Training: how, where, what and why

By Alice Richard
Friday, 16 December, 2016

Training: how, where, what and why

The word ‘training’ often conjures up images of school days stuck in a classroom with a teacher whose main aim seemed to be boring their students to death. No wonder so many people baulk at the mere mention of the word. But training these days — and particularly training for industry — couldn’t be further from this scenario.

After our Industry Roundtable on training, we spoke with three industry professionals who shared their experiences with, and advice about, training.

How to learn

There’s no one way to learn — and no one mode of delivering training that suits all learning styles. Modern-day training programs reflect this and will generally try to accommodate the various types of learning styles.

When joining the Swimart franchise group, prospective franchisees are required to undertake — and pass — a broad-based 23-day industry training program that focuses on four key areas: franchising, industry training (predominantly water filtration and balance), business training and customer service.

“Most of the training is spent in a hands-on environment in one of our accredited training stores, or in the field with an accredited trainer, because obviously that’s where the business takes place. But it’s a combination of classroom-style training, online training and practical training,” Swimart National Franchise Manager Chris Fitzmaurice said.

“In addition to that, we provide training on a regular and ongoing basis to franchisees and their staff. In our experience, the best way to provide that is two-fold: one in formal training courses or sessions, and the other one is through online training, which is proving to be a really popular alternative, because [franchisees] have the flexibility of undertaking those courses in their own time and at their own pace.”

The face-to-face training takes several forms: hands-on training in the field, traditional classroom- or seminar-style training and workshop-style sessions.

“From my own personal experience, I think contextual training is the best. So if someone’s got a problem or needs to know something because they’re going to use a product right then and there, training somebody right then and there is the best way,” said LATICRETE’s Fred Gray.

“So to put people in a class — which we do quite often — is good, but I think people learn better when it’s in context with something that they’re directly involved with right at that very moment.

“We try to train a very broad range of people, from the contractor at the coalface to the administrator in the office, to the person controlling the marketing in an office. So we have different approaches that are effective for different people in different areas that we attack. So in terms of product use, of course, demonstration combined with some discussion and seminar is the best way to do something, particularly on a job. That’s the ultimate learning experience.”

This echoes what was discussed at our initial Industry Roundtable: our participants felt that the pool industry overwhelming attracts kinaesthetic — or hands-on — learners, and that training should be tailored to take this into account.

Where to learn

As a retailer, Lee Salisbury of Sapphire Wetwork utilises all resources available to her to ensure her staff are well-trained.

“I think it’s really important to use your suppliers to give you product knowledge in particular because, let’s face it, the more you understand about a product, the easier it is for you to sell it. And especially with us being in an isolated location, our sales reps travel a long way to come and see us, so I make the most of that time — particularly through winter — and use that time to try and get some staff training in,” she said.

But, as with everything in life, it pays to be discerning. “I would certainly utilise the sales reps and the suppliers, but I think also you have to be a little cautious of the training that comes [from these sources], because it’s obviously very product- and brand-specific,” she said.

“It’s important to be open to other information sources and not to always take what you hear as gospel. A supplier obviously has a vested interest in educating you to sell their product. And that’s completely understandable. But the more that we can impart our knowledge to the customer that’s not brand-specific, but that’s beneficial to them, then that’s what we want.

“In this day and age, the strength of retail is really based on knowledge and service. And a big part of the customer service experience when they come into a pool shop now is getting the correct advice. And whether that be about brand A or brand B, you need to be able to give them the pros and cons of everything, and be honest and informational with your customer.”

Ultimately, whether you’re a retailer, a pool tech, a builder or a landscape architect, your customer is your number one priority — without them, you’re out of business — so you need to be able to draw on your knowledge and training to ensure that you offer them the best solution for their specific situation, delivering a great customer service experience and making them a returning customer in the process.

What to learn

Technical skill isn’t all that’s required to be successful in the pool and spa industry (or any other industry, for that matter). While you may be the world’s best pool tiler or technician, there’s a bit more to running a successful company than just dreaming up a name and printing off some business cards.

Swimart’s training, for instance, focuses not just on technical and product knowledge but also on customer service and business skills as these are vital to running a successful business.

“I’ve come from a construction background and one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years in the construction industry is that in the past there were plenty of artisans and plenty of journeyman tradesmen and plenty of contractors who knew what they were doing and were good at their jobs,” said Gray.

“They could tile really well or they could build a pergola really well; they knew how to plumb a pool properly; they knew how to do all those things as tradespeople. But the level of professionalism that’s referred to in [the Industry Roundtable article in Pool+Spa November/December] is the level of professionalism that’s required to run a company, which is totally different. So a lot of people went by the wayside because they were really good at their trades but they couldn’t actually run companies.

“If you’re preoccupied and actually focused on doing a trade, then it becomes hard to take on a second job of running a company, because I think running a company and administering a company is a job for another person, unless you’re doing a very small amount of work.

“So the professionalism is about the ability to manage all those essential things in a business that make a business tick over, besides the actual fact of doing the work. Managing the people, managing the trades — that’s the professional business side of it.

“I think going out with nice utes or nice trucks with polite, well-dressed, respectful people who know what they’re doing is another part of being professional, but I think the professional side of it really has to stem from being able to actually run the business.”

There’s a good reason why husband-and-wife teams have traditionally been successful, Gray said: the tradesperson could take care of the physical work, while the administrator could take care of the paperwork and customer service, ensuring that all aspects of the business are taken care of.

Why it’s worth it

“It’s like anything: you only get out of something what you want to get out of it. And if people aren’t putting in the effort, if people aren’t trying to get something out of it, they’re not going to improve; they’re not going to extend their knowledge, they’re not going to see the benefits,” said Salisbury.

Gray often hears people question the value of training their staff. “[They say,] ‘Why should I get an apprentice? I’m going to teach him everything I know and then he’s going to go out and compete with me and I’m going to lose business.’ That’s the common one,” he said.

“Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s a good example: have you noticed that whenever you go to the KFC shop, there’s either a Hungry Jack’s or a McDonald’s next door? There’s a really good reason why they group together. Because more people as a group go there to shop, and they actually see an increase in sales compared to if they were a standalone shop.”

Gray recently saw this theory play out in reality in the construction industry. A long-time customer of Gray’s had a competitor open a shopfront just up the road from his business. He was very concerned that he would lose a significant amount of business as a result of the competition.

“Guess what happened? Well, I don’t need to tell you what happened. The new shop got the same level of sales as the existing shop, and then they both increased their sales exponentially,” he said.

“The point of it is that we shouldn’t be scared of spreading the knowledge because we think that we’re going to be losing out somehow because we’re giving away some of our secrets. I think that by continually doing that, I think we end up in a situation where the industry is enriched and everybody profits from it.

“Part of the professionalism of the modern company should be that we’re continually training and upskilling our people, even with the view that we may lose them.

“And by the way, the more people we expose to training, the greater chance that we’ll get some really good people. It’s trial and error, isn’t it?”

Image credit: © Lafnor

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