NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Most would agree that the best form of training is hands-on experience out in the field. In this article, I will lay out a game plan for you to simulate those real-world scenarios in a classroom-style setting. The main components of your game plan should be knowing your opponent, setting up the appropriate practice drills to better prepare for your opponent, and finally, training for when to recognize the need for in-game adjustments.

UNDERSTANDING THE ENEMY

With all great practice or training, you must fully understand your enemy. Football teams create scout teams to study their opponent’s every move. That way their first team offense or defense can, in theory, practice against a team that closely represents the opponent. For us, in this training scenario, our opponents are German cockroaches. Before I go into any training on treatments or products, I always want to ensure that the service professionals understand the pest’s biology and behaviors. Knowing where the cockroaches like to harbor will enhance effectiveness of your bait placements. Understanding how different life stages consume bait and how they will disperse from the harborage site will give you a leg up when performing an inspection and trying to decipher your findings.

For example, gravid female German roaches will typically not come out and feed. By using an insect growth regulator with your treatments, you can get her to drop her ootheca or egg capsule early and come out to eat. Also, early instar roaches usually do not spread far from their harborage areas. All this information is important when determining your first treatment strategy. I also discuss how mixing residual spray treatments and gel baits can ruin your efforts. To finish up the pest biology and behavior training, I always cover identification. German roaches don’t need to be looked at under a microscope, but placing them with other roaches and knowing their behavior helps the service professional distinguish between species.

MEASURING SUCCESS

This next section is all about creating the perfect practice drills to ensure perfect performance out in the field. I start by reviewing a cockroach gel bait label. Typically, we have already covered how to read and comprehend a pesticide label at this point, so I focus on the application rates and treatment methods. Most people remember being taught pea-shaped applications. Well, unfortunately, that tends to produce a wide array of amounts. To reinforce the visual, I break out a small scale and have each employee make an application on a card. I then weigh these to show the employee what the label rate looks like. As an example, Advion Evolution should be applied in spots that weigh 0.5 grams. This stresses the importance of this drill.

How many of your service professionals know how much 0.5 grams is? By combining this with the label-recommended spots per linear feet, I get down to how much bait should be applied in each area. Have you ever heard a service professional say, “I’m so happy, all the bait was gone when I came back!”? In reality, that’s horrible news. What if I told you as you walked up to a restaurant that the buffet was empty and sold out of food? You would be deeply saddened. That is how the last German roach feels when he/she comes out of the harborage to look at your new food source. This hits home with my class and helps ensure proper treatment amounts.

APPLYING YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Now that we know how much bait to use, we need to learn how to properly make the application. This next exercise includes showing employees how to add, change or remove gel bait from their gel bait gun. It also includes reviewing the applicator gun itself. We then load up gel bait blanks (no active ingredient) and practice making gel bait applications. The new employees get a feel for how hard to squeeze the trigger and how much bait will come out. They apply the bait to a small 1-by-4-inch piece of wood. This allows the gel bait to dry on the board so the next group can learn a valuable lesson: the appropriate way to remove and discard old gel bait.

Once the employees feel like they have a good grasp on the application process, I will hold a piece of poster board in front of their faces. This prevents them from seeing the applicator gun and simulates making an application where their arm or hand is behind a piece of equipment or cabinet. This trains on those types of unique settings and gets the employees more familiar with the piece of application equipment.

Items attached to a piece of plywood prompt trainees to discuss whether to bait each one.

TO BAIT OR NOT TO BAIT?

The next training drill is more show and discuss. I have a piece of plywood with many items affixed to it: wheel casters, cabinet drawer rails, shelving hardware, handles, picture hanging hardware, wall plate covers, etc. For each one, we discuss: to bait or not to bait? We talk among the group on whether this is an area to never bait, to maybe bait in an infestation but then remove, or a great general place to bait. This gets them asking questions about scenarios they may have encountered during field ride-alongs. Another activity board has various electrical boxes on a piece of drywall. This shows the gaps and cracks that can be found when a wall plate is removed. Some of these areas might be great places to bait for other pests, such as Pharaoh ants.

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?

The last hands-on training demonstration is performed in a small kitchen and bathroom. Before class, I hide small, laminated numbers stuck to various surfaces — under the sink, in cabinets, under drawers, near escutcheon plates, etc. — using Velcro. The team is split into groups and must inspect the areas for said numbers. Once they find a number, they must discuss what type of treatment, if any, they would perform there. For example, if they find the 13th number in the kitchen, and it is on the trash can, they write down the type of pest they could expect there and how to treat it.

This gets the group talking about treatment procedures. I’m able to ask, “So, what would you do here? What about if there was an infestation of German roaches?” Not only is this a fun simulated training experience, but it teaches me what common spaces a new employee misses on an inspection. It even became a joke for branch managers to hassle their new employee about an elusive number that no one seems to find. When they found that number? They bragged about it. This sure doesn’t sound like required training anymore, does it? That’s because we were having fun learning.

EMBRACING CHANGE

The last topic we cover is knowing when and how to adjust when things are not going well in your baiting program. As all great coaches and players make adjustments at halftime, so should we. I want the service professionals to know how to adapt on the fly. We discuss sample situations using photos. What was our initial assessment and treatment? What did we find when we went for our follow-ups? A properly trained service professional should now know what to do. Did we miss an area on the inspection? Were more roaches brought in? This training ensures the employee is comfortable troubleshooting any issues that may arise because they have been trained on some of these scenarios. It empowers them with the knowledge that they can solve the problem.

Overall, a great cockroach bait training program consists of knowing your opponent, creating engaging and fun training exercises, and knowing how to apply those skills and adapt when any changes arise. By making a majority of the training hands-on, it becomes more memorable, and the new employee retains more of the material because they relate it to the activity.

Goeltzenleuchter, a member of the NPMA Technical Committee and secretary of the Urban Pest Management Technical Committee, serves as the technical training director and entomologist for McCall Service, Jacksonville, Fla. He has a bachelor’s degree in entomology and is an ESA Public Health Entomologist Certificate holder.