A capable trainer makes the difference between a student retaining and applying what he learns, and wasting the money a company spends to send him for training in the first place. Goulds Water Technology, a Xylem brand, has offered training for years. To find out more about what they offer and how they keep trainees coming back, we spoke with Chris Preston, residential product manager for Goulds’ Seneca Falls, N.Y., facility. Preston is a training veteran. He helps out with the Goulds pump school, and conducts trainings for the National Ground Water Association and Texas Ground Water Association, among other groups. He covers installation, safety and troubleshooting for VFDs, submersible and jet pumps, and other Goulds offerings. Our interview here has been edited for space and clarity.

Q. Who is your ideal student? 

A. I think everyone is a student. I know that I learn something new every day. Even if it’s something that you think that you’re knowledgeable about, there’s sometimes little things that you’ve forgotten or that may have changed over time that are interesting. Certainly, there’s a lot of changes within the industry, again around electronics and the promotion of energy efficient products. The changes in design sometimes require a refresh.

We have classes that start out very basic. We have people that will range from days and weeks on the job to very experienced, seasoned professionals who have maybe 30, 40 years of experience. For those classes, we do have what we call an advanced class, and it typically requires at least some kind of preliminary approval because we want to make sure that the folks that are coming in there are not going to be intimidated by some of the topics and conversations that are covered. But we go very in depth into very complex installations, and even some of the design and theory of hydraulics and how pumps are manufactured and why they’re manufactured. So we can pretty much meet any need, whether you’re days on the job or 30-plus years on the job.

Q. Based on what you see, where’s the skills gap among young water professionals?

A. A lot of the younger individuals have a bit of an advantage from the technology perspective. A lot of the stuff that we’re moving toward now with smartphones and computers, any of that sort of programming, they seem to pick up on much quicker than some of the older generations, so to speak. But at the same time, they don’t have necessarily as much of the real world experience that some of the veterans have. … Obviously, in this industry, it’s very family and generational. We have a lot of distributors and/or dealers that are multi-generation businesses. They’ve been in the business for a long time, whether it’s their father, mother, grandfather, grandmother — whatever that might be. So we don’t see a lot (lacking) from a basics perspective, unless they’re coming from another industry.

I would say the challenge is for the individuals who have been in the industry, say installing jets and submersibles for the last 20 or 30 years, to try to get comfortable with some of the new electronic technology. They’ve been used to using pipe wrenches. And there’s nothing wrong with pipe wrenches, and pressure switches and screwdrivers. They haven’t been used to hooking up controls that have programming and menu structures, the ability to hook it up to your smartphone and have wi-fi access, things like that. So, that’s the piece that I think is going to evolve and require some coaching.

Q. How has training for water well professionals changed in the last five to 10 years?

A. For us, I think it’s become even more hands on than it was previously. We actually redesigned our training center, the Campbell Education Center here in Seneca Falls. We moved it from a lot of older, fixed setups. It’s very flexible. We have a whole bunch of stainless steel tanks and displays and demos that are all on wheels and we can move them in and out. We have a big-screen TV with the ability to do wi-fi. We have GoPro cameras so we can video things and reshow them on the screen — a lot of changes from that perspective. … I think it’s just really more hands on. Again, we’re moving away from a lot of the old — Simpson meters and things like that, which are obviously still widely used in the industry and we have some here — to the multimeter, electronics, getting people familiar with being able to use that kind of stuff. A lot of multipump and drive configurations that we weren’t utilizing before. And again, don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of basic submersible jet pump type stuff that we do as well and getting people familiar with how to troubleshoot it is always a focus because we want them to be empowered and to be knowledgeable and, obviously, safe. We don’t want them to be dealing with electricity, which can be very dangerous, and not know what they’re doing. So we always caution them about the power of electricity and being safe. Getting them to be comfortable and hands on with that stuff, the motors and the controls, is key to them having the knowledge to make sure they’re confident in the decisions they’re making in the field when they’re not in a lab environment. It helps them make better decisions and safer decisions, I think.

Q. Do you find that, for drive and VFD classes, that it’s drillers crosstraining to do both, or that contracting companies have dedicated personnel for that?

A. I think that they’re becoming cross-trained. A lot of them are small, family businesses, right? It may be only one or two people. There are some larger dealers out there that are running several service trucks, but there’s still a vast majority that are smaller operations and they don’t have the luxury of going out and hiring an additional person just to be dedicated on that. I think that they have to have the cross-training and the knowledge to do some of it themselves. Quite honestly, I think that that’s a differentiator and a growth area. The dealers and installers that have that knowledge are certainly differentiating themselves from the folks that don’t have that knowledge, and it gives them a competitive advantage when they’re out there talking to customers and providing a solution to a customer. They have other options in their arsenal or in their toolbox that the other installer doesn’t have.

Q. Given the “more with less” climate many workplaces have today, would you expect to see more cross-trainers in the future?

A. I think so. I can tell you that, internally, all our technical support people are cross-training. … They actually go through our schools, as well. I have one of my product specialists in the school this week. A lot of our people that are answering the phone are continuing to go through the school just like the installers and dealers and distributors are, to get that same level of knowledge so that they can help people on the phone, answer questions that they might not know. There are several of the people in our customer service group that have been here for 30-plus years, and they’re still attending schools and getting the latest industry information and knowledge and product support information. I think that it’s an on-going process that will really never end.

Q. On a related note, for many companies feeling pinched by the economy, training is the first thing to get cut. If I’m in charge of decisions on training for my company, why should I bother?

A. I can tell you that we see a lot of repeats. We have a lot of people who come here for the basic training and they take a lot out of it and enjoy and learn so much that we typically see them back for a wastewater school or a commercial school or the advanced school down the road, so if that’s any indication of the value. I don’t think that people would be coming back if they didn’t think it was useful. I use that as an indicator that they are seeing it as valuable. Tying it to any kind of financial dollar value, I don’t know that I can speak to that accurately.

Q. Tell me about the Goulds Water Technology training facility and the new Campbell Education Center laboratory.

A. The training facility is housed within our building here in Seneca Falls. … We typically try to spend two hours in the classroom or so, learning about how to service a jet pump, for example. Then we’ll go out to the [Campbell Education Center] lab for an hour and actually have jet pumps set up there, where they can check the motor, check the switch, check the capacitor, hook up a deep well or shallow well adaptor, whatever. Then, they’ll go back to the classroom and learn about, maybe, submersible motors for an hour or two, and then we’ll go back to the lab and actually demonstrate with a multimeter. We have motors that have different configurations, where we can intentionally make it a short, or whatever. So they have a lab that’s kind of hands-on that’s in parallel to the classroom.

I think this week we have about 34 people, but we try to limit it to about 30 people per class. We’ve been doing this for over 30 years. The Campbell is actually dedicated to our previous trainer that preceded Tom [Stephan, Goulds’ training manager], Mark Campbell, who passed away a few years ago. It’s kind of dedicated to him. But Tom is our fourth generation trainer doing these kinds of factory schools.

Q. You offer several courses. What would you say is the most popular one and why?

A. Our residential school is the most popular. That’s the one that’s this week. I think that we offer it three or four times a year. Typically, we try to do our pump schools in the spring and then more in the fall because, obviously, a lot of people are busy during the summer with travel and vacations and stuff. So we try to do it on the tail end of the “non-peak” season. But the residential, which is really our jet and submersible school, is usually sold out every session that we do it. I would say that we’ve been seeing, again, increased need. So we used to, during the commercial school, cover drives and controls as a portion of that, and the same thing during the residential school. And we still do a little bit, but there was so much information to cover and such demand from our attendees to get more in-depth and do more hands-on that we actually have added dedicated control schools. Those have been very popular, say in the last two years. Those are also typically capacity in a very short time when we offer them. Tom does a mixture of trainings outside of our lab. We’ve done a couple of remote ones that are kind of regional. He’s pretty much busy year-round. When he’s not here in the spring and fall doing the classes for the weeks, he’s typically on the road doing other regional, state association or other customer schools remotely.