THE OFF-SEASON FOR IRRIGATION and landscape contracting businesses is often a time for organization, inventory, accounts receivables, budgets and projections. However, once these important tasks are completed, seasonal landscape companies often struggle with finding winter activities that would be the most productive and profitable for them and their fulltime employees.

Because successful irrigation and landscape companies are always looking to separate themselves from the competition, many companies find that the off-season is a perfect time for professional improvement. Attending training courses and attaining certifications are great ways to become better educated in new technology, running the business end of the business, and getting a leg up on the competition.

The irrigation industry changes at a rapid pace, yet the majority of contractors are still doing business the same way they have been for the last 15 years. The perception is, if they've been successful for so long, why change? The answer is because it is important to keep up with new technology and services so companies can provide the most efficient solutions for their clients. Training is a great off-season opportunity to learn about new and innovative products and keep employees' skills up-to-date.

Off-season training is also an excellent way to get new and inexperienced employees educated in irrigation systems and installations as quickly as possible. While many business owners intend to get new employees trained in the early spring when it is not so busy, the 'busy time' always seems to arrive before they know it.

In addition, training is an important factor in retaining good employees. You need to let your employees know they are valued and that you are providing them with training so they can gain knowledge and experience. They have to feel that they're in the long-term plans of the company. Giving good employees more training to further develop their skills also makes them more productive and loyal and may create more project opportunities for your company.

Irrigation industry providers, such as Rain Bird Services Corporation's Rain Bird Academy and the Irrigation Association, are good sources of training. Other companies and irrigation distributors are additional sources of training.

These organizations offer classes that range from the basics of installation and troubleshooting to advanced classes in design, business solutions and central control. Most of the classes are non-manufacturer specific and can be effective no matter what components you use in the field.

The classes usually pay for themselves in the first year by making your employees more efficient and productive. Installers can get a better understanding of the irrigation system as a whole, resulting in fewer mistakes and less need for supervision.

Service technicians can find ways to solve problems in more logical and efficient ways. Managers can learn about design and create a new source of income for the company.

Owners can take business management classes, interact with other business owners and learn how to make the most of their investments. In addition to learning more about irrigation systems, employees can also utilize the winter downtime to earn certifications that demonstrate their knowledge and abilities as professionals in the irrigation industry. The Irrigation Association offers certifications in a wide variety of specialties that include certified irrigation contractor, certified landscape irrigation auditor, and certified irrigation designer to name a few.

To keep your company competitive, education should be a high priority in off-season activities. Training and certifications can take employees to the next level of professionalism, aiding companies in maintaining their local industry leadership.