Cleaning remains a people business at its heart. From the custodian cleaning a classroom to the consultant helping an organization right-size its staff, our work impacts individuals and the general public in a real way.
While changes in the cleaning profession have been numerous, the basic concept of cleaning has remained the same—a system of repetitive tasks designed to effectively remove soil from a surface. It’s not rocket science, but it is also not quite as intuitive as it sounds. The people who walked before us understood this and can share their knowledge for the betterment of the cleaning profession.
Like many of us, I didn’t grow up dreaming of working in the cleaning profession. Working as a custodian was simply a way of paying for my degree in communications. After graduation, I tried to make a career in sales, but my heart wasn’t in it. Whether it was fate or just blind luck, it was my night job in the cleaning industry—the one I’d kept to support my family—that provided my best career opportunity. I was offered a job substitute teaching in a custodial services program at a career center. A year later, I was a full-time instructor. It was there I learned that the best cleaning techniques needed to be taught and learned.
That first teaching job was in the early 90s and happened to coincide with the rise of personal computers. In 1991, I attended a conference sponsored by Cleaning and Maintenance Management. It was there that I was introduced to the concept of workloading: measuring and recording the features of a building, applying cleaning standards—tasks, times, and frequencies—and determining costs and staffing.
When I arrived home, I jumped on the computer and started figuring out how to do the calculations. After reaching the point of needing numbers to plug in for the cleaning times, a friend suggested a handy little book from ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association. Within a month I was volunteering to do a staffing assessment at a local school. Within a year I had my first paying gig and was on my way to a career as a cleaning consultant.
Whether you work in the industry as a building service contractor or facilities manager, it is important to stay aware of new techniques and technologies and incorporate them when applicable; however, while staying abreast of new developments is essential, don’t let the technology confuse you. Running an effective operation has always come down to the basics: planning, training, and the utilization of the most effective cleaning techniques.
My knowledge is a compilation of what I figured out on my own and what others have taught me. Life flies by quickly, and now I am one of the old guys. Whenever I have the opportunity to speak at cleaning conferences, I always make a point of looking for the youngsters in the audience, recognizing my responsibility to pass down the traditions and knowledge of the cleaning profession that were so freely passed down to me.