Boost Your In-Season Training

Features - Operations

Alleviate the stigma associated with training. Instead, make it a task your workforce looks forward to engaging in throughout the winter season.

May 16, 2022

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Preseason training for snow removal supervisors, foremen, and crew members is a challenge. After all the plans are finalized, content and materials created, schedules drawn up and so on, things never seem to play out quite as expected. Likewise, staffing takes longer than anticipated, and personnel changes occur at the worst possible time.

So, for any number of reasons, attendance is never quite at 100%. Then Mother Nature throws her own curveball and the first winter event blows into town three weeks early. This unpredictability is almost predictable. Yet somehow, the training gets completed. But how often do you find yourself wishing you could do it all again, only better? Well, there’s always next year.

Next year?

I don’t know about your business, but this is a recipe for disaster at our company. We already know most of our production-related issues – including but not limited to poor productivity, service-related complaints, property damage, vehicular accidents, and employee injuries – are avoidable with more thorough and effective training.

While we can’t turn back the clock to repeat our preseason sessions, we can and do supplement them with specific in-season training that is primarily intended to reinforce and refresh what has already been covered. Here, for your consideration, is Diaz Group’s approach to making the most of in-season supplemental training.

In-season training should be topic-specific, based on need, and each session stands alone, as opposed to being part of a series.

No Substitute

First and foremost, we treat in-season training as a supplement, not a substitute for preseason training. It would be difficult at best to deliver Diaz Group’s bootcamp-style training during an active winter season. Our preseason bootcamps are role-specific and spread out over a period of weeks. By comparison, our in-season training is topic-specific, based on need, and each session stands alone, as opposed to being part of a series. In-season sessions are also brief compared to their preseason counterparts. Let’s take a closer look.

If snow removal services worked the same way landscape services do, this would be a cinch, right? Green season employees have set work schedules around which training sessions can easily be placed. If inclement weather is expected, we can schedule even more training. In winter, bad weather is the reason employees come to work and the last thing on their minds is sitting through a lengthy training session. Okay, so this is what we have to work with, an impatient yet captive audience.

The solution is to conduct training that is the equivalent of routine “tailgate talks,” which are informational meetings typically held around the tail end of somebody’s pickup truck in the landscaping and construction trades to discuss timely work-related topics, often on the subject of safety. No, we don’t make our winter employees stand outside. But when the crews first arrive, we do gather them into our office or office trailer, depending on the location, for no more than ten-to-fifteen minutes to talk about one topic. Why only one? First, because we want everyone to remember what we talked about and it’s easier to remember one thing. But also because the attendees get restless if we conclude one topic and take up another. When that happens, employee engagement and attention is lost. That’s why our best practice is to stick with one training topic, cover it well but quickly, and then dispatch the crews.

Benefits of Planning

Okay, it’s 10 p.m. on a cold January night. The wind is picking up, the temperature is falling, and winter precipitation is a few hours away at most. The teams have been ushered in for a quick ten-minute huddle. What shall we talk about? Believe me, this is not the time to decide. Each of these sessions needs to be timely but also well-planned. If we’ve only got 10 minutes, we can’t afford to waste any time hemming and hawing. To keep everyone engaged, the speaker must immediately convey a sense of urgency, purpose, and excitement. Enthusiasm is contagious, so we want it on our side.

First and foremost, treat in-season training as a supplement, not a substitute for preseason training.

With that said, picking a timely topic is easy and should get easier as the winter season continues. A post-mortem reflection on the recent weather event will often provide one or more topics from which to choose. What worked particularly well? Where were the opportunities for improvement? What must we do more of? What must we never do again? You get the idea. Here are some topics based on what seems the most appropriate at the time.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Does everybody have theirs? Is there a new requirement that needs to be rolled out? How about a quick PPE spot-check?

Proper Resting Cycles. Many incidents and accidents happen as a result of fatigue. Safety is more important than squeezing in an extra hour before taking that critical rest.

Proper Equipment Use And Care. We make a lot of our own videos because we’ve discovered that employee engagement is much higher when we show videos with familiar faces and voices in them. Most are well under ten minutes. And if it seems a refresher is in order, we will bring the video back out and talk about it.

Incidents And Accidents. This is a tricky one because nobody wants to get called out in front of their peers. However, if reviewing the facts of an accident may help everyone avoid the next one, then it’s worth talking about. Just keep it constructive and supportive. If you can get the person(s) involved on board in advance, to the point where they’re comfortable talking about what happened in a positive manner, the engagement potential is tremendous.

Best Production Practices. A positive outcome can provide just as much of a teachable moment as a negative one. The idea is not to simply applaud somebody who found a better way to handle a particularly tricky property or difficult customer, but to get that person talking about it in a way that benefits everyone. Again, if you can get advanced buy-in from the people involved, the training session will be that much better.

One final thought: Make training a part of the routine, no different from clocking in or running a checklist before heading out. If it’s expected, as part of preparations for a new weather event, you’ll see fewer eye rolls and hear less groaning. You may even see people begin to perk up and appreciate the sessions.

Snow Magazine Contributor Edgar Salazar is director of operations at Diaz Group in Chicago. Michael G. D’Aversa assisted with the article.