A crew built on knowledge

Establish a strong and loyal team by encouraging education and certification.

Russel Prophit, CIC, CID, CLIA, CLWM, the irrigation manager for Floralawn and Polk Pump and Irrigation in Lakeland, Florida, is a second-generation green industry professional with more than four decades of experience in the irrigation and landscape industry — and several certifications from the Irrigation Association.

He has experience in all phases of the industry, including design, installation, service, consulting and training. For the past two decades, Prophit has focused his work on irrigation and water management with an emphasis on water conservation.

His experience working with central control and cloud-based irrigation control systems utilizing ET-based and soil moisture sensors positions him as the go-to person for upgrades to increase efficiency by correcting coverage and hydraulic issues within existing systems and control systems.

Prophit notes his certifications help him stand out among others in the industry who lack certification. He holds multiple certifications from the IA, including certified irrigation designer, certified irrigation contractor, certified landscape irrigation auditor and certified landscape water manager.

“The certifications from the Irrigation Association have provided great opportunities that may not have been available to me without them,” Prophit says. “Holding multiple certifications has allowed me to be viewed as a professional in the industry by my peers as well as other stakeholders in the green and construction industry.

“Utilizing these certifications in the search for employees has the benefit of showing that there is value in education and certifications and a company is willing to invest in employees and education as well.”

Certifications also help those in the industry discover what part of the field they have worked to master, Prophit notes.

“This helps to facilitate advancement within the company,” he adds. “The accumulation of multiple certifications helps management to realize one’s desire to advance their education and their eagerness to move forward within the industry.”

Certifications are steps that are taken above licensing and provide a way to demonstrate abilities in design, auditing and water management as well as contracting, Prophit points out.

“Firms that offer a full package of services can easily separate themselves from the competition with the multiple certifications that are offered,” he adds.

Make the investment

John Taylor’s company, Plant Landscape Consultants in Houston, Texas, provides landscape and irrigation solutions using a science-based approach that focuses on the relationship between plant, water and soil. His company provides business-to-business training and education in the classroom, at a client’s office or in the field.

Taylor is serving his second term as president of the Texas Irrigation Association. He says his focus in the last few years has been to raise the bar in the industry through education, training and accountability.

“I often use an anecdote to address employee training, education and retention,” says Taylor. “Two CEOs are talking about the time and money it takes to train employees. One says to the other, ‘What if I make that investment and they end up leaving?’”

“The other responds with, ‘I’d be more worried about what would happen if you don’t make that investment and they stay.’”

Taylor says his commitment to his employees has always been to ensure they are better professionals for having worked with him, and training and education are a big part of that.

“The green industry, like a lot of industries, tends to find time for training how to do something, but little time for education or why we’re doing that something. Certifications, like those offered by the Irrigation Association, fill that void really well. The training — the ‘how’ — happens on the job site, but education — the ‘why’ — happens in the classroom.”

Making this investment in employee certification through education is a workplace culture-builder with wins all the way around, says Taylor.

“The employer gets employees who provide more effective solutions that promote their brand and deliver a superior product, which is a necessity if you want to build clients for life,” he adds. “The employee gains knowledge and confidence as their skill set grows, making them more valuable and empowering them to deliver the successful results all companies are looking for. The client benefits from a better product or service, and the industry benefits by raising standards and promoting consistency and professionalism.”

Employees want to be a part of something with that kind of synergy and they know when their company is vested in them, Taylor points out.

“My experience is that people don’t easily walk away from those kinds of work environments,” he adds. “They come for the money, but stay for the culture.”

Taylor says it’s easier to see the value education certifications provide by looking at the problems created when education and training are not the standard.

“The goal of every business is to grow,” he notes. “That may be growing revenue, growing profits or growing by adding another employee or location, but growth isn’t possible if what you’re building isn’t scalable.

“Failing to develop your bench will stifle future opportunities for growth,” he says. “We all know finding quality labor and management is no easy task. This understanding makes investing in homegrown employees even more important.”

Taylor says investing in the training and education of employees and establishing the kind of culture that comes with that investment is not only interacting with a career path. It is a tangible component of any career path.

“If your company is failing to invest in the education of employees, your company isn’t offering a career, it’s just offering a job,” he says. “I’d ask anyone reading this: Is that what you’re looking for? Just a job?”

Taylor notes that many small landscape and irrigation businesses fail on account of their approach.

“I routinely see construction-based business acumen being applied to agricultural and environmental science-based problems,” he says. “Those kinds of companies successfully dig trenches, mount controllers and glue pipe, but run into problems with things like hydraulics, evapotranspiration, soil type, infiltration rates, precipitation rates, crop coefficients and code. Companies that have a reputation for technical expertise and for investing in employee training and education are destination companies. Destination companies are the kind of companies quality employees are looking for.”

Taylor notes training and education certifications affect the bottom line in two ways: growing revenue and increasing profits.

“Employees that understand their craft are much more likely to identify upsell opportunities, have the skill set to convert those sales and also tend to attract new clients looking for genuine expertise and the successful results fostered by expertise,” he points out.

“Those same employees improve profit margins by reducing the number of unbillable hours dealing with callbacks, warranty work and daily inefficiencies,” he says. “This, in turn, reduces the number of existing clients that are flight risks due to substandard products and services.”

Jacobsen Irrigation serves the greater Daytona Beach, Florida, area with a primary focus on maintenance and repair for residential to large commercial clients.

“The way you set up a service business for irrigation contractors is as important as the service you’re providing,” says company president Joe Jacobsen.
Jacobsen uses certification to drive hiring and employee retention.

“We have the same difficulties and challenges anyone in the green industry has,” says Jacobsen. “I’m very fortunate my employees have been with me awhile. I have one that’s been with me 24 years, one’s going on 11. I have two new guys who have been with me for about two years.”

“It’s all about pride and excellence and they feel empowered,” he says. “It gives them the confidence they need when they approach customers that they have the knowledge and the tools to bring to the job site.”

Employees want to stay in an environment where they feel like they can grow, Jacobsen says of the value certification brings to building a career path.

“They don’t want to go to a company where someone puts a number on them, where they’re just an employee. They’re more than that: They’re the best mechanics irrigation can buy,” he points out.

Jacobsen says certification goes a long way with customers as well as employees.

“Consumer confidence starts from when you’re pulling in the driveway and looking like you know what you’re doing or when you get out of trucks, you got to be able to demonstrate what they see,” he says.

“When you have an employee who is happy to be where they are and have the knowledge they present to the customers very well, customers gravitate to that,” he says. “People like to see young people succeeding and putting their time and effort into it. It breeds consumer confidence because the employee is confident, they’re sure of themselves and the customers are as well.”

Know your certification

Here are the certifications that the Irrigation Association offers and what they cover:

  • Certified irrigation technicians are entry-level technicians who install, maintain and repair irrigation systems.
  • Certified landscape irrigation auditors gather irrigation water-use data, make maintenance recommendations and minor repairs and test landscape irrigation systems.
  • Certified golf irrigation auditors gather irrigation water-use data, make maintenance recommendations and minor repairs on golf courses and test golf irrigation systems.
  • Certified irrigation contractors are experienced business owners who execute contracts or subcontracts of irrigation projects to install, maintain and repair irrigation systems.
  • Certified irrigation designers establish specifications, select the most effective irrigation equipment and design methods for landscape irrigation projects. The IA certifies irrigation designers in two landscape specialties: golf course and residential/commercial irrigation.

The Irrigation Association notes that certified irrigation contractors and certified irrigation designers with a landscape and turf irrigation specialty qualify for the EPA WaterSense program. Certified landscape irrigation auditors and certified golf irrigation auditors who share completed audits with the IA also qualify for the EPA WaterSense program.

Carol Brzozowski is a freelance writer with a specialty in environmental journalism based in Coral Springs, Florida. She can be reached at brzozowski.carol@gmail.com.

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