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Tens of thousands of garden and landscaping professionals transform our everyday lives in places where we live, work, relax and play sports, in the countryside or in urban areas. At a time when technological advances and connected objects bring major changes to our lifestyles and the way we work, automatic irrigation is no exception to the rule, and in fact the opposite applies.
Today, environmental concerns and the preservation of water resources lie deep within the thoughts of everyone, whether it be a private individual who wishes to improve his home, a municipality seeking to create a pleasant urban setting for its citizens or a Golf Club with plans to develop an outstanding environmentally-friendly golf course.
So how do the landscape professionals who work every day for our quality of life gain and maintain the experience and ever more demanding skill level, required for the installation of an automatic irrigation system in an increasingly diversified range of projects?
The constantly evolving training programme generally lasts several years.
Gone are the days when the key skills could only be obtained by taking formal classes and putting this knowledge into practice in the field in the company of experienced professionals. The installer of a built-in irrigation system must now receive ongoing training throughout his or her working life.
Of course, as with the construction of any solid structure, the initial training is built on the sound foundation of acquiring skills from professionals working in landscaping firms. In many European countries, the training systems offer two alternatives, vocational training within the school system and apprenticeships.
In France, for example, where apprenticeships have an image portrayed as being less prestigious than that of systems with a more academic approach, the diplomas attained and their levels are the same. It is often, moreover, the choice of the young aspiring installer, depending on his character, sensitivity andmaturity.Itispossibletointerchange between training within the school system to an apprenticeship.
Thus, there are many landscaping sectors in all the countries of Europe with an increasing trend of specialisation: landscape garden creation, maintenance, local municipalities, natural green spaces/maintenance of river banks, landscape gardeners, Heads of garden maintenance teams, creators of living walls, site managers specialising in sports grounds, and, of course, installers of irrigation systems or site managers specialised in integrated irrigation systems…Integrated irrigation has thus become a speciality in its own right with its own distinctive features and qualifications being summed up in one word: “versatility”.
The installation of an integrated irrigation system, in fact, requires a knowledge of hydraulics, electricity, earthwork, plants, masonry, plumbing - the list is endless!
Training as a means of achieving a specific certified specialisation.
Apart from specialised training courses, such as the specialisation contract mentioned above, it must be pointed out that only a few days are dedicated to automatic irrigation in all the 2-year training courses available for landscaping. Under these conditions, experience gained in the field with proven installers remains the best option for acquiring the level of versatility required for the installation of irrigation systems.
With the aim of promoting methods methods of recognising the skill level and competence of the landscaping contractors, several countries in Europe have established strict rules, resulting in official proficiency certificates being issued, with the different ministries of agriculture taking a leading role. In France, the organisation Qualipaysage provides the proficiency certificates for landscape contractors.
Integrated irrigation, just like the creation of green spaces, sports fields, pruning or green roofing, for example, is a Qualipaysage classification in its own right. The “Integrated irrigation” category incorporates 5 types of sub-classifications, depending on the size of the company, type and number of applications already installed: earthwork, laying pipes and pumping stations. It should be pointed out that two of these classifications are reserved for companies having the human and technical resources available for computer-based centralised irrigation programming.
These classifications, which have different names, according to the country, represent an efficient way for the end user to recognise that an irrigation installation firm is competent and experienced and for the contractor in question to differentiate itself from other contractors who seek to improvise as specialists in integrated irrigation.
The tendering rules and procedures for public procurement contracts always stipulate that the tendering parties must be certified suppliers.
Periodic training: a “win-win” partnership between manufacturers and installers, led by the international automatic irrigation trade organisations and associations.
Regarding constantly changing equipment, although the products are sold through the retailers, the manufactures have come to understand the role they should play in terms of training the installers, on site or via on-line modules.
Rain Bird, for example, provides
its “Rain Bird Academy” training courses all over Europe, run by certified trainers from the Irrigation Association or the European Irrigation Association. Almost 200 training days are organised each year by Rain Bird, not only for the installers but also the greenkeepers of the Golf Clubs, local authorities, distributers or landscape architects.
The training programmes are continuously changing as demanded by the latest technology and they evolve around 4 modules (Irrigation system design, Choice and adjustment of the equipment, implementing the 9V and 24Vprogrammersandthelarger capacity programmers and decoders), mainly allowing the candidate to understand how to identify and resolve any incidents that may occur during the life of the irrigation system: e.g. diagnostic support and practical responses in the event of a faulty cable, valve or controller.
These small-group sessions, which can also be tailored to suit individual requirements, represent the manufacturers’ preferred means of gathering the views, comments and suggestions of irrigation professionals for developing solutions that best suit the needs and demands of the clients installing the systems. As far as the latter are concerned, this relates to the opportunities available for better controlling the latest innovations, particularly in terms of centralised control, and optimising the saving of precious water resources, both in the residential and local authority sectors.
The international associations (Irrigation Association) and national automatic irrigation federations and associations, such as SYNAA in France, have also opted to take up the challenge of training the installers and landscape professionals in order to protect their core activity. They propose training modules in small groups, on site or individually online, to promote more rapidly the benefits of having green spaces that respect the scarcity of the water resources required for growing plants in these areas. In particular, they provide, in the same manner as the Irrigation Association, internationally recognised certifications for becoming a professional in the installation, audit or design of irrigation systems.
Funding for these training programmes can be obtained in some European countries (Compte Personnel de Formation in France, FUNDAE Fundacion Tripartita in Spain, etc…), thus allowing the landscaping contractors to update the skills of their employees, or quite simply enhance existing ones to further develop a specialisation and set the company apart from others.
Are “E-learning” and social media solutions poised to replace in-class training? Its versatility, flexibility, ease of access and low cost are the main benefits of on-line training compared with “face-to-face” sessions. This explains their growing success and automatic irrigation training is no exception to the rule.
The manufacturers of irrigation systems and the associations on the whole offer “e-learning” modules, generally at a cost.
Known as “Learning on Demand” or “Knowledge Center”, these on-line training programmes have many advantages: training is available 24/7 and each person can learn at his or her own speed and the courses can be checked and repeated whenever required.
The modules are aimed primarily at the installers but the flexibility of the contents will allow the equipment manufacturers to make special courses available for the distributors or the R&D departments and designers.
As well as these online offers, we have the social communities organising their automatic irrigation networks on You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin… This is a useful tool when the content, videos and tutorials are provided by the installers themselves and not manufacturers or associations who put so-called educational videos online, singing the praises of their products or solutions.
The Internet provides shortcuts where the installers speak to other installers, share information on their latest achievements, give impartial advice and provide feedback on recent experiences, using their smartphones. There are sufficient offers available nowadays to allow everyone to choose the tutorial of his or her choice with a specific reference to controllers, sprinklers or valves.
While enabling easier and more rapid access to the techniques required for the operation of the automatic irrigation equipment, online training cannot replace the skill improvement provided by certified trainers on site; but, nevertheless, it has become an essential supplement to the training schedule.
The multi-skilling and versatility required by installers also comes from the diversity of the projects and the different kinds of application used for an irrigation system, such as private homes, prestigious sites, public parks, sports fields and golf courses, making it unrealistic to plan any kind of standard modelling or to use a training programme that is 100% theoretical. Only practical experience and being faced with a real situation in the field will enable the trainee installer to acquire the proper experience. Very fortunately, this apprenticeship is a continuing learning process and that is what makes the profession so appealing. Therefore, the uberization of the industry specialising in the installation of irrigation systems is still a long way off.