Q: What types of precision training or education does your dealership require for employees and in which areas is training/education most lacking?
Heath Conklin, COO, Integrity Ag Group, Murray, Ky.: “We train on a case-by-case basis. Every employee has different needs and desires and we try to address the weak areas in employees through training. Weak areas for most of our employees tend to be in sales and sales management, and all of our employees serve those functions to some degree. We use sales training courses for employees who need extra help in those areas.
“For new employees, we don’t really have an on-boarding program. We typically throw new employees in and have them shadow another employee for a week or two. We usually like to put new hires with the most recent hire because they have more relatable skills and experience to each other. After that initial shadowing period, it’s straight on-the-job training. We want employees to take ownership of their job and in the development of their skills. In the long run, that prevents a lot of employee turnover.
“One area we could improve on would be training employees to better train the customers on new products. We have to keep in mind that the customers don’t always think like we think. We tend to get into the technical aspects of a new system that the customer doesn’t really need to know or care about, and we lose their attention.”
PJ McCullough, Sales & Support, McCullough Implement, Watseka, Ill.: “We don’t have any training requirements for employees prior to them being hired. Everybody who’s starting a career as a mechanic or technician is going to have some idea of what GPS is, just based on the technology we have in our phones and cars today.
“Once employees are hired, we do a walkthrough on an installation. There’s the saying, ‘See one, do one, teach one,’ so after someone helps them do one project, they should be able to do the next on their own and then be able to teach it to someone else. I don’t know if it ever works that quickly, but we do our training along that mentality.
“We center our training around the mentality of ‘See one, do one, teach one,’ so after a specialist gets helps with a project, they should be able to do the next on their own and then teach it to someone else…”
“Training can be a double edged sword, though. If there are new products, our techs need to understand how they work, but at the same time, it’s hard to put a dollar and cents cost benefit to training because we’re sending a tech away for a day or two. Then we have to add in their hotel room and the cost of traveling to the school. A lot of times they get back and when we ask what they learned they say, ‘It was the same thing we covered last year at the school and I already knew everything.’ So why did we just spend hundreds of dollars to send them there?
“I’ve gone to the schools and training and I think our employees are learning, but sometimes they don’t realize they’ve learned it, which makes it hard to show a return on investment for the management at the dealership. The biggest hurdle for training is being able to show the ROI.”
Colin Hlavinka, Precision Farming Manager, Hlavinka Equipment Co., El Campo, Texas: “For employee training, we follow the hierarchy set through Trimble, Case IH and the other precision farming suppliers we work with. The only problem is that this training gives a broad and generic view of the technology and it’s hard to bring that knowledge over into the field.
“We don’t require any formal training from a technical university because we haven’t seen a program that fits what we work on. We put employees through additional field training before we turn them loose in the field to supplement the manufacturers’ training programs.
“One area where I would say our training programs are lacking right now would be on the software and data analysis side. We haven’t reached that critical mass of data yet to be able to have a dedicated data specialist, so the precision staff has pretty varied levels of proficiency on the software side at this point. The current software training we attend tries to cover everything we need to know in 2 days, but after 3 or 4 hours of information, our eyes glaze over and we don’t really learn anything. We’re in the process of developing a better training system for software now.”
Chad Pfitzer, Integrated Solutions Manager, 4 Rivers Equipment, Greeley, Colo.: “Anyone in our precision ag Integrated Solutions department has to go through John Deere’s classes and training through John Deere University.
“When we take on a new employee, there’s a whole list of classes they need to take to get up to speed. Training is done on the clock if the employee has time, or at home at his leisure. We expect them to get those classes out of the way pretty quickly. After 3 or 4 days, they should be up to speed at least to the very basic level.
“The university classes aren’t like a Vulcan mind meld though, we don’t gain everything we need just by sitting through the classes. What they really give us is industry contacts and a reference point so when we actually get into a situation in the field, we have some idea what we’re dealing with.
“One area that is lacking is training in how to integrate all of the third party relationships into the strategy. Right now, that’s more of a fly by the seat of our pants kind of training where we have to learn and invent solutions while we go.”
20 Employee Training & Retention Tips for Precision Ag Staff
A diverse group of dealers divulge their secrets to motivating new employees, making the most of training opportunities and why an ‘open book’ approach can be a competitive advantage.