Value of Distance Learning Extends Past Pandemic

Features - Digital Learning

Online training and webinars kept PMPs educated and informed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, companies are using distance learning as a modern way to provide employees with a well-rounded education.

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November 15, 2021

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a PCT e-newsletter titled “Unlocking the Value of Distance Learning,” which was sponsored by Veseris.

For many businesses, online employee training was a lifesaver and a necessity during the lockdown and social-distancing era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the growing availability of virtual learning opportunities and webinars has opened possibilities for a new mode of pest management training. Virtual learning and webinars can provide PMPs with a well-rounded distance education covering industry basics, products, market trends, business tips and more.

Tim Horgan, service manager at Debug Pest Control in Smithfield, R.I., has been using online training and webinars to maintain staff certifications and keep employees abreast of industry information. Post-pandemic, he doesn’t see that changing.

“At this point, it’s part of our training protocols going forward,” he said. “I have certain standards that we expect from our guys and how they maintain their equipment and how they go about doing their business, and the training is a constant refresher for them, like, ‘Hey, this is what we expect.’”

Even before the pandemic hit, virtual learning programs were on the upswing. A 2019 Association for Talent Development survey of 230 global training professionals revealed that 93 percent were using online learning.

Gary Nielsen, director of training at JP Pest Services in Milford, N.H., said his company receives a higher turnout when it offers courses virtually as opposed to in person. “It’s really the modern way to do it in terms of training,” he said. “Bringing someone in and talking to a big group, yeah, we get 20 percent, maybe 30 percent engagement. I think we do a lot better than some companies. But still, you’ve got people that are not paying attention, people that are hiding, people that are looking at their phones, whatever, and not really learning or taking in the information.

“The online courses, especially those that involve quizzes and stuff like that embedded in the course, are really a fabulous thing. It’s typical individualized education. And you can say that about the webinars, too, because they can do them whenever it is convenient, rather than doing them when everybody else can meet.”

Debug’s entire staff of 12 technicians uses webinars and online training to stay informed and remain certified, Horgan said, but virtual education benefits the rest of his team, too. This past year, Horgan used virtual educational sessions to bolster his managerial knowledge, learning about conducting business in the middle of a global pandemic and properly incorporating personal protective equipment.

“We made a lot of mistakes right off the bat with COVID, and not bad mistakes, but mistakes I think a lot of companies did,” Horgan said. “Everybody I think initially stopped hiring, because they got super nervous because they were (thinking) ‘Everybody is going to close.’ Well, it turns out, not only did I make a bad idea by not hiring, I was understaffed. I had to rapidly hire people. And a lot of what I learned this year at the webinars was more about how to prepare again for if a pandemic were to happen.”

Debug’s office employees also enroll in virtual courses. Horgan said this helps when he’s out in the field and the administrative staff is tasked with answering customer questions over the phone.

“Occasionally, if somebody in the office just wants some information about insects, I’ll bump them into a class,” Horgan said. “That’s not about maintaining credits. It’s just about them educating themselves.”

Stu Lowe, owner of Preventive Pest in Anaheim, Calif., also uses a library of online courses and webinars for his entire staff, not just technicians.

“The reason we think it’s so great to use is that we can use it for all of our employees, and not just our field employees, but also our internal office staff,” he said.

At first, Horgan only used online training for his staff when they needed credits. He’s realized that many courses can be recycled and used as yearly refreshers, he said.

“I get a lot of guys that have time on their hands in the winter, and it’s nice to have these procedural refreshers about how to read a label, how you maintain your equipment and then just about individual pests,” said Horgan. “As we go into the winter, it’s not a bad idea to have a guy sit down and take a course on rodents, just because it’s that time of year and you’re going to see rodents.”

The author is PCT’s senior editor.