Turnover is a concern in the environmental services industry, too. For Bill Tresise, Director of Environmental Services at Somerset Hospital in Sumerset, Pennsylvania, turnover was a problem in the past when his department outsourced.

“The people were changing almost daily,” he recalls. “So today, we have an entirely in-house operation.”

Tresise is able to keep threats from outside contractors at bay by proving his department’s success, conducting customer service surveys and listening to contractors to learn what they are offering.

“You have to prove your purpose,” advises Tresise. “And in a hospital facility, that’s infection control rates. We use those rates, our patient satisfaction responses, and our budget as hard facts to help explain the value we offer to administration.”

When contractors come knocking on Tresise’s door, he always invites them in to bid. After the contractor explains their pitch, Tresise will usually go to a facility they manage and walk through the public spaces. This way, he can see almost immediately if their work is up to snuff.

“You can tell from just looking at those public, common areas almost immediately how the rest of the building is being maintained,” he says.

Keith Webb has spoken with contractors in the past when they have come knocking at his district, too. He discusses his challenges with them frankly, to see if they can provide solutions.

“I tell them that my biggest issue is turnover, and ask how they could help him with that,” says Webb. “But outsourcing companies couldn’t guarantee that they would be any better because they are drawing from the same pool of people as I am. The only difference is that they are paying them less.”

Webb also points out that the school division pays his employees benefits, while contractors don’t typically offer benefits unless you offer a milestone of service.

Keep Your Enemy Close

Ricky Martinez, Assistant Custodial Supervisor with Salt Lake City School District in Utah, also takes meetings with contractors who come in to bid on his school’s cleaning contract. They generally call on the district a few times every year.

“We get threatened all the time with outsourcing because they want business, and school districts are a good place to target,” says Martinez. “It’s good for us, because in those presentations, we can see what they are going to do to undercut us. It’s about knowing your enemy.”

The way Martinez sees it, his team of custodians do a lot more than clean their buildings on a set schedule.

“Our staff plays a key role in after school programs such as community education, plays, parent/teacher conferences and sporting events,” he says. “We not only adjust our routine cleaning schedule around these events, we also help with the set up and clean up. Contracted cleaning services are not as willing to be as flexible or accommodating of the needs of the schools. If they are, it is an added cost to their contract.”

Martinez believes that the best way to build your case against outsourcing is to have the most professional department and the most professional custodians possible.

“It’s difficult to have contractors come in and say, ‘We can do that and save money,’” he says. “But most of the reason that happens is because they will compromise on service. The reason many facilities opt to go with a contractor is because they aren’t happy with the service.”

As professionals in this industry, managers must be prepared to fight for in-house jobs.

“As managers, you have to be the watchmen on the tower; you have to know what the competition is doing to be more professional and make your people more marketable,” says Martinez. “You want to invest in career employees, and not just spend on jobs. Only then can you market your work as a long-term investment, not an expense.” 

NICOLE BOWMAN is a freelancer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Fighting For Insourced Cleaning