The facilities services department at The University of Texas at Austin set a goal to "become a world-class facilities management organization, known by our customers and the nation for setting the benchmark in excellence and continuous improvement."

With 342 custodial services employees servicing 12 million square feet in 130 buildings, the department has met that goal time and again. The secret to the department's success is a comprehensive and continuously evolving training program that keeps employees at the top of their game.

"We are always looking at improving the performance of the cleaning services overall, and improving employee satisfaction," says Sally Moore, facilities services' associate director for custodial services. "In order to do that, we realized that having a strong training component was going to be integral to that effort."

The launch of what has become one of the more impressive training programs in the industry today began with the implementation of team cleaning in 2001 as a way to define employee expectations and set evenhanded workloads. Once that process was perfected, management had the foresight to expand custodial training as a way to create standards and parity among workers, as well as become the world-class department they were striving for.

To kick off the initiative, Mike Miller, director of facilities services, introduced a training team specifically dedicated to the needs of custodial services, a rarity for most in-house departments. Miller brought in Bobby Moddrell, custodial services training manager, to manage the four-person department and take the training program to the next level.

"We are always trying to continually improve the custodial operations, find new ways that are more effective, more efficient and better for the employees," Moddrell says about the evolving custodial training program, which provides roughly 12,000 hours of training every year.

Commence Training

With a training team in place, the first item of business was to focus on orientation of new employees, which consumes the first 100 hours of a worker's career at UT.

The first 40 hours cover compliance, employee health and safety, and UT facilities services orientation. The next 24 hours take place in the classroom and focus on cleaning processes. That is followed up by 36 hours of hands-on training in the field, after which each new employee is transferred to their designated crew.

At the conclusion of orientation, all management and supervisory teams are brought in for a meet-and-greet with new employees. Moore comments that this allows newcomers the opportunity to meet supervisors ahead of time and learn more about the teams they'll be working on.

"This process gives us an opportunity to communicate what our goals and expectations are, and it gives people a chance to really understand what we are about before they are out in the field," says Moddrell.

This detailed training at the onset of employment in the department sets the tone for expectations moving forward.

Continuing Education

After employees have "graduated" from orientation, comprehensive training continues for all custodial staff members. Miller comments that continuous training keeps people sharp and gives them the confidence they need to do their jobs, which is why he is a strong proponent of regular retraining and refresher training.

"We have people that move from one specialty to another, just to keep them fresh and so they don't get bored," he says. "That means they have a different set of tasks to accomplish and there is refresher training that goes along with it."

As employees are shuffled around, the mandatory 40 hours of training a year provide management the opportunity to communicate expectations of cleanliness and benchmark successes of the education program. These retraining sessions also identify areas of education that need adjusting.

For example, UT provides extensive classroom and hands-on training covering processes such as infection control. As time goes on and pandemics emerge, the necessary cleaning methods may change and training personnel are not too proud to adjust the education in order to accommodate those changes.

"To audit the training process, we do 510-point inspections," Moddrell says. "We work with the crew for eight hours and do an evaluation/inspection covering all the points of the process: how it is carried out; what tools are used; and how they are used."

The twice-a-year inspection also includes employee health and safety items and a communication component between supervisors and subordinates and coworkers.

These audits provide a valuable information exchange between workers and management. They are also used as a test to determine the effectiveness of the training program.

"All the auditing that goes on makes the program better and helps address issues employees find as a result of working out in the field," says Miller. "Employees understand that it's not used for a performance evaluation or for disciplinary actions, which is why I think it has been fairly well received."

The Custodial Lab

With a full staff dedicated to custodial training and a schedule that never slows down, it makes sense to have an area on campus dedicated solely to training and education. Along with the formal introduction of custodial training in 2001 came an almost 4,000 square foot training complex exclusively for custodial training use. This type of space is unique for any department.

"We put a lot of thought into the main training room," Moore says. "It features a variety of floor surfaces that can be found throughout campus, for which employees can test cleaning methods on various surfaces and finishes."

The room also houses a mock restroom, a wall of mirrors, and a mock-up of alarm systems used throughout campus to educate workers on different security and call-in procedures. The open-concept room allows for testing and training, while providing adequate space for a group of employees to observe comfortably — as oppose to squeezing into tight areas.

"We have tried to give the training group a setting where they have everything they need so they wont have to spend a lot of time going out to find these areas on campus to train workers," says Moore. "It is a very robust setup that we are really happy to have."

Any department would be elated to have such a room dedicated solely to training, and Miller comments that it is more doable than one might think. The most difficult part is identifying a space that can house the training. Once Miller found the space, he used very little money and in-house services to construct a state-of-the-art training space.

"It wasn't difficult to convince people to help and it really wasn't that expensive," he insists. "There was a restroom across the hall already, so it didn't take too much work to create the wet area. Then we put some floor finishes down, some surplus carpeting, wall finishes and a lot of old supplies found throughout campus."

To furnish the "Custodial Lab," Moore stresses the importance of salvaging materials from areas on campus that are being renovated, such as furniture scheduled for recycling or mirrors from old restrooms.

"We relocated many of these supplies to our training area," she says. "There is a way to piece these things together that ends up having a very minimal cost and big impact."

Training 2.0

With a management team that is a strong proponent of continuous education, it is no surprise that UT takes training to the next level. In addition to new employee and yearly retraining, Moddrell and his team provide bilingual courses, leadership training and certification opportunities to the custodial crew.

Leadership training is conducted six times a year with all crew leaders and supervisors. This is provided in addition to the required 40 hours of retraining every year, and supplies crew leaders with communication recommendations, proper documentation training and management skills they need to effectively work with their staff.

Moddrell also conducts certification training, which consists of eight hours of classroom education, followed by a test that requires a 100 percent score. Certification training is available three to four times a year for larger groups and is available to any employee on a volunteer basis.

Those who achieve certification become specialists in four areas: light duty, vacuum, restroom and utility. Accomplishing this optional training will often provide employees  a leg up on the competition when applying for the next level of a position.

"We focus on training as a way to develop people within the organization," Miller says. "Then they can promote when positions become available."

Benefits of Training

In addition to growth opportunities, the training programs are a means by which UT standardizes work processes across campus and provides parity among the staff. Training also outlines the tools — tangible items and training on how/why to clean — workers need to do the jobs management expects.

"I think that is very important and, to me, that is the main reason we provide so much training," adds Miller.

This dedication to training has provided UT with many benefits. The open communication education yields contributes to employee satisfaction and overall retention. The program has also helped improve safety among the staff.

Prior to implementing training, the custodial crew would experience a lot of sprains and strains. As training increased its focus on proper use of products, statistics showed a decrease in accidents and injuries.

Further reducing injuries was the introduction of a unique warm-up program. Developed by Moore and Moddrell — with help from the kinesiology department on campus — the program focuses on the movements of employees and features exercises and stretching to get their mind and body ready for a days work.

A successful custodial program means pairing the right people with the right products and then training them on how to properly do their job. If any part is missing, the department will falter.

"It is simple to make things hard and it is hard to make things simple," Miller says. "We try to make things simple, but it takes a lot of work and dedication from everyone to set up a program like this and make it simple to use. My advice, take your time, do your research and communicate every step of the way."