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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Jay Bruesch

The author is Board Certified Entomologist adn technical director for Plunkett's Pest Control, Fridley, Minn.


[Employee Retention] 'SPICE' Up Your Training

Employee Management

If you offer your staff opportunities to grow through training and education, they’ll stay on, enjoying their careers and serving your clients for a long time to come.

June 30, 2015

Today’s pest management companies must train so that their least-experienced technicians and office staff have the benefit of the knowledge and skills that veteran employees have.

It costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 to hire, train and equip a new employee when someone quits his job or is released; anything you can do to keep the valued staff you already have will save money, as well as improve service quality and client relations.

There are several big ways training improves employee retention, and they just happen to fit the mnemonic aid “SPICE.” “S” stands for satisfaction with one’s job, as well as safety. “P” denotes professional development. “I” is for independent thinking and decision-making. “C” is competence, confidence and career advancement. “E” means earning potential, and also alludes to how the economy has changed the employee-retention picture.


Employees thrive in a culture that values safety and wellness in addition to productivity. Training in safety and health-related matters tells employees that management cares about them off the job as well as on. Employees are loyal to employers who genuinely care about them.

Include safety topics in every aspect of your training for technicians and managers, and don’t forget your administrative and client service specialists.

Take advantage of your health insurance company’s offerings of wellness education for employees. Involve your company’s safety manager in providing training in the big OSHA topics such as confined spaces, lockout-tagout, fall prevention and the rest; but include stress management, nutrition, hydration, exercise, and home and family safety as well.

Insert safety training into your larger training picture in small doses, e.g., half-hour sessions during all-day meetings; safety and wellness reminders in your company newsletter; supervisor-led “toolbox” meetings at the beginning of a job; and monthly safety topics with quizzes taken online. Many small “touches” are more effective than a day-long safety-training marathon. The idea is to foster an overall culture of thinking about safety constantly.

You can find ready-made safety training online; I use OSHA Campus Online ( for formal training such as OSHA 10- and 30-hour General Industry safety certification, as well as certification in such areas as mobile lifts and confined-space entry. J.J. Keller’s Keller Online service ( is useful because it provides many ideas for short training sessions on a variety of topics. Off-the-shelf and online safety training is available from such vendors as Vivid Learning. Additionally, I create a whole lot of things myself, using the Lectora e-learning authoring software ( to design custom content for our organization’s online university. (Other options include Presenter and Captivate software from Adobe.)

Job Satisfaction.

People stay at jobs they enjoy — jobs that provide good pay, a pleasant work environment and opportunities to do meaningful work. Training can help keep employees challenged, capable of new and interesting responsibilities, and aspiring to move up within their organization.

Everybody wants to feel good about what they do. Provide educational experiences that start discussions about the importance of pest control as a profession. A good place to start is the NPMA-produced video presentation “Pride and Professionalism,” which is available on YouTube. This video shows the many ways in which pest management contributes to the quality of life we enjoy today, and is a good way to jump-start any training day.

Time management is essential for job satisfaction, and time management skills are not built into everyone. Just look around at all of the people in your own company who are dashing back and forth, doing contract work at one end of their route and picking up callbacks on the other side of the county. They have not learned how to manage their time. Include training in time management in your overall training program — for new employees and experienced staff. It will pay off in a happier workforce. Our company contacted a local vocational college, whose job-skills readiness program offered a variety of instructors who created customized training on time management.

Your company has employees who are particularly adept at time management. Put them in front of a video camera and interview them, asking how they manage their time so that they finish their work on time and have time left over for a fulfilling personal life. Instant roundtable training activity!

When you think about it, all training contributes to an overall increase in job satisfaction — as long as it is meaningful training. “Training for the sake of training,” where people cannot see the value of giving up an hour or a day to sit in a dull training room listening to a lecture, is off-putting and will contribute only to poor morale. Training that gives people new skills that they can use to do their job better, more profitably, or more easily, will be welcomed. Adult learners want to know, first and foremost, “What’s in it for me?”

A part of every training activity should be an assessment of how beneficial it was for your workforce. By inviting commentary and criticism, you gain buy-in and support for the overall training process, and people feel they have a say in how training is done.

Professional Development.

A commonly quoted statistic is that people will change jobs 11 times during their career. Employees with 10, 15 or more years of service are worth their weight in gold. Training can provide professional development to keep employees at the top of their game professionally. Employers that offer opportunities for employees to grow professionally accept the risk that those employees will take their new skills and knowledge elsewhere; but they also earn loyalty from employees who are grateful for an environment in which they can enjoy a satisfying career.

Beyond just the skills needed to perform one’s daily duties, many employees would benefit from a greater knowledge of their chosen profession. These employees want to take a deeper dive into entomology, pesticide science, inspection and pest management than was provided in their initial training. You should offer opportunities for those who want to know more to acquire that knowledge and those skills.

Gauge the interest of your technicians and supervisors in becoming ACE- or BCE-certified and, if the interest is there, encourage their ambition by providing the means to study for and attain advanced certifications. They’ll reward your belief in them with continued loyalty and excellent performance. Guidance on preparing for ACE and BCE certification can be found on the Web site of ESA, the Entomological Society of America:

Also, many employees — especially those interested in sales or those that are on a management track — want knowledge and abilities outside the range of pest management — including such things as office productivity, selling, leadership training, coaching and advanced certifications.

For those employees who stand out as candidates for management duties in the near or more distant future, prepare them for new challenges by offering training in coaching, conflict resolution, discipline, and the technology skills they will need as managers.

For increasing the depth and breadth of employees’ knowledge, the correspondence courses offered by Purdue University have no equal. The basic Pest Management Technology correspondence course offered by Purdue — known by many simply as “The Purdue Course” and now in its seventh edition — is the gold standard for technicians and management candidates who want to take their knowledge to the next level. Beyond this course, Purdue offers a correspondence course in food plant pest management; another in turf and ornamental pest management; still another pertaining to biology and control of wood-destroying organisms; and — for those who have some experience under their belt and are up for a serious learning challenge — an Intermediate-Level Urban IPM course. Those who choose to take part in a Purdue correspondence course have the option of completing written assignments online, or in a “paper” version via mail. A very impressive certificate, rivaling or surpassing the look of many university diplomas, is awarded to those that complete Purdue courses. Learn more at

The American Institute of Baking offers two excellent correspondence courses for pest management professionals: Food Processing Sanitation and Hygiene and Principles of Warehouse Sanitation. Either or both of these will better prepare your staff to service food-processing and storage clients, and to communicate effectively with their contact persons in food and pharmaceutical facilities.


Ask any group of pest management professionals what they like most about their job, and they will say “independence!” PMPs like the feeling that they are masters of their own destiny. They like not having someone breathing down their neck all day. The more skilled and knowledgeable an employee is, the less supervision he needs and the more independent he is. Well-trained professionals think independently, and make decisions without being tied to the apron strings of management.

Your best performers have an excellent base of knowledge about pest management; they have experience and good problem-solving skills; they think well on their feet; and they make decisions on their own, rather than calling a supervisor at every turn. Sound technical training, combined with training in the people skills that are needed for effective management of a pest control job, creates the kind of employees who are able to get themselves started every morning, do a thorough and effective job, and work a productive day. Encourage independence by making sure you provide high-quality technical and soft-skills training.

Three Cs.

Education and training are the beginning of a wonderful continuous spiral: The more knowledgeable and skillful a person is, the more confidence they have in themselves and the more confidence they inspire in their clients and co-workers. This leads to enjoyment and fulfillment, which in turn inspires workers to want to know more and acquire new skills.

Employees who know there are opportunities for advancement may be likelier to stick around and try for promotions than those who know they are at a dead end. Training qualifies people for those promotions.

Granted, providing learning opportunities might qualify some employees to seek higher pay elsewhere; but you can’t retain loyal employees by keeping them down. Provide opportunities for employees to learn and grow professionally, and use training opportunities to find those who are showing readiness to tackle additional responsibilities. Give everyone a chance to show what they’re made of, and reward those that excel with extra challenges.

Pick candidates for career advancement by merit and expressed desire; but beware of promoting by seniority or merit: Some technicians who are stellar field performers do not thrive in supervisory positions.

Employees who communicate effectively do a better job of earning the trust and respect of their clients, and this helps them enjoy their job more. Written and verbal communication skills can be improved. The best way to do this is to contact a local vocational-technical college and ask for instructors who can create customized training activities in verbal and written communication. Our company took this step, and the instructor assigned to us assessed our needs and determined that we would benefit from improvements in composing e-mail messages among ourselves and to clients; and from improvements in writing of comments on service reports. A few simple sessions on basic grammar and spelling, providing rules for how to write and review/revise one’s writing, were all we needed. We now had a training program we could reproduce as often as needed for new and existing employees.

Earning Potential.

Entertainer Cyndi Lauper once quoted her grandfather as an early influence. He admonished her to do well in school, saying in the patois of Lauper’s native Queens, N.Y.: “The more you loin, the more you oin.” (Ms. Lauper admits having struggled with formal education, but she eventually gained her GED. She’s alright nowadays.) Employees stay with firms that provide opportunities to educate themselves and grow professionally.

If you asked for a show of hands in any training meeting: “How many of you like your job?” you’d see a lot of raised hands. Now if you asked, “How many of you would do this job for free?” most hands would go down. We all work for money. Provide a career path that enables employees to “bloom where they are planted,” and then to acquire new abilities and higher levels of experience — with monetary rewards. Training is the answer to the question “How can I maximize the value of my human-resources investments?” If the path ahead is bright, your employees will stay on it.

The Economy.

A final, sobering factor in employee retention is our nation’s economy, which is climbing out of the recession that began in 2008. There was a time when everyone was looking for work, and everyone who had a job hung onto it. Today, the job market is more favorable, and it’s a seller’s market. People have more options and are likelier to leave a job that does not feel like a perfect fit. If we provide an environment in which employees can grow, feel safe and do meaningful work, chances are that they will stay. Training is a way to improve employee retention in a changing economy.

Your Own Training?

This article suggests types of training that fit a variety of needs for maintaining loyal, productive and happy employees. Training resources can come from many sources, including classroom instruction, reading matter, correspondence courses, online learning, plus some experiences you will create yourself. You will find guidance on how to create top-quality training events, activities, programs and online content in the articles by this author in the July and August 2012 issues of PCT, titled “Training Technicians,” Part 1 and Part 2. The author would be delighted to share these articles, and many other resources for creating learning content; Contact me at


I am fortunate to work for a company that employs many 20-, 25-, and 30-year-plus employees, as well as many “rookies” who feel that they have found their life’s work in pest management. We stay loyal to our company for many reasons, including the training we receive and the fact that we are valued. We work in a culture that promises us excellent careers.

If you as an employer continue to offer all of your people flexibility, respect for their work, opportunities to grow through training and education, and new challenges to grow into, they’ll stay on, enjoying their careers, and serving your clients for a long time to come.


The author is technical director at Plunkett’s Pest Control in Fridley, Minn.