Are your employees propane-proficient?
By Stephen Bennett
Lyndon Rickards recalls that way back when he received propane training he and his peers would put in a day’s work before driving for an hour to take a three-hour class, twice a week. “That’s how I got my CTEP training,” Rickards said, referring to the Certified Employee Training Program provided by the Propane Education & Research Council. Rickards took the training more than 20 years ago, when he worked for another company before joining Eastern Propane & Fuel, based in Rochester, N.H. “We figured there’s got to be a better way,” said Rickards, the safety and training manager for Eastern.
There is and has been a better way for some years now, thanks to technology, including the Web and availability of online videos, and DVDs, combined with good old-fashioned textbooks and class, lab and field instruction.
“We have different ways to deliver training,” said Courtney Gendron, CETP program manager for PERC, which is based in Washington, D.C. “We create a textbook for all of our courses,” Gendron said, for use in classroom training, whether conducted by a state association or by a propane company.
The Council has also put the textbooks into an “e-learning format,” Gendron said. “What that really means is someone can purchase one of our e-learning DVDs and pop it into their computer and they take the training at their own time and at their own pace.”
The content is the same as what is found in the books, Gendron said, with “interactive learning activities” added. The subjects covered include basic principles and practices, basic electricity, hazmat training, bobtail delivery and vapor distribution. The materials are regularly updated to conform to any changes in regulations or codes, such as the relevant National Fire Protection Association codes, Gendron said. (Visit the website at propanecouncil.org for complete information on the educational and training materials the Council offers.)
While the CTEP education and training materials are offered by PERC, the actual certification tests are the province of the National Propane Gas Association (see sidebar). A number of states require that technicians be certified by NPGA in order to get their license. For example, Rickards said that all of the states where Eastern operates (five New England states, Connecticut excepted) require techs to be NPGA-certified.
A state trade association may conduct CTEP classes at its offices or at a central location that can accommodate employees from a number of propane companies; a propane company, on the other hand, can conduct classes on its premises, which might be a main office or a branch location. The latter is what Eastern does, being a company with some 170 to 180 drivers and technicians, depending on the time of year, Rickards said.
During the off-season, when business demands typically ease at least somewhat, the company holds CTEP sessions once a week. Rickards and another company employee are the classroom instructors. “We do CTEP almost every Wednesday from March until the end of September,” Rickards said. That schedule is tailored for “new employees coming in the door–apprenticeship programs that we have going,” Rickards said.
A recent hire “may know how to drive trucks or they’ve done HVAC or plumbing work, but be “fairly new to the propane side of the world,” Rickards pointed out. “They learn something by coming in on a Wednesday, applying that knowledge and coming back the next Wednesday. That’s a cycle we’ve found very beneficial to retention.
“We also use the e-learning programs as a standalone in some cases,” Rickards continued. An example is when a seasonal driver is hired in December. “If he’s [been hired as] a propane driver we need to get him [trained] in the basics and also have him take the bobtail delivery course,” Rickards said. “So we put him through that e-learning in the district [where he is employed] and that works pretty well for those seasonal needs. That’s the advantage of in-house training. You can be flexible. It’s really worked well for us over the years.”
Rickards added, “We include all of our company policies” in the classroom instruction. “We have a lot of SOPs–standard operating procedures–that apply to different tasks that our employees do. CTEP is the foundation for our training program and we build on that, dramatically–we add a lot more.” Eastern also administers CTEP skills assessments for its employees.
What do your current and prospective customers know about propane and propane appliances?
If you suspect they need to know more, the Propane Education & Research Council has “a vast consumer education campaign,” said Gendron.
A safety campaign in 2014 targeted do-it-yourselfers. The theme: “Leave it to a Pro.”
The Council determined that propane customers break down into three groups, especially when it comes to installing a propane appliance. The low-risk group “leaves it to a pro.” Those in the high-risk group are bound and determined to install an appliance themselves, cannot be told anything, and are highly unlikely to change their ways. In between are do-it-yourselfers who are “probably going to go online to YouTube, watch a video and maybe attempt to do it themselves,” Gendron said. “It’s those people we were really trying to target.”
The Council created a video that appeared on the YouTube website whenever a user typed “install a propane appliance.” Gendron said, “When you clicked on that video it showed this really horrific scene that shows this [severely damaged] house.” An insurance agent is shown telling the homeowner that he should have left the job to a professional. To see the video go to www.diysafety.org.
“That’s just one of the ways we try and talk directly to consumers,” Gendron said. For more, visit the consumer education section on the website propanecouncil.org.