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Behind the scenes: The birth of Start Smart Training™


One of the most enduring brands in the field of construction training is VISTA’s Start Smart Training™. It stands for affordable training that helps new equipment operators understand the basic operation and safety of the machines they’ll be using. This practical approach was the focus of VISTA Training when Ray Peterson founded the company in 1991. We recently interviewed him to get a deeper sense of the inspiration behind Start Smart Training™: VISTA: How did your career lead to the formation of VISTA Training? Ray: For 25 years prior to 1991, I worked in a number of field positions for a major manufacturer of construction and farm equipment. There, I developed close relationships with the owners and operators of equipment, and really got to understand their needs. At the time, most equipment manufacturers only produced basic materials that described the machine’s controls and operating modes. They didn’t really address basic operation, common machine tasks or safety issues that were common to that type of equipment. Legal counsel for most manufacturers usually discouraged involvement in direct operator training, for fear that it could lead to increased product liability exposure. When legal issues involving a company product did arise, the manufacturer would use the extensive information provided in the equipment operators manual as their primary line of defense. Ironically, nothing has changed in over 20 years - it’s still that way today, for the most part! As a result, equipment owners often asked me where they could get effective operator training. I didn’t have anything I could recommend to them at the time, because no one was really doing it. I asked my company management to give me budget to produce this type of in-depth, task-focused training, but my requests were repeatedly rejected. After a few years of managing the manufacturer’s internal product training department, I was assigned to its international division to manage the same basic training duties, but on a worldwide scale. It was an eye-opening experience. I traveled throughout the world doing equipment familiarization and training on safe, efficient operation. The operators I met were usually bright and eager to learn, dedicated to the opportunity being offered them and patient beyond belief. They were generally a lot of fun to work with, too. But they were often unaware of what was required to operate their machines safely and productively. It became even more obvious to me that the manufacturers were not giving them what they really needed. VISTA: So how did those experiences lead to the concept of Start Smart Training? Ray: The a-ha moment came to me during an equipment orientation session in the Middle East. I was meeting with some project supervisors, discussing training priorities, when one of the group leaders remarked: "Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had some sort of packaged pre-operation training to help our operators better understand what they are expected to do when they get on the actual equipment? It would save endless hours of trial-and-error learning and probably reduce equipment damage if they could only start a little smarter." That "start smart" concept stuck in my head. When I decided to start my own training company a few years later to tackle this need for operator-focused training, I decided to use Start Smart Training as part of the branding of VISTA’s products. VISTA: What made these training programs unique? Ray: Th

ey were more than just training videos. We created printed leader guides and student tests so that trainers could evaluate the knowledge comprehension of their students. In a sense, they became self-contained mini-courses. Here’s another example: The dialogue of the videos was scripted to speak to the operators in language they could easily relate to. Most of the scenes were shot on working job sites using experienced operators in real-world settings. We also incorporated a bit of humor into them, including memorable, helpful sayings that later became known as "Rayisms." The bottom line is that focusing on the needs of new and inexperienced operators was a smart place for VISTA to start, because it led to a lot of growth and success over the years. Since VISTA was founded in 1991, the company has been employed by fleet owners, government agencies and equipment manufacturers to do product and task-specific equipment operator training all over the world. VISTA: How does the idea of Start Smart influence the company’s focus today? Ray: Even though the company has grown, its core focus is still on the needs of entry-level and less-experienced operators. Our goal is to enable equipment operators to go home safely to their families at the end of each work day. We believe that basic equipment operator knowledge should be both affordable and readily available. Regardless of the make and model of equipment the operator will be using, we help them understand the principles of safe and productive operation. In other words, we help them to "start smart." Ray Peterson retired from VISTA Training in 2001. He now lives in upstate New York with his wife, Judy. He continues to serve as a strategic advisor to the company. Pictured above right are VISTA CEO Bruce Rabe (left), Ray Peterson (center) and VISTA president Rick Longstaff (right). Check out all our Start Smart Training

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