The many layers of training

Columns - Industry Voices

March 5, 2013
Steve Cesare

Steve Cesare

Despite advances in employee training over the past several years many landscapers still have a status quo approach to training. Rather than leveraging a comprehensive training system to achieve organizational goals, too many landscapers mistakenly believe that safety videos, tailgate sessions and occasional field training represent the full extent of what defines “training.”

Planning. Training must be viewed as an integral part of every company’s strategic plan. For example, major goals like increasing enhancements sales, implementing job costing timesheets, decreasing safety loss runs and improving customer service must be supported by a training component to ensure communication, efficiency and accountability. For companies to achieve success, they must reach their goals; for employees to reach their goals, they must be trained.

As part of its strategic plan, a landscaping company should develop and maintain an annual training calendar containing the exact dates and times of all training events. For example, new employee orientation should be placed on the calendar for every Monday from 7 a.m. - noon, safety tailgate sessions should be placed on the calendar for every Tuesday from 6:30-6:45 a.m. and so on.

While this calendar is flexible, capable of accommodating new training sessions throughout the year, it provides a strategy necessary to track progress to the company’s plan.

Administrative. In much the same way an account manager is typically identified as having the lead responsibility for field safety, an account manager should also be assigned the same level of responsibility for field training. This point person is directly accountable for ensuring all field training events, paperwork and follow-up fully satisfy company standards.

All training events must be adequately documented. A make-shift employee sign-off sheet is insufficient documentation. The training topic, agenda, content, materials, date, time, length, attendees’ signatures, facilitator’s name and notes are valuable evidence supporting the company’s training efforts when challenged in a lawsuit.

Landscapers should track the amount of time and burden rate for all field employees who attend any training class in that those costs have significant impact on the company’s gross margin calculations.

Content. Most training content for landscaping companies is safety, operations, compliance or managerial in nature. To maximize the cost-benefits of the company’s training system, executives must prioritize, balance and align these four training categories through the lens of specific organizational goals.

Safety training must be packaged within the larger “safety culture.” All safety training should be tailored with the explicit goal of decreasing the company’s Experience Modification Rate.

In like fashion, it is strongly recommended that a company’s safety training require that all account managers be OSHA 10-hour certified.

Operations training must be focused on improving gross margin. While this training historically applied to equipment, hardscape, irrigation, or tree skills, it has now been extended to include customer relations management and landscape design software.

Accordingly, landscapers must adopt a three-tiered approach to operations training by ensuring: (1) all field employees receive fundamental equipment and functional skills training, (2) identifying key field employees to earn appropriate PLANET certifications and (3) increasing targeted employees’ technological skill sets to ensure gross margin is optimized.

Compliance training (e.g., sexual harassment, fire prevention) must satisfy local, state, and federal requirements. Training classes of this type must be delivered to all required employees as mandated by law, thereby preventing penalties from being incurred.

Managerial training (e.g., team building, conflict resolution, performance management) seeks to catalyze organizational success by enhancing leadership skills, insight and potential.

It is strongly recommended that all company executives and managers attend at least two professional development training sessions per year, and that all company executives serve as a professional mentor to no more than two high-potential employees.

Summary. When interpreted correctly and applied within the framework just presented, a company’s training system will show tangible benefits by improving employee productivity, procedural efficiency and organizational results.

Steve Cesare is an industrial psychologist with the Harvest Group, a landscape consulting group. Send your HR questions to