Examining advancements in snow removal technology, techniques, education and training

When landscape contractors start “talking snow,” the discussion often revolves around selecting the right equipment, pricing the service offering, liability from slip-and-fall incidents and how to protect the company when things go wrong. However, one could submit that with proper education and training a good majority of the discussion points become moot when the underpinnings of any business are sound and solid.

Today’s snow and ice management contractors are no longer just a bunch of guys who plow snow. Today, these contractors are professionals who manage risk for those they serve. This is done through the effective and efficient use of advanced technology, enhanced techniques and modern equipment. These professionals realize they are being hired to keep sites safe for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. We all know just about anyone can plow snow (with the proper equipment), but it takes an educated professional to keep the sites safe and passable under often horrendous conditions at difficult hours.

There are many avenues for landscape contractors to take with regard to gaining education on best practices, accounting procedures, human resources information and proper management techniques in their chosen green profession. Almost every state in the United States and most provinces in Canada have associations for those in the green industry. These organizations do an outstanding job bringing green industry issues to the forefront so their members can avail themselves of educational opportunities with regard to their chosen profession.

However, until recently, formalized training of those who derive a large portion of their revenues (and profits) from the “white industry” had been lacking. State landscape organizations now put on full-day, snow related gatherings so contractors can become more educated on the various aspects of running a snow and ice management profit center. There is a national snow symposium put on by Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA) each year where snow contractors can gain more insight regarding how to plow snow and make a profit. The SIMA Symposium is also where manufacturers can introduce new products to the snow fighting industry.

The recently formed Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA) has embarked on a mission to educate mature snow contracting firms about the intricacies of running a snow business, how national issues affect their businesses, and how to better prepare for the business challenges ahead. Additionally, the ASCA focuses on addressing legislative and insurance issues that plague those who participate in snow-related services. ASCA recently introduced the first-ever written industry standards for the snow contracting industry. And the ISO certification programs introduced by the ASCA will allow progressive business owners involved in snow and ice management to become better at managing the inherent risks that come with “snow.”

The Snowfighters Institute was born to “forever pursue research and develop snow industry training.” This is the first entity fully dedicated to educational pursuits as they pertain to the snow and ice management industry. Here, snow contractors of all sizes gather to discuss specific topics pertaining to all aspects of managing and running a snow contracting operation.

The first (and, to date, the only) book dedicated to the snow industry (“Managing Snow and Ice”) arrived in 2002. A second edition of that book was published in 2011 because 50 percent of the information put forth in the original was outdated. Surely, more books dedicated to the private contractors in the white industry will be forthcoming.

These are all good signs for the white industry. However, even with all the advancements in education among snow contractors one tends to wonder where the industry will be 10 years from now?

In the second edition of his book “Managing Snow and Ice,” author John Allin was asked to dream about what might happen in the future of snow and ice management. Number 1 on Allin’s list involved the potential for software to allow for plowers in the truck to report back to the office, instantaneously, what was done, and automatically invoice for the snowplow service provider’s time and charges while at the same time generating customer invoices — all within minutes of completing the task. This is now a reality.

Number 3 on Allin’s list was computerized deicing applications that automatically distributes the proper amount of product depending upon conditions, and then automatically report to the office what has been accomplished. This reality is less than a year away.

Number 4 was the publication of written industry standards. This too is now a reality.

Number 5 is the development of an entity dedicated to educating the full spectrum of those involved in all aspects of managing snow and ice. This too is very near reality, and should be fully implemented in the next year.

How long before the other, remaining “dreams” put forth in that book become reality? Time will certainly tell. However, with the acceleration of visibility within the white industry, the influence of forward thinking individuals and the rapid advancements in technology, overall, the future might just be around the next corner.

Formerly the Executive Director of the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA) from 1996-2006, Tammy Johnson, MBA, CAE, is the executive director of the Snowfighters Institute located in Erie, Pa. She can be reached at 814-455-1991 or via e-mail at Tammy@snowfightersinstitute.com

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