[Technician Learning] Is Your Training Mistake Free?

Features - Business Strategy

Do your firm’s educational programs really impact how technicians perform pest control? Here are some tips to help you design a successful performance-based training program.

February 27, 2012
Ted Snyder

I want to change how you think about training.

The most common way training is put together is based upon a problem-solution model. What I mean is that first, someone identifies a problem. Maybe you are getting too many callbacks on cockroach jobs or maybe you just feel that it’s time for a training session on general cockroach biology. Second, someone puts together a solution to solve that problem, normally a training program, which your technicians attend. Next month, or whenever your next meeting is, a new problem comes around, and a training program is put together for it.

There’s nothing wrong with that way of training. Those of us who’ve been around in this industry for some time have probably been through countless training programs like that, and that’s where we’ve learned much of what we know about pest control.

But, what happens after the technicians leave the training session? Did they really understand the material? Are they able to apply it in the field? Has the problem really been solved or was the training just a chance for the technicians to spend some time with their buddies?

Performance-based training was developed to address these concerns. Let’s work together on designing a performance- based training program and see how it works.

Step One: Outcome First. Imagine if a mystery writer wrote a novel not knowing who the killer was or how the detective was going to unravel the clues that lead to figuring it out. That wouldn’t make any sense. Instead, the mystery writer figures out the end of the story first — who did it and how the detective will figure it all out.

Training needs to be approached the same way. Start with figuring out what you expect the outcome of the training to be. Picture your technicians performing a cockroach service properly, then compare it to what they are currently doing. What differences are there?

For our example, let’s say that they aren’t treating all the appropriate harborages. We’ll write that out — it’s now our “learning objective.”

Technicians will treat all the appropriate cockroach harborages.

You’ll likely have more than one objective, but for our example we’ll just use this one. This learning objective is going to be the goal — the outcome we’re driving for with the entire training program.

Step Two: Evaluation. Imagine if you invest your hard-earned time and money into a program to improve your technicians, only to find…that they are still servicing accounts the same way. What a waste! Perhaps it would have been better to have done nothing at all.

Most owners and managers don’t have a lot of time to spend in the field determining the results of their training program, but here are a few questions you need to ask to see if the training was successful:

  1. Did they think the training was worthwhile? If they thought it was boring or irrelevant, it doesn’t matter how relevant it may have been, they won’t get anything out of it. Create a document for them to score its relevance/quality on a scale of 1 to 5.
  2. Did they learn anything? Depending upon the size of your staff, you can take a couple of different tacks with this. If you have a few technicians, ask them questions based upon the material when you meet with them, whether you have a formal sit-down meeting or whether you just spend a few minutes with them while you are checking on their previous day’s work. Make notes regarding how many questions they got right. If you have more technicians, write out a 5- or 10-question quiz and distribute it (either at the end of the training or at the beginning of the next meeting with them). This will tell you whether they got anything out the training.
  3. Are they actually doing anything different? Now we are looking at performance. Try to get out with each one of the technicians who were in the session while they are servicing cockroach accounts and see if they are actually applying the material. It’s one thing for a technician to be able to talk about finding cockroach harborages, but it’s something entirely different for them to actually be practicing it. You want to make sure they are actually using the material, since if they aren’t, why did you perform the training to start with?

Write down how you are going to do all three of these evaluations.

Step Three: Design the Training. Only now can we develop the training program to solve this learning objective. Let’s go back to our learning objective.

Technicians will treat all the appropriate cockroach harborages.

What information do they need to be able to do this? Here’s a list that I put together as a starting place. Technicians need to understand:

  • What attracts cockroaches to certain areas over others?
  • What are the major features of a cockroach harborage?
  • How do you identify harborages using fecal smears?
  • What harborages are easy to overlook?
  • Why is it important to treat all accessible harborages?
  • What does a proper treatment look like (i.e., what products you should use, what amount of product should you use)?

This process may seem like a lot of work, but this is part of where it pays off. The list we just came up with is the outline for the training presentation.

Make notes for each of these points. Think about if any points would warrant use of a photograph or video to help the technicians understand the point.

Step Four: Practice. Just because you’ve outlined the training program and done all the prior steps doesn’t mean that you are ready to give the training program.

We don’t expect a technician to just think about how to use a compressed air sprayer, and then expect him to go out and treat with it, do we? No, we give him a chance to practice using it, so he can get the feel for how it works.

The same should apply to your training program. Give the material a practice run to make sure the material makes sense when delivered and to work out any kinks. Many people skip this step because they don’t have the time.

Consider this: How much time are you investing in having your technicians come in for a meeting, rather than being in the field being productive? How much production could they have brought in? You will find that training meetings are expensive prospects, from the standpoint of lost work alone. Spend time practicing so you can make the most of the time that the technicians spend in the training meeting.

You’ve created the training program, delivered it, evaluated it and evaluated the performance of your technicians. Now you have a way of determining if your training is having any effect, if it is impacting performance or if it was just a chance for everyone to get out of the field for a day.

Is it more work than the traditional way of training? Yes. But, isn’t it worth it to make an impact on how work is actually performed? Yes.


Ted Snyder, BCE, is the training and technical services manager at Batzner Pest Management, New Berlin, Wis. E-mail him at tsnyder@giemedia.com.