By Pat Hottel
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“Men have become the tools of their tools.”
That quote, by author and poet Henry David Thoreau, wasn’t written about modern technology, but it does reflect the sentiment many of us feel each and every day as we battle to keep up with rapid changes in technology. We see this in all aspects of our lives, and can’t imagine what the future will bring.
Our industry is no exception. There have been great impacts on training and technical departments, and the advances in technology keep us learning and can provide some excellent benefits to leading pest management companies.
Tablets. If nothing else, tablet computers and iPads offer an easy way to eliminate the paper reference materials required for service technicians. At McCloud Services, service specialists are required to carry a safety manual, service procedure manual, pest identification reference manual, label and MSDS (SDS) book and sales materials. The big advantage a tablet has over a paper manual is the ease of revisions — a tablet can be updated frequently without having to reprint and distribute paper copies. Many of the documents in our service specialist’s library change often. Case in point: the rodenticide labels alone went through two revisions this year. The ability to delete and add files makes a tablet a wise investment for pest management firms.
In addition, tablets can be used to support various forms that need to be completed by staff, such as training documentation or quality audits. They can be used for real-time training of technicians, especially in the field. Videos and instructional job aids are two of the resources that can be placed on these devices. Technicians can load and view the appropriate video when they encounter that particular type of work.
Learning opportunities. Online learning programs can be a great way to provide training, either as stand-alone lessons or in conjunction with field or classroom work. Typically, quizzes or other assessments are built into these programs. The quizzes are automatically graded and recorded using the course development software. Using these computer-based lessons especially can be valuable when they’re used for programs required for regulatory compliance. The built-in assessments and ease of tracking training completion offer flexibility for trainees and are convenient for all involved.
If a company does not have its own learning management system, it can utilize systems for purchase through programs like the Copesan University/PCT education modules (www.pctonline.com/Store/Copesan.aspx). There are several options for purchasing online safety and customer service training programs through a wide variety of vendors. These programs are not specific to the pest management industry, but can still prove very helpful.
Digital photos. I have entomologist friends who resist identifying insects based on photos sent in from a technician or client in the field. Though I understand their concern that it can be difficult to positively identify an insect based on a picture — digital photography can vary in quality, and the wrong features of a particular insect can be captured — but many insects we encounter can be identified with near-certainty based on a photo submission.
As long as we specify that the identification is tentative or based only on features observed in the photo, it can provide timely and critical information to field personnel and clients. If a physical specimen is needed for positive identification, the service technician can be instructed to send or deliver the specimen. And, if it can be identified based on a photo, the client may benefit from not having to lose chain of custody and maintaining the control of the specimen.
The Copesan Technical Committee (CTC) recently performed some tests on different digital scopes available. These scopes use a laptop screen to view insects, and can take pictures. They can be used by clients, technicians or office staff to send insect photos to the company entomologist for further identification. The CTC rated scopes based on quality of picture, ease of use and cost. The top two rated scopes were manufactured by Celestron and DinoCapture, costing $65 and $600, respectively.
Another benefit of photo identification can be the ability to see seasonal trends in pest activity more quickly. Due to the ease and speed in sending digital photos, I receive far more requests for identification than I did when only physical samples were submitted. In mid-October, I received two photo requests to identify brown marmorated stink bugs from our Chicago service specialists in the space of an hour – this insect is relatively new to our area and the photo submissions allowed me to identify the insects by phone (I was in Nashville at the time). This process allowed me to send a note to our other technicians, alerting them that it was apparently “Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Day” in Chicago.
While the photo submission trend increases the identification work load, it also provides valuable information on pest activity. Technician educational bulletins or tech tips can be generated and sent to our employees based on these trends, as illustrated with the stink bug example. Likewise, alerts can be sent to clients.
Although keeping up with technology can be a challenge, doing so provides a wide variety of opportunities to improve the way we train and provide technical support to both our employees and clients.
Pat Hottel, a member of the Copesan Technical Committee, has almost 40 years of experience in the pest management industry. She’s been with McCloud Services in Hoffman Estates, Ill., since 1980 and serves as technical director. Hottel holds a bachelor’s degree in entomology from the University of Georgia and is a BCE. She was one of the first women in the industry to hold a technical director position when she worked for Bermuda Pest Control in 1976.