My first exposure to pest control upon moving to Florida from the Midwest was being introduced to the realities of lawn maintenance and the prevalence of termite and other wood destroying organisms in this humid state. It is all but required to have a pest service support you in an attempt to not have sand for a front lawn. When approached about the potential application of augmented and virtual reality for training the pest service technicians, I was still surprised though, as it seemed like a fairly contained task with limited variability. However, when you realize that it is these firms that are helping ensure that a variety of businesses, from hospital kitchens to food processing facilities, maintain pest free environments and pass health inspections, the sheer size and complexity of what these firms do becomes apparent.
The pest control industry is one whose magnitude is shocking – the overall US market is about $8B with nearly 70,000 workers across the US. For comparisons sake, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality had a combined market size of just under $4B for 2016. According to PCT Magazine, the top 2 companies combined for nearly $3B in revenue alone. They perform a variety of services, with some companies doing one, some or all of the following: general pest control, termite control, residential, commercial, or other services (which range from fumigation to lawn care to bird control). While most of us think of pest control as a guy coming to our house, where their services are most highly valued is at places that deal with high quantities of food, as keeping a clean, bug-free environment is crucial to health and safety standards that have to be met during an inspection.
Technicians are supplemented by highly educated entomologist in an organizational structure that relies on back and forth communication between the field and central operations, including the learning or training department. It is not unusual for a trained technician to confront an unusual anomaly and require assistance from the experts. The experts in turn do their best to provide training through classroom or online solutions, such as webinars to the rest of the enterprise if they believe it adds value. Centrally, some of the larger organizations may have one or more training facilities to help onboard new hires or to transition commercial technicians to the big ticket industrial applications.
This all sounds like smooth sailing. However, imagine you have a 1500 technician workforce that is dispersed across 8 different states. You may never get a chance to have a technician visit the central training facility and you could be completely dependent upon the local service providers to ensure they provide quality service and meet not only corporate safety goals, but legislated regulations.
These folks are spraying chemicals. They spray them in and around our homes, in hotels where you sleep, in restaurants where you eat and hospitals that treat us when we are sick. A mistake made in these places can have severe ramifications, from business temporarily shutting its doors to possibly injury or even fatality.
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