Giving employees the education they need to excel will lead not only to well-trained technicians, but also to a loyal workforce that will maintain a healthy bottom line for business owners.
Understanding this, Conditioned Air has a fulltime educator on staff to ensure technicians are current with standards, up to speed on the latest products and practicing safety in the field.
“Conditioned Air knows that fulltime, in-house training is necessary in today’s market,” says Steven Collins, director of technical education and senior service advisor for the Naples, Fla.-based company. “Having technicians who are professional, able to solve complicated issues and also able to communicate and understand customers is a must in order to be successful.”
To be sure, Collins created a training curriculum for Conditioned Air and grouped the topics into three categories. The first group involves entry-level skills — basic electricity and proper refrigerant recovery procedures to name a few.
According to Collins, many techniques have changed and new skills have to be learned even by seasoned technicians.
The second group deals with advanced technical and interpersonal skills and also a North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification program, which covers a variety of topics including gas law formulas, electricity formulas, and being able to communicate their understanding of the subject matter.
The third group deals with new product technology and the advantages of optional accessories —whole house dehumidifiers, various controllers and a host of IAQ products including electronic air cleaners and purifiers.
Education sessions are set up throughout the year, but from January through May Conditioned Air is able to dedicate 40 to 60 hours strictly for technical training.
“We squeeze in the learning sessions,” notes Collins, who performs most of the training. “It requires dedication from technicians. It’s not easy to come in at 7 a.m. [for training] and then go off to your first call at 9 a.m.”
While all learning sessions are voluntary, employees are required to attend monthly safety sessions.
Additionally, when a new standard is going to be adopted by Conditioned Air, a session is presented to all departments — technicians, supervisors and managers — to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Collins uses the classroom time to test and evaluate technicians. These evaluations help him ascertain what each individual understands and what they may need work on to become better in the field.
“By being able to see them do what they are supposed to do — the hands-on tasks — helps me realize where help is needed,” says Collins. “Being able to explain to them why they can’t skip steps and procedures as they are doing it is a valuable learning tool.”
Conditioned Air also makes sure “soft” topics (billing issues, customer relations, dealing with angry customers or emotions) are addressed in the classroom and in the field.
And contrary to popular belief, incorporating fulltime training isn’t a costly endeavor. In fact, much of the training and literature is free and a lot of the resources can be provided by the manufacturer.
Specific resources that Conditioned Air purchases for training include a guide to NATE certification; Heating and Cooling Essentials by Jerry Killenger (2003, Goodheart-Wilcox); and Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Technology by Whitman, Johnson and Tomczyk (2004, CENGAGE Delmar Learning).
“The cost factor is not as great as one might think,” explains Collins. “You hear it all the time that companies don’t do training because they think it is some sort of huge expense. If you look at training like you look at turning on a light, in the end you are going to lose.”
To incorporate your own education program, first you have to have a dedicated teacher who is well versed in the technical side as well as the customer side. Many companies already have a person like this on staff. Also, it is important that top management supports the program and gives the trainer some latitude to work and put together a program with well-defined goals.
“Because I have top management support and a lot of leeway on the subject matter and the handling of the procedures, it has allowed me to focus specifically on not only weaknesses but I’ve been able to identify through being in the field the strengths that each individual may have,” says Collins.
And finally, practice makes perfect. “To be on the cutting edge and to be successful is a fulltime job — it’s not an occasional class here and there,” explains Collins. “It’s being able to go out there to reinforce those new ideas and new habits.”
If you have questions about Conditioned Air's technical education program, please e-mail Steven Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org
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