, KS has an interesting story about how they acquired their first technical employee last year. According to Patton, luck was in his favor when a recent Oklahoma State graduate with a master’s degree in Entomology applied for a position as a technician in his company. He remembers looking at her application and thinking, “wow, I’ve got to talk to this person, but not to be a technician!” He spoke with Jordan Randall later that day and hired her as staff entomologist, then within a year moved her into a Technical Director position. Since then, she has helped organize the technician’s certifications, making sure that each technician gets certified and trains employees to make sure they pass the general exam. In addition, Jordan ensures the company remains Quality Pro accredited and helps write protocols, trains on safety issues and applies prescriptive diagnoses for trouble accounts. Mike has had great success with hiring a technical professional and has been happy to have someone in that role provide expertise and education.
Dennis Jenkins, President of ABC Home & Commercial Services in Dallas and NPMA Past President, said that the day he hired an entomologist was a big deal and it’s hard to replace the instant technical guidance and training that technical support provides. In addition to having a designated trainer, he has a training coordinator that helps organize all the technician CEU and training documents to make sure that everyone stays up to date. Jeff White, Director of Innovation and Technical Content at Bed Bug Central, provides a lot of training to small companies and says the issue most often in many companies is the lack of consistency that leads to efficiency problems and lack of effective treatments. Training, according to Jeff, should consist of protocols, not just guidelines, to make sure technicians are consistent across the company in standard procedures.
For companies not quite ready to hire a designated technical person, there are resources available to provide assistance. Many public universities have urban entomology programs as well as cooperative extension offices that can provide insect identification and some management information. Being a member of the National Pest Management Association gives you access to multiple entomologists to provide technical guidance, insect identification and phone consultations. Employees can continue to learn and gain technical expertise by attending national and state association meetings, reading industry magazines and resources and working with distributors and manufacturers so that each technician can become a pest specialist and be proud of the work they do to protect public health, food and property.
By Brittany Campbell, PH.D., BCE, NPMA Staff Entomologist