Employee running through a target

When we think of the word professional, what comes to mind? A doctor? A lawyer? A firefighter? Yes, but usually not a school custodian. Why is this the case?

One of my greatest professional opportunities occurred when my school district adopted a new pest management program that can reduce asthma triggers and create better indoor air quality in schools. Since its implementation 13 years ago, this program has been very successful in our district, reducing the amount of pesticide used in our schools by nearly 99 percent. The effectivensss stems from advocating a common sense approach quite different from a conventional pest control program — that is, instead of pesticide as the first line of defense, it now is used only as a final step and only in the least toxic amounts in order to get the job done. This new line of defense works by using education and communication.

This article is not about pest management; rather, it is about creating a more professional workforce. So why bring up our pest management program? Very simply, because adopting a pest management program based on collaboration and education has enabled our custodial force to be the pest management professionals for their buildings. The key word here is “professional.”

By educating our employees on the importance of what they are doing and getting them to think about the mechanics of how it is done, we stimulate the learning process, allowing them to take a more active part in their own growth.

Seeking Improvement

Applying these same principles to other areas of custodial work, we begin to create more areas in which our custodians are well-rounded professionals. Whether it is pest management or recycling, becoming the master of one’s craft will raise an employee’s level of professionalism. So, what are the actual steps to developing, and then supporting, a more professional workforce?

  1. Educate employees on the importance of what they are doing. This means not just telling/showing them what to do, but teaching them why it should be done so they can see the results of their labor.
  2. Examine the process and cultural practices that stimulate thinking. Helping employees understand the mechanics of what they are doing quite often involves their participation in finding common sense approaches to resolve the issues at hand.
  3. Emphasize to employees the importance of communication. This applies to both coworkers and building patrons.
  4. Create and encourage a culture of learning and sharing. Employees should be emboldened to seek knowledge and discuss with their colleagues what they have learned. This shows staff that they are valued and respected, which is particularly important in public schools where budgets can be very tight and it is often difficult — if not impossible — to raise pay or give performance bonuses.

What else can you do to create a more professional workforce? Begin by including employees in decision-making processes. This stimulates thinking and in-turn helps to empower employees, give them a sense of belonging and foster their confidence. By stimulating learning, you will find that their level of common sense usually will increase. More efficient ways to perform tasks might also be discovered; an essential part of mastering one’s craft.

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Supplying Tools Staff Need To Succeed