Water Ways

The Watts Works Learning Center builds relationships while teaching the latest in water technology.

– By Jason Schneider

Michael Breault, senior technical instructor and senior instructional designer, Watts Water Technologies.

“If it touches water, we touch it,” says Michael Breault, senior technical instructor and senior instructional designer, Watts Water Technologies. It’s something he tells everyone who comes for training at the Watts Works Learning Center. And it’s an accurate statement, from the company’s product line to the com- pany’s headquarters, which Breault de- scribes as a “living lab” where its prod- ucts are tested and used.

The learning center, located at Watts’ global headquarters in North Andover, Mass., is the main training facility for the Americas. The company has two other training facilities in the United States (St. Pauls, N.C., and Woodland, Calif.) and three outside the U.S., in Biassono, Italy; Dubai, UAE; and Seoul, South Korea. Breault says the learning center opened four years ago and comprises 12,000 square feet, which includes a reception and snack area, wet lab, and three classrooms. The modular class- rooms each have a 96-inch screen for presentations.

‘Custom fit’ training

Training at Watts Works Learning Center, says Breault, is custom- designed based on the attendees— usually contractors, engineers, or wholesalers—and what they need. Training can be as specific or as high- level as the customer wants.

“We try to custom fit [the training] to what our people need,” he says. “Do you want high-altitude? Do you want hands-on? Do you want in-depth? What are we going to cover? And then we’ll tell you how long it’s going to take. If one or two days is too much, I can do six hours—then we start focusing it so we can be very specific in what we’re doing.”

There are three principal instructors, Breault adds, “but we have a large variety of subject matter experts, product engineers, and product management teams who will come in, and depending on what level of training we’re doing, give us some assistance.”

Showcasing water technology

The mechanical room in the head- quarters building showcases many of the company’s products. “This was built to be a fully functional space too, so we took advantage of the opportunity to in- corporate as many Watts products as we have,” Breault says. The products there, used for heat and hot water for the building and snow melting for the sidewalks outside, are tied into the building management system.

QR codes on the equipment in the mechanical room demonstrate another Watts innovation. In September 2018, Watts launched a new mobile app that works with QR codes on their products. The QR codes allow easy access to product details, registration, installation and service notes, and reminders for future service and inspections.

“You can scan that QR code and it’ll take you right to the landing page for that ball valve or water heater or boiler,” says Breault. “Let’s say I set up the boiler and put in my notes. A second contractor can scan that QR code and get all my notes. It provides a bit of a legacy for the contractor.”

The training facility’s wet lab, like the classrooms, also has a modular design to accommodate groups of varying size and can be set up for a variety of demonstrations and hands-on learning. “We can do radiant floor installations, we can do hydronic heating, we can do residential, we can do commercial,” says Breault. “We can do drains, and we can hook up to a six-inch valve and do train- ing. Any product that Watts sells is avail- able in this particular lab.”

The lab, he notes, is scheduled to undergo some updates in the next year to reflect some of Watts’ new products and technologies. “[The lab] will be a lot more interactive, too, in the sense that we’ll have iPad stations that not only describe what’s going on, but allow you to access the mobile apps and gateways and various ways we have of communicating with the systems,” he says. “We’re going to tie everything all together so you’re going to be able to play with it.”

The Training Experience

Training at Watts Works Learning Center is usually coordinated through manufacturers’ representatives. Reps talk to wholesalers, who hear from contractors interested in training on certain products. The reps then contact Watts to see if instructors and training are available. “We usually work on about a 45-day window, just because of the amount of people that we have coming through,” says Breault. Arrangements are then made, if needed, for hotels and transportation. “We try to make it a good experience, so depending on the size of the customer, we may be able to do some- thing like take them to see a Sox game, to see the Patriots, go down to Salem for a witch tour,” he adds. “We’ll try to make it a little bit more social for them.”

For Watts, it’s about creating a nice experience. “After all, it’s not just product training, it’s also a chance for us to establish a relationship with somebody. We don’t say, ‘You’re here for training. Don’t bug me after that,’” says Breault. “[I give] every person who comes through here my business card. If you have a question on what we talked about, send me an email, shoot me a text. We’re here to help and develop that relationship, be- cause it’s really important for us and a lot of people just don’t even realize how big a product line we have.”

Learning and improving

Having people in for training benefits Watts as well, and helps improve the products they sell. “It’s a two-way street,” says Breault. “It’s not only [the customers] coming in here to learn about stuff, but it’s also giving us a chance to learn about them.” He says instructors are able to learn about customers’ pain points on the products, then take that information to Watts’ product management team. “Maybe we can use that to improve the product,” he adds. “It helps build a good team relationship and gives us some feedback.”

The training program at Watts also undergoes review so that it’s relevant and effective. “We’re always doing a cycle of improvement on our programs, and it’s very much a team effort,” he says. Once a training program is developed, says Breault, “it goes to our product management team, it goes to our subject matter experts, and we say, ‘Rip it apart. If there’s something wrong in here, we need to know.’ And once everybody comes to a consensus, that’s how it works and it’s standard company-wide.”

Breault says there’s been more change in water technology in the last 10 years than in the last 50 years. “Things are becoming so much more technologically connected,” he says. “Computers have been around for a long time, but it’s really just starting to find its way into building management and it’s making a big difference. “And how can you showcase that? It’s training facilities like this, because [technology] is changing far faster than it has been. No matter how much technology goes into it, someone is still going to have to go and fix it.”