If you’re a business owner or manager, you probably have given a few thoughts to education in your company. When your company receives a new vacuum cleaner, extractor or other carpet-care equipment, you might spend a few minutes showing your workers how to use it, or you may delegate that responsibility to a supervisor.

For many building service contractors, surface or equipment-related education takes a back seat to daily “brush fires.” However, most of those fires are due to improper equipment use, inattention to detail, lack of employee proficiency and confidence, inability to communicate clearly to customers ... the list goes on and on.

Ironically, BSCs can reduce most of these equipment-usage errors and customer-service failures through the training they say they don’t have time to implement. Here are some suggestions for fitting necessary carpet cleaning training into operations:

In-house training
First, education starts at home. What’s the first thing you have to do to make a new employee productive? Someone has to train him or her, right?

Most BSCs use a lot of on-the-job training, and it can be a great tool. But contrary to what you may think, it’s not free. Consider that someone has to spend time with that new employee. Not only is there the hidden cost of the new employee standing around listening to someone, but that someone – usually a supervisor or highly trained technician – is costing the company quite a bit as well.

Then there’s the question of knowledge retention. How organized is that training; how well is it presented? How much longer does it take to repeat the training multiple times?

On-the-job training can be an important tool, especially for seasoned workers who need to learn a new machine or technique. But these lessons need to be supplemented with other education opportunities.

Training sessions
Weekly staff meetings can incorporate training sessions, and most successful companies use these to one extent or another. Problem is, too often those well-intended technical programs devolve into gripe sessions. Detailed instruction on how to use the new carpet extractor gets relegated to a few minutes at the end.

Point is, if you’re going to have weekly training programs, always have an agenda (motivational message; lesson; adjourn). Then, make sure that whoever teaches the program has an outline of the information, has handouts that clarify complicated subjects, and sticks to the subject. Clear objectives, professional delivery, retention measurement (as in “pop quiz!”), all are essential elements in an effective company-training program.

The cost? . . Fairly minimal in terms of actual cash outlay, but there are a lot of hidden costs. Preparation time, the materials and handouts, the meeting space, the salaries of employees while in attendance (yes, the company has to pay for employee’s time when they’re required to attend meetings to learn skills that benefit the company), all add up.

Still, the benefit of in-house training can be enormous: less confusion, increased confidence resulting in positive impressions from customers and often, in increased sales. Fewer mistakes save customer complaints and call-backs, and can extend the useful life of an expensive machine. And that’s not to mention what managers can do with the extra time that they now can spend on more productive matters.

There are a lot of published books and technical guides (even videos) in the industry that logically and progressively cover complicated subjects — such as total carpet maintenance, from daily vacuuming to occasional extracting to re-dying — that can be taught by an owner or manager in a comprehensive training program.

Simply read a chapter the night before the training, jot down an outline of major points and most of the work is done for you. Some even have the “pop quizzes” included at the end of each chapter. Several chapters in the same books even have corresponding video tapes on carpet inspections, spotting, carpet repair and various methods of carpet cleaning that can supplement company training.

Expert advice
Once employees have demonstrated stability and commitment to the company, they need to be rewarded with formal training to enable them to do their jobs better, increase their income – even to increase company profits! Usually, this means trips to conventions, to educational workshops, or to training courses taught in specialized facilities with hands-on capabilities. Some equipment manufacturers also offer training at their headquarters.

Of course, this isn’t an inexpensive prospect, between the cost of training itself and lodging, meals and other costs. Certification bodies such as the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification offer several carpet-care certification programs. All of the IICRC’s classes are taught by independent schools, and BSCs may be able to find one in their area, reducing travel costs.

It may not be worthwhile to send new or unproven employees to certification programs, but many instructors are willing to come to you for a class. Many manufacturers or distributors are willing to do this as part of your purchase.

Some independent instructors will come to your facility for a fee, which usually is cost-effective when you have 10 to 20 employees being trained. If you don’t have that many employees, consider organizing a group effort with a few friendly competitors. They need training too and they’d like to cut costs.

The industry even provides “distance learning” opportunities on the Internet. Clean Care Seminars, Inc. has two “on-line” training courses that you can take at your leisure over several weeks or months – quizzes too! Pemberton and Associates and T. Hill Associates both have programs on disk with comprehensive workbooks and graded exams. Some manufacturers also offer training on CD-ROM.

Whether it’s on-the-job training, in-house weekly meetings, in-house formal courses, on-line training, or courses held at specialized facilities, training is essential for the growth and profitability of a company. Further, the user of today’s cleaning and restoration services are becoming increasingly sophisticated. They actually respond to logos from trade associations and certifying bodies in yellow page and print ads. They want to hear that the technicians sent to their businesses are dedicated, educated professionals.

Jeff Bishop is a 30-year author and educator in the inspection, cleaning and restoration industry. He is the author of several books on cleaning, disaster restoration and related subjects. He chairs the Certification Board of the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification and is a member of the editing committee of the IICRC-S100, S300 and S500 Standards. Bishop teaches courses and lectures at more than 60 schools, workshops and conventions annually. He also provides consulting services for the fabric cleaning and insurance industries.