One of the most common mantras shared by the industry’s top contractors is “never stop learning.” It has motivated many of them to invest significant amounts of time and money in creating in-house training programs for everyone — from the boots-on-the-ground tech all the way up to the company owner.
Franchise companies, especially, have recognized the many benefits of providing continuous training, including helping their franchisees and their techs provide top-notch service as well as helping to ensure brand consistency and financial solvency.
The importance of training
“Benjamin Franklin — printer, writer, scientist, inventor, public official, civic leader, and diplomat — once said, ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,’” says Lance Sinclair, vice president of training for Success Academy and Direct Energy, the parent company of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.
“The franchise group for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing takes this quote seriously when it comes to providing team members with training and development,” he says. “People join a franchise for a lot of reasons — the brand, buying power, and systems. At Success Academy, we teach everything from how to hire to running a call, options, business, management, and leadership.”
At bluefrog Plumbing + Drain, CEO Mark Dawson says they focus on four main areas in their training: marketing, operations, management, and finance.
“Each person on our team is an expert in one of these four areas,” Dawson says. “Our franchisees and their staff take part in weekly and monthly training calls. It’s unusual if our franchisees don’t hear from at least one person on our staff weekly.”
bluefrog offers training at several different locations and in different ways, Dawson adds.
“We have Basic Training monthly at the corporate office, and we offer online interactive webinars and we provide live field visits at the franchisee’s location.”
Al Levi, PM columnist and CEO of Zoom Franchise Co., says Zoom has a clearly defined training program that includes onboarding new franchisees and ensuring their finances are in order.
“When a franchisee signs on, we begin their support by connecting them with all software and apps, regular remote GoToMeetings, emails and phone support; the meetings all have written agendas and time slots,” he says. “Some of the help is financial help to ensure that they’re operating from a Known Financial Position. This way, they are doing a budget, and we help them select their own selling price.
“Then we, the franchisor, come onsite to their shop and provide Zip Training Phase 1, which includes Leadership Power!, Marketing Power!, and formalized business training,” Levi continues. “We also address branding compliance and we assemble their Master Project List and select together their Top Five List. Zip Training Phase 2 is the franchisee team coming to our Model Center in Philadelphia for a deep dive into IT and office systems, Financial Power!, CSR and dispatcher training, and service tech training.”
Levi says the plan is for franchisees to eventually develop their own in-house training centers.
Sinclair says partnering with Success Academy has helped the Direct Energy family of brands, which includes Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating, and Mister Sparky, to provide a single, consistent source for training and development.
“Training programs are available in three major delivery methods: classroom training, web-based training, and self-paced online learning,” Sinclair says. “Classroom training is offered on a regional basis, and accounted for 17.9% of all training methods in 2016. Classroom training is an interactive, engaging learning environment that allows participants to ask questions, role-play, practice as they learn, share lessons learned, and network with colleagues.
“Web-based training accounts for about 2.5% of training and is accessible from any desktop, laptop, or iPad,” Sinclair continues. “The majority of training is self-paced online learning, measuring in at 79.6%. The site, Success Academy Online, is self-paced and can be accessed at any time, and is also computer-, tablet-, and mobile-device-friendly. Courses may be completed more than once, and students can go back at any time and refresh their knowledge. Last year, 5,279 users on Success Academy Online completed 41,633 online courses, and 1,255 of the plumbing course completions were in technical training.”
A worthwhile investment
The benefits of providing this training to franchisees is multifaceted, and the payback comes in the form of more revenue, happier customers, happier franchisees, lower turnover, and more.
“bluefrog provides training to ensure the success of all our franchisees and to create a consistent customer experience for all our clients across the nation,” says Dawson says. “Our franchisees get a faster start in their business which gets them to profitability sooner.”
“Because we provide so much training, it allows us to recruit from a much larger pool and end up with willing people who have a career and not just a job, which helps with retention,” Levi says. “Just one more of the many benefits is this delightful surprise that, by engaging experienced techs on our team, we improve training systems and our ability to retain our senior team members.”
Studies have confirmed that today’s workers want and benefit directly from education and training, Sinclair says, adding that they have seen a correlation between franchisees that are actively training and their growth and profitability.
“In fact, in a recent study companies that trained managers and supervisors experienced a 24% higher profit margin,” he adds. “Similar studies cite a 15% to 25% increase in learning with significant increases in retention. Best of all, for our plumbers, the more training they receive the better opportunity they have to earn more and grow with the company.”
Training for the future
As franchises expand, so will the training programs. That translates to even more opportunities for franchisees.
“As we grow, team members who are demonstrating how good they are today at work will have earned the opportunity to train our new team members,” Levi says. “We’re serious that ‘we offer careers — not just a job,’ and we’re also excited about the real possibilities to create career opportunities for team members who train franchisees and their team.
“Our motto is #bettertogether,” Levi adds. “We have a procedure for everything, including recruiting. Our intention is to help our franchisees find good people.”
Sinclair says they are anticipating three major shifts in learning and development over the next few years. Specifically, he sees trends in growing opportunities for learning and development, microlearning, and mobile learning.
“Millennials have grown up with devices such as laptops and smart phones, and what they want is short, bite-sized materials that they can engage with on their own time,” he says. “Microlearning is focusing for short periods (think one- to three-minute videos), absorbing quickly, and moving on to the next material.”
Mobile learning will also continue to be the delivery method of choice for plumbers.
“Mobile learning is education or training conducted by means of portable computing devices such as smartphones or tablet computers,” Sinclair says. “While most franchisees use iPads, laptops, and smartphones, the content for delivery on these devices will explode in the next few years.”
Dawson says they are also constantly tweaking their training programs as technology changes, and it will continue to be a major influencer. Also influencing what training they offer, and how they offer it, is the shortage of qualified technicians, which will only get worse before it gets better.
“We provide a step-by-step template on how to recruit the best talent in the market,” Dawson says. “There is a class during Basic Training that is dedicated to this subject, since it’s one of the main concerns for existing incoming plumbing companies that convert to our brand. Our goal is to show the franchisee how to use six to eight tools to maximize their return on investment.”