Creating a state-sanctioned training program that develops skilled workers and benefits the entire industry

There have been many articles written about the shortage of qualified labor in today’s work world. The fact is, our schools have not done the best job at producing skilled trade workers. I believe there are a variety of reasons for this. I also believe that if one were to start classifying trades as skilled versus non-skilled, folks who chose custodial labor as a career would likely fall into the un-skilled classification.

Of course, there can be un-skilled people in any career category, but to broad brush an entire industry as un-skilled is a misunderstanding of the work. In fact, the role that custodians play in the health, safety and cleanliness of our workplaces classifies this career choice as a pretty important component to the work world.

That realization is what drove me to make a change [at Newport News Public Schools] — for the betterment of my facilities and the industry as a whole. My goal was to create a training program designed to develop highly skilled employees within the cleaning industry.

Getting Started

I became involved in the custodial industry in 2007 as a result of a job promotion. Until that time, I had been an outside observer of how the custodial workforce in my school division operated. I’d watch how custodial operations functioned and say to myself, “If I was in charge, I’d do things differently.” Of course, we’re all guilty of doing that — looking at another person’s job and assuming we could do it better. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy.

Upon entering this industry, as all good leaders and managers are taught, I observed and talked with the staff, but didn’t make any drastic changes. What I found was a dedicated workforce that was trying to do the right thing. They just weren’t as successful as they could have been.

I had about 300 custodians maintaining 4.2 million square feet. Some were non-contracted, non-benefit, part-time employees that were less invested. I also saw that I had about 300 different ways of mopping the floor, or vacuuming — choose a task and there were a variety of methods to accomplish it.

After this realization, I decided that a comprehensive, programmatic training process was needed. At the scale I had to address, I knew it was neither going to be fast nor a one-time endeavor.

I started by hiring a training specialist from the healthcare industry. She came in, assessed the situation and began the groundwork for the training program I wanted. We developed standard operating procedures, broke down the work flow into tasks, created easy to follow task instructions and began the process of rolling it out.

Our trainer — although initially looked at with a skeptical eye — soon became loved by the workforce. She worked alongside the staff, she held mini classes, and she enlisted the help of the folks who grasped the message quickly. In short, she embraced the workforce and was a fountain of positivity regarding a task that many thought was going to be a pain. But then she moved on to greener pastures, leaving us to wonder what our next step would be.

We soon realized that our home-grown efforts were not sufficient and began to look at third-party training programs. New trainers were sent to Cleaning Management Institute’s (CMI) Custodial Technician Certification program for “train the trainer” classes.

Through the program, we learned that employee recognition is an important component to successful departments. Studies will tell you that people are not on the job solely for money, they crave confirmation and acknowledgement — although at the typical wage level of a custodian, salary is also an important consideration. So we addressed all of the above.

Upon completion of the “Basic” or “Advanced” levels of the CMI coursework, staff received a one-time bonus, as well as recognition in front of all their peers at our annual meeting. The superintendent of schools and the school board chairman presented a certificate to each graduate and honored their commitment to the department.

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Groundwork To Launching A Custodial Training Program