EMPLOYEE TRAINING COSTS AND BENEFITS
Why go to such lengths? “We are asking a lot of these people,” says Burt. “They are operating at height [i.e., well off the ground, with the risks implicit], with a large group of people, sometimes for more than three hours.” Guides must be able to nurture an almost instantaneous trust between guide and client. They must also be able to recognize a problem and “help somebody who gets into a bad scenario,” says Burt.
Navitat’s intensive employee training is primarily Burt’s idea, he says, and one that has evolved and been refined over time. Burt has been in the adventure-park industry since 2004, when he worked for Alaska Canopy Adventures in Ketchikan. The curriculum is regularly tweaked from year to year—“upgrades to keep up with the newest industry standards,” Burt says. Johnston goes a step further: “We want to go above and beyond what the rest of the industry is doing.”
In all, says Burt, the employee training program costs the company roughly $30,000 annually, a sizeable chunk of change for a relatively small operation. But Burt figures that’s a savvy investment, since training might prevent or minimize an incident that could cost the company much more.
And there are other benefits beyond liability protection. Burt believes that a well-trained staff gives Navitat a competitive advantage over other, less adventurous activities in the region. The relationship between guides and visitors is a very personal, trust-infused one. After all, Navitat clients are relying on guides to lead them through an adventure that is often designed deliberately to take them out of their comfort zone. The guides are an integral part of the experience.
And customers recognize the value of a well-trained staff, says Burt. He points to reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, where Navitat receives top ratings across the board. On Trip Advisor, 509 of 534 reviewers give Navitat a top rating of excellent. That computes to a rating of excellent from more than 95 percent of Navitat’s visitors.
In their reviews, customers regularly cite the professionalism, knowledge, friendliness, and diligence of the guides. The direct effect of that skilled guide staff on the bottom line might not be quantifiable, but it clearly contributes to the park’s reputation. Simply put, a well-trained staff means more revenue.
Intensive employee training is strictly a company choice for Navitat, not a legal requirement. There are no specific safety or operational regulations at the local or state level. However, says Burt, insurance companies take note of Navitat’s extraordinary safety measures and extend the company “a high level of trust,” says Burt. That has translated, in the past, into lower premiums for both liability and workers’ comp.
Employees and potential employees also seem to appreciate the effort that Navitat commits to developing a skilled and professional staff. The intensive training engenders among employees a valuable camaraderie; they have a sense of shared mission and a collective pride in their job. Says Johnston: “A huge part of it is the team atmosphere. We take great pride in what we do, and a lot of that comes from the training.”
There’s another benefit. “Our investment in training definitely pays off,” says Burt, when it comes to staff recruitment and retention. In a typical year, Navitat receives more than 200 resumes to fill approximately 40 spots. And the return rate for employees is close to 50 percent, according to Johnston, a fairly high number for a seasonal business.
A skilled, loyal, and professional staff, satisfied customers, and increased revenue—Navitat is a great case study in the value of thorough employee training. It is a value that might not be easy to quantify, but it surely affects the comfort level of guests, as well as the bottom line.