How far has water-heater manufacturer A. O. Smith’s training capabilities come?
Here’s a little math equation to answer that question. The company has watched its training capabilities quickly go from serving 1,500 professionals a year to an end-of-2018 total of 80,000 industry pros. In other words, A. O. Smith is off to the races and then some.
That skyrocketing number was punctuated by A. O. Smith’s recent grand-opening celebration of its renovated Technical Training Facility located at its Customer Care Facility in Ashland City, Tennessee.
“We’re paying homage to our company’s rich history, but with an eye always toward the future,” A. O. Smith Vice President of Marketing David Chisolm said to invited guests at the grand opening event. “This investment is our commitment to the industry. We’re driving loyalty and expertise in the channel.”
Renovations to the facility include upgrades to the large onsite training classroom, hands-on training labs, A. O. Smith University’s online training offerings, and its gem of a video production studio.
In addition to offering traditional classroom sessions, the onsite facility now offers hands-on training in A. O. Smith’s three fully functional residential, commercial and tankless product labs.
Improvements made to the facility will allow an additional 500 contracts to attend onsite trainings this year alone, A. O. Smith noted.
“This puts us in a position to offer a variety of training options to our downstream partners, our channel partners and our end-user customers,” A. O. Smith Senior Vice President and General Manager of North America Water Heating Operations David Warren said at the grand opening. “We are using the talent we have in our company and marrying it with the newest technology available to provide better services and become more efficient to our partners going forward.”
Taking a deeper dive
On the hands-on training front, A.O. Smith Technical Trainer Mike Dial explained the company’s tankless offering features a two-day seminar on the topic. “As tankless continues to emerge, people have to understand it doesn’t work exactly like a tank-type heater,” he said. “We are here to provide the needed resources on tankless. We go deep into how tankless works and how it is installed. We make sure they have a good, working understanding.”
A.O. Smith Technical Training Manager Jason Leonard spoke about the company’s ability to put glitches in the working displays in the training facility and then have attendees attempt to fix the problems.
“Sabotage training is so valuable and hands-on training is so valuable,” he said during the tour. “What is your mindset and what are you trying to do? Once you change your thought process, you will find the answer on your own.”
Leonard also addressed the extreme need in the industry to train new contractors and noted A. O. Smith’s training facility is well-positioned to do just that.
“Our channel partners are bringing new people in,” he said. “How do you get them up to speed? That’s where we come in and play a key role. We can’t win unless our partners win. That’s how this works. We want to make our partners more successful and help build their businesses. We have an incoming workforce that has to get up to speed quickly, and we are here to do that. That’s how we all win.”
Leonard added that even industry veterans can benefit from the company’s vast training cache. “In our industry experience varies,” he said. “There are very green guys in the industry. You also have guys who have been in business for 50 years. If both can learn from our training, we win.”
Lights, camera, action
A. O. Smith also unveiled its state-of-the-art video studio within the facility, which focuses on providing its partners with more robust online and on-demand training options, including online product workshops, factory certifications, and continuing education credits, as well as more than 100 hours of online content covering the entire line of A. O. Smith residential and commercial products.
The new studio features expanded 3D-animation capabilities, plus a 360-degree camera and virtual reality. It can communicate concepts that previously would have been difficult or impossible even in an in-person classroom setting, the manufacturer noted. The classes are offered as live-streaming training classes, which contractors can attend from their office or home, yet still interact and ask questions in real time.
“We can have a 45-minute live class going on here and someone from their home or office can text questions in,” A. O. Smith Media Specialist Heather Walker told attendees during a tour of the video space and control room. “We also have the ability to put someone in the classroom virtually. This is another option for our customers to get the training they need. We have the ability to do multiple shows a day. We can break things down into 15-minute bite-size pieces where someone can watch the video at lunch. It’s changed the game for us.”
Leonard praised the efforts and talents of the video room team members. “We are fortunate to have these people working in-house here,” he said. “How many of these types of talented people are working for a water-heater manufacturer? We have them here. Talk about a difference-maker.”
Leonard said A. O. Smith’s training initiatives will continue to accelerate. “Providing world-class solutions and in-depth industry education continues to be a huge goal for our team, and this facility allows us to take that initiative to the next level,” he said. “We are only limited by how big of an audience we can get to.”