Training — what's in it for you?

By Alice Richard
Thursday, 15 December, 2016

Training — what's in it for you?

In every single Industry Roundtable, regardless of the topic, we hear the same refrain: we need more education in the pool and spa industry. Everyone’s talking about it, but why? And what are the benefits of investing in training?

The very things that make the pool industry great — its relaxed culture, its foundation in family business, its friendly people — are the same things that can make it seem less than professional to consumers.

Being such a hands-on, practical industry, many people are trained by their predecessors or colleagues. While this ensures the deep knowledge that some people hold is passed on to the next generation, it also increases the possibility of people being trained incorrectly, or of there being gaps in their knowledge.

“One of the major challenges facing the swimming pool and spa industry over the next decade and beyond will be the strategic management and upskilling of its workforce. Skills shortages and a rapidly ageing workforce, combined with a patchwork of qualifications and licensing requirements in each jurisdiction, make it difficult to attract new entrants,” said Spiros Dassakis, CEO of SPASA NSW/ACT, Australia’s only RTO (registered training organisation) dedicated to the pool industry.

“Shaping and then having a workforce that is skilled, accessible, motivated and efficiently deployed will increasingly be a key differentiator of our industry’s performance and financial success.”

Putting ‘professional’ in ‘professionalism’

“Sometimes the challenge I find … is the professionalism [of the industry] has to be brought up a little bit,” said Michael Zaballero, Zodiac’s National Training Manager. “The infancy of the training industry within this field is the challenge that I see.”

“Because our industry is, in my view, a juvenile industry — it’s very young — we don’t share the same historical upbringing as other trades such as boilermakers, tilers, general building, etc. What they’ve enjoyed over the years that we have not is they’ve invested in education and training and the school-leavers now look at these as established trades,” said Dassakis.

“It’s funny how children come out of high school or year 10 and want to be a tiler or a boilermaker or a panelbeater, but how many children are putting their hands up to be a pool builder or a pool and spa technician? And that’s the culture we need to change. We need our industry to start thinking about being attractive to new entries and the only way to do that is consistently to keep going along that current trajectory … by professionalising the industry.”

‘Professionalism’ is a word that cropped up frequently in this Roundtable, and in many Roundtables prior to this. While no-one doubts the level of skill and knowledge in the Australian pool industry, professionalising the industry through education and awareness will have far-reaching benefits for everyone — consumers, staff and suppliers alike.

Benefits to individuals

As an employee, training will make you far more desirable to future employers and more valuable to your current employer — while helping you become a well-rounded professional. While it’s vital that you know the technical stuff, you need to see yourself first and foremost as a businessperson. You can be the best pool builder in the world, but it will count for nothing if you can’t manage your cash flow or understand a contract.

“There are businesses that you’ll come across and due to the fact that they’ve fallen into business and things like that, they can’t seem to manage cash flow properly and so they go south pretty quickly,” said Peter Kolomyjec, Zodiac’s Trade Marketing Manager.

“Especially in this industry, it is pretty seasonal, so people have got to know when to go in. You’ve got to have your planning right. You’ve got to know when the season is for pool service. You’ve got to know when the season for launch is. It’s managing the peaks and troughs within the season and within the year.”

Kolomyjec said Zodiac Academy’s learning modules will soon bring a focus to business skills in addition to product knowledge.

“Testing water alone is not going to get you anywhere. You need to understand the relationships around that in terms of dangerous goods, customer service, contracts, hazards, risks, sales techniques, understanding pool chemicals, their interactions, speaking to customers, upselling. That’s something that our courses seek to deliver,” said Dassakis.

“A lot of our people in the industry have inherited roles, or have fallen into roles. I’m seeing the emergence of people not looking at themselves as a builder or a pool and spa technician; they’re looking at themselves as businesspeople.

“And that’s the exciting part: that culture shift… We are seeing evidence of this, especially with some of our newer members and newer industry stakeholders. I think we are the pioneers of turning this industry around and making it more professional.”

Benefits to businesses

There’s a Henry Ford quote that’s frequently repeated in the training industry: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

There’s a significant financial incentive to ensure your staff are trained. Firstly, there’s the obvious, tangible results: trained staff mean more sales and fewer errors (and thus fewer callbacks and repairs that cost your business money and time). In fact, a study from the American Society for Training and Development found that companies in the top quarter for training expenditure had 24% higher profit margins than firms in the bottom quarter.

But there’s also the aspects of business that are less easy to quantify: the reputation of your business and the reputation of the industry more generally. You can’t put a dollar figure on it, but there’s no denying the benefits.

Waterco has invested heavily in training for its staff and trade customers through its Waterco Advance platform. While this investment was partly spurred on by a desire to improve the industry, the company has certainly gained from this investment.

“One of the benefits we see to it is predominantly for Waterco. We can help to minimise warranty costs, upskill our trade services in the field [and] not have the phone calls that come back to us on product issues because it’s been installed incorrectly or because there’s a general lack of understanding. So we saw the return on investment through the correct operation of our product and upskilling in the marketplace,” said Waterco’s Andy Gale, who was responsible for developing the Waterco Advance platform.

Zodiac has seen this too. By analysing data pre- and post-training, they’ve seen quite clearly the benefits of education. Having channel partners who are trained in how to correctly install and run equipment — and even how to adequately answer end users’ questions about the equipment — has significantly reduced the amount of time that Zodiac spends returning to installations to fix equipment, Kolomyjec said.

“[After training], more people will be engaged in selling the product and installing it better. We’ve got metrics where we can actually see just through the sheer number of … people calling back to our after-sales [support],” said Kolomyjec.

Waterco has seen similar increases in sales due to training, Gale said.

“For those who were engaged, there was well over a 10% increase in sales on the previous corresponding period. And where there was a less engaged [group] or non-engagement, the figures went down,” said Gale.

It also ensures that equipment is being installed not only correctly, but also in compliance with Australian Standards.

“Our responsibility is that in regards to our products, we want to ensure that they’re installing that up to our standards — up to the minimum standards that we require, so there’s not going to be a mistake,” said Zaballero.

“To give you an example, in regards to heaters, we don’t want the heaters near windows — it needs to be a certain depth and distance away. So these people who attend the training, they will be signing a documentation giving us their feedback and giving us a level of knowledge that they’ve learnt this much.”

Benefits to industry

Training is key to improving our industry’s reputation, our Industry Roundtable panel agreed. Having everyone, from retail staff to pool builders to pool techs, carrying a formal qualification means that not only is everyone’s knowledge up to scratch, but they are also delivering the same message when dealing with the public.

Professionalising the industry through training will also make it a more attractive industry for school leavers and jobseekers, our Roundtable panel suggested. Attracting new talent to the industry and improving its standing in the community benefits everyone in the industry.

“The continual promotion of our swimming pool and spa industry with a qualified workforce validates who we are in the eyes of consumers, regulators and government,” said Dassakis.

Once a large enough proportion of the industry embraces training, it will prompt wider change throughout the industry, our Roundtable panel agreed.

“I think we’re already starting to see some real leadership going on from the major franchise chains. In particular, Swimart, BioLab, Poolwerx, Clark Rubber, Jim’s. Those national franchise groups are really coming together and starting to address the training deficiencies by having them all upskilled to do a Cert III, and I think that’s exciting, but it ultimately will pull the independents — either pull them or drag them,” said Dassakis.

Moral imperative

There’s also a non-monetary incentive to training that’s more of a moral imperative: public safety. The chemicals we work with in the pool and spa industry can, if stored or handled incorrectly, cause significant harm. It’s vital that anyone working with these chemicals — selling them, recommending them, using them to maintain a pool — clearly understands and can communicate the safest way to handle these chemicals.

“If anyone recalls the hotel at Circular Quay where they had to evacuate the entire hotel simply because the barrels [of pool chemicals] were re-labelled incorrectly and there were chlorine gases throughout the hotel… That, as I understand it, cost that hotel many hundreds of thousands of dollars as a consequence of shutting down that operation. But it also could’ve created some serious injuries,” said Dassakis.

“It’s critical for our industry in particular to ensure that when dealing or handling or delivering or loading these types of materials that our industry takes the appropriate precautions, but also understands their obligations in law, and also ensures that the consumer understands the potential for hazards to occur,” added Dassakis.

Embrace and engage

It’s easier now than ever to access training. There’s government assistance available to complete formal qualifications, and companies like Zodiac and Waterco are investing heavily in product and business training for their trade customers. But it’s up to the industry to embrace and engage with training to lift standards across the board.

“There is a degree of investment that [the industry] needs to make into their businesses to see the benefits of this training. We can put all the training in the world up there, but unless they engage with it and make the effort, there won’t be any outcomes,” said Gale.

“If there is that genuine engagement and we see businesses and individuals making a concerted effort to upskill, there will certainly be improvement all round.”

Image credit: ©

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