"How'd you end up here?" That's a question that Janice Reed, technical director and entomologist with Austin-based ABC Pest & Lawn, often gets when she visits a customer with a bug problem. But contrary to what many might believe, pest control is a "perfect" industry for women, says Reed. "Most callers are women, and they automatically are more at ease if you are a woman."
Gender aside, it's also a good industry for those who like autonomy in their workday, who like interacting with and helping people and who like a good salary. A lack of fear of bugs might help, too.
"We really need high-quality employees," says Cynthia Mannes, director of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association which includes almost 5,000 pest control companies. "We think there's a shortage because of public perception."
Contrary to that perception, the industry needs high-caliber people who are willing to learn a lot from the outset. While you don't need a college degree, you need a clean driving record, to pass a drug test and to possess problem-solving skills. And yes, you will get dirty. "You would be handling chemicals," says Mannes. "You'll be crawling under houses, looking for damage."
The compensation is nothing to be bugged about. Mannes estimates a starting salary, depending on region, at about $27,000 a year. At a major corporation like Orkin, the starting salary could be as high as $30,000, says Gary Lewis, route manager for Orkin. That comes with full benefits and paid vacations.
Typically, pest control companies will train you once they hire you -- and there's a lot to learn. At the 30,000-square-foot Orkin University in Atlanta, trainees spend a week getting acquainted with everything from various insect habits to different state regulations on pest control. They practice in simulated residential and commercial settings -- a kitchen, warehouse, supermarket, hotel room, hospital room and even a locker room, says Craig Goodwin, Orkin director of training. There is also a termite pavilion.
A trainee may go on to specialize in termite control, in general pest control or both, says Mannes. He might also choose to specialize in either the commercial market or the residential market. "You need good customer skills and verbal skills," Mannes says. "You must look professional and be willing to exude that personality. And you need to be technically competent. It's not just about going in and spraying chemicals."
What to Expect
You will get a uniform and a route along which you set your schedule in conjunction with the customers' needs. "There will be a variety of accounts -- from the hospitality industry to medical facilities, retail, warehousing and food manufacturers," says Lewis. "You're not going to be bored. You have the flexibility to talk to your customers and fit them into the schedule that pleases them and you." Another perk of the job, he adds, is that "you're not tied to a desk. You have freedom of movement."
Inspecting a house or facility top to bottom may include crawling, trench-digging and climbing, plus setting baits, gels, traps and wearing protective equipment when needed, notes Mannes.
There is indeed a risk of getting stung, says Reed. On the other hand, Reed has had women cry in gratitude; technicians say they are often regarded as extended family members.
Because bugs are always evolving, so is the industry. "Training has a short shelf life because of technological changes," says Goodwin. Moreover, companies like Orkin are constantly striving to improve their services. "Last year, we launched a mosquito service," says Goodwin. "So people learned to identify the different species, their habits and learn the protocol for managing them."
Along with the solid income and customer gratitude you can expect to make if you dedicate yourself to pest control, "you're dealing with living creatures and biology, and it's fascinating," Mannes says. She points out that not so long ago, major cities were vulnerable to plagues because of the uncontrolled spread of pests. Even now, Lyme disease, bedbugs, asthma-related infestation and the West Nile virus make the news. "We really do protect public health."