Gain Respect for the Industry Through ‘Learning by Doing’ Experiences

Gain Respect for the Industry Through ‘Learning by Doing’ Experiences

Karleen Kos is executive director of the Portable Sanitation Association International. She may be reached at or 952-854-8300.

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“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Ben Franklin

Any adult who has ever tried to get a kid to tie their shoe knows that you can’t merely talk him or her through it and expect a bow to appear. Similarly, no one learns to ride a bicycle just by having it explained. The novice has to try it a few times, fall a few times, and have dad run along holding the seat until staying upright suddenly becomes second nature.

As we think about improving the image of the portable sanitation industry, we do well to remember this idea. People are not going to respect portable sanitation just because we tell them they should. So how can we apply “learning by doing” to getting some respect for our industry and your business? I suggest the following:

  • • Teach your customers how to respect your equipment by engaging them in the actual process of problem-solving. T-shirts in the tank? Invite customers to view the tank with you and maybe even try fishing the shirt out for themselves. Toilet paper disappears? Have the site supervisor be the person who stores it and replaces it. Whatever the problem on the site, try to get the responsible party to engage with you and the equipment physically. If you can move from talking to doing, the person in charge is more likely to “get it” and help change things for the better.
  • • Teach the public to respect portable sanitation by educating them about our industry. As you probably already know, people outside our industry are often fascinated by what we do. Turn these interested parties into ambassadors by letting them “get their hands (a little) dirty.” If you have clean equipment you can use to provide a demonstration on an event site or at a community gathering, show them how a unit is placed, prepared, pumped and cleaned. To the extent that your insurance allows, you might even let some folks try pumping clean (of course!) water out of a unit after you have let them use a pair of tongs to remove a soda can, a pair of briefs, and a diaper from the tank. Doing this will offer a powerful lesson about how things really work.
  • • Teach the next generation to respect your business by reporting all substantial vandalism to the police and the media. As the press picks up the stories, we have seen these incidents become a net win for the company and the industry when the (usually teenaged male) culprits are caught. Collaborating with the judge or prosecuting attorney, the offenders are invited to do community service or pay a fine by working it off with the portable sanitation company or spending some time observing the work getting done. With luck, the thoughtless kid learns something. Even if he doesn’t, though, the community learns about you and your business from the publicity you receive.

There’s another old saying: People respond to incentives. We, as an industry, need to create ways for customers and the public to get something positive out of interacting with our industry. We can’t always control their experience using a unit. We can, however, control the experiences we create that incentivize the public to learn about portable sanitation. If you get good at offering learning-by-doing experiences, you’ll discover that respect for our industry is possible. Soon, it will be as natural as riding a bike.


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