Every fall, I help train hundreds of field crew members who will represent Case Snow Management throughout the year. Five years ago, when the number of field employees was significantly smaller, this task was relatively simple: everyone would show up on a Saturday, listen as we explained our expectations, enjoy lunch, ask a few questions, and then wait for snow. Over the years, the annual event became more challenging as the number of attendees increased. It was no longer possible to find a time that everyone could attend, and delivering training to larger groups seemed to be less effective.
Keep it small
It was immediately clear that an important component of effective training was small group interaction. When training occurred with a limited number of people, the message was received more clearly and better discussion occurred. Further, the smaller the group, the more specific the training could be to the unique audience. Large seminars led to mixed messages, a fear of asking for clarification, and generally poor comprehension. Unfortunately, our time was too limited to deliver enough training sessions. Not to mention that there are only so many times I could stand to explain the proper way to use a snowblower in detail before giving in and rushing through the presentation.
The first big step in our new program was to develop an orientation video for our shovelers that discussed company policies, proper operation and care of equipment, safety and paperwork. The video is relatively simple and only about five minutes long, but each new hire must watch it immediately after completing paperwork. What was once a manual process for training is now completely automated. The video has been played hundreds of times, saving more than 40 hours of trainer time each year. Further, the training is now consistent so the expectations and procedures are universally understood.
The second change we implemented was to provide written summaries of each training module. After watching employees sit through hours of training without taking a single note, it was clear that the content needed to be documented for future reference. Instead of forcing people to take notes that may not be accurate, we decided to document the most important aspects. By taking control of what was published, we ensured that the training was accurate and consistent, eliminating issues arising from interpretation. Most recently, I invested the time to create flow charts for communication procedures to help minimize confusion in the field. This will lead to more effective leadership and communication throughout snow events.
The final piece of training utilized is our “Equipment Day.” Creating a one-day intensive, hands-on training with all of the equipment we use over the season allows operators to learn not only how to use equipment safely, but also how to handle basic field troubleshooting. Roughly 30 operators attend each equipment day, and we repeat it over several Saturdays in November. Familiarizing field personnel with the tools they will use has been critical for them to understand the nuances of each manufacturer and model. Comprehension and confidence are significantly higher than the results from classroom training, and our operators are more adept at fixing minor common issues, which prevents costly service calls and delivers more uptime.
Developing a comprehensive training program that is effective and efficient is no easy task, but by investing the time and effort up front, field crews perform better and deliver more value for the client. In addition to allowing us to manage our growth successfully, our safety record is outstanding and employee retention is higher than average. I believe that when people are equipped with the knowledge to perform their jobs well, they are more likely to be passionate, engaged and motivated to put in the long hours and hard work that makes us all successful. World-class training is a key component of that success.
Neal Glatt, CSP, is an account executive with Case Snow Management in North Attleboro, MA.