Overlooked Strategies of Successful Custodial Training Programs
- How to Boost Retention Through Custodial Training
Every in-house cleaning manager can agree on the importance of a well-crafted training program laying the foundation for a reliable department. Unfortunately, when it comes to how exactly that can be assured, opinions diverge in countless directions. The unique nature of every facility and the personalities tasked with cleaning it makes a universal template impossible, and the challenge of optimized training a never-ending task for committed managers.
While there’s no way to fully guarantee that cleaning protocols will be mistake-free and custodians remain fully committed to their craft, departments can vastly improve their chances by understanding some of the common pitfalls of flawed training programs. Then, once effective methods are in place, managers can take their efforts a step further and use those training courses to develop a committed, engaged workforce for years to come.
Overlooked Training Components
Even if a custodial program successfully incorporates the right topics for its training, effectiveness can fall to the wayside if the frequency or method of learning isn’t a good fit. Bill McGarvey, director of training and sustainability for Imperial Dade, Bordentown, New Jersey, emphasizes a drawn-out plan — particularly in the early stages for new custodians — to avoid any kind of contradictory knowledge being taught.
One common mistake frontline cleaning managers make is assigning training to an experienced custodian, but not going over the process of what to teach because of an assumption that they already do everything correctly due to their tenure. Combine that lack of preparation with a lack of consistency in who’s conducting training sessions and it’s easy to cause confusion regarding protocol and everyday tasks.
“I think it’s consistency that often takes a back seat,” says McGarvey. “A cohesive program is needed that makes sense for the trainee and the trainers. A program that takes on different looks over the initial few days is far more likely to commit operational errors on seemingly simple projects.”
McGarvey adds that it’s up to leadership to make sure trainees and trainers alike understand the importance of what they are doing from an occupant health and safety perspective. A 20-year custodial veteran may understand the value behind the job that they do, but perhaps they aren’t articulating it in the best way for new custodians. It’s up to management to account for the possibility and ensure it doesn’t happen.
Echoing those sentiments, Bill Griffin, CEO of Cleaning Consultant Services in Seattle, says staff involvement is key to ensuring the most optimal results of different trainings. The years of experience potential custodial trainers have doesn’t always correlate to how well they can explain the ins-and-outs, or whether they fully understand the importance of the task in question. He adds that too often, departments also overemphasize the “butts in chairs” philosophy in which attendance is the most important component of training.
“Even if what frontline workers are being shown is accurate, far too often staff is not involving trainees enough in an interactive setting,” notes Griffin. “Involving the students in the class works wonders for retaining information, and you've always got somebody that's really good at something. The reality is that the potential for training takes place any time you can interact with an individual.”
Once interaction is implemented in the training and staff is in-tune with the importance of the protocols, facility cleaning managers can focus on training consistency. Without a proper series of follow-ups in the days following an initial class, the odds of key information being forgotten skyrocket no matter how in-depth the original session was. For emergency-related training, failing to follow-up can be detrimental.
“If you repeat something three different ways in a short period of time and get the individual to give you feedback about it, then the mind automatically recognizes that as being more important,” says Griffin. “It doesn’t need to be a time-consuming practice, either. A quick huddle the day after fire training to reinforce where the fire extinguishers are on a floor, for example, can make the difference when an actual scenario arises.”
Griffin adds that the way in which information is shared can also make the difference for whether it is truly retained by trainees. The biggest red flag he hears when discussing programs with cleaning managers is the session duration. Departments that conduct eight-hour crash course orientation sessions may think there’s an efficiency boost by passing along so much important information within a one-day span — but the reality is most of the content is falling on deaf ears after a certain point.
“Sometimes I’ll ask them, ‘After eight hours, what do you think they remembered?’ and they’ll say, ‘Well, we covered safety, employment rules and timecards,” laments Griffin. “Here’s all that most of them probably remembered after the eight hours: Thursday at 4 p.m. is payday. The rest of the training likely went over their head because that’s really what they’re wanting to know about.”
To prevent the likelihood of this happening, Griffin instead recommends a micro-learning approach in which smaller amounts of information are given with consistency reinforcement after each point. The trainees will also appreciate more short-form methods because they showcase that management cares about the content being shared — whereas a long-form seminar can give the impression that what is being shared is strictly checking a box.
McGarvey adds that while the pandemic led to the growth of new training methods and mediums, facility cleaning managers need to be wary that new isn’t always better. A key example that comes to mind for McGarvey is the influx of new video-focused training. The sheer convenience and abundance of information available to frontline crews is an exciting prospect, but the responsibility is on facility managers to vet the accuracy of what is being pitched as a potential addition or modification to a training program. “Over the years, I couldn't tell you how many videos I have refused to use because while they may be correct about their product, something else in the process that they're doing in that video is wrong,” McGarvey reflects. “One manufacturer was showing how to apply floor finish, and the guy kept hitting the baseboard with the finish mop. I said, ‘That's it. We're not using this video.’ The tools can help, but we still have to stay true to the conventional methods.”
How to Boost Retention Through Custodial Training