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Size Matters

  • Michael Freeze
- Posted: March 11, 2019
When he was child, Zach Decker loved to toy around with model tractors and little farm buildings. He probably never thought that as an adult his playtime would translate into an effective training tool.

As operations manager of Skyline Construction in Dubuque, IA, Decker oversees the training for its snow plowing crew. He wanted to figure out a plan that would get his team on the same page when they were on site. So, Decker went to work.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I can make a 3D site model of a difficult account that we service to train our employees,” he said. “I had a plan in my head so I went shopping to get all the supplies I needed.”

With wood and other materials, Decker constructed a tiny-scaled model of a parking lot filled with car spaces, light poles, fake trees, toy plow trucks and boxes that served as buildings with fake snow and shovels made out of popsicle sticks.

View of parking lot model with snow

“The main concept is to show our employees what areas of a parking lot to concentrate on during what we call ‘keeping accounts open’ and then ‘final cleanup’ operations,” he said. “When it is continuously snowing, we call this ‘keeping accounts open’ operations. During this time, we focus on clearing main entrances to buildings for sidewalks. We also clear the main aisles of parking lots, hills, and store front areas.”

Model of a parking lot

“Final cleanup” operations, Decker noted, refer to cleaning up the entire parking lot and sidewalk and relocating all the snow to the pre-determined snow pile location.

Having the site model complements Skyline’s safety and standard operations training in the classroom. There, the team initially discusses their plan of action.

“We have paper site maps for each of our accounts that are accessible to our employees via the employee portal on our website. All expectations are clearly spelled out on those site maps,” Decker said. “This eliminates phone calls and radio calls for questions that can simply be answered by looking at the portal.”

Once the classroom session is done, Decker provides a real-life scenario (for example, a 4-inch snowfall at 3 a.m.) for the crew to figure out how to plow the lot in a safe and efficient manner.

“The site model really comes in handy with this. I give all the employees popsicle sticks and we work as a team to clear the lot.” he said. “All the employees really get a kick out of this especially when we turn off the lights in the shop and use a flashlight directly above the site model to simulate nighttime operations.”

Decker says having an actual 3D model better prepares his team on plowing expectations versus drawing diagrams. This is the first year Skyline has used the site model for training, and so far, it’s been a success.

“With having an actual site that we service as a model, our employees can get a feel for how we want them to plow snow. We take training very seriously,” Decker says. “Hands-on training works better in our operation more then any type of classroom training or videos. Employees get to participate and not fall asleep!”

Decker hopes in the future to build more sites but is content on using the tiny model to educate his team and utilize the advantages.

“I feel like the benefits of this site model are when the employee actually goes out to plow,” he says, “and then the light bulb goes off and they think about the diagram and proceed with the way they where taught.”

Michael Freeze is assistant editor of Snow Business magazine. Contact him at
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