Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
May 2013 Cover Feature

Jacks And Jills Of All Trades

An investment in education is an investment in people.

May 17, 2013

For many years, the JanSan industry was thought of as a mature industry.

Cleaning tasks even dating back to the 19th Century were straightforward and completed with basic and, later on, cumbersome tools and equipment.

For instance, the first record of a vacuum cleaner being invented is in 1860, when Daniel Hess patented the technology.

Cleaning For Appearances Turns To Focus On Health

Up until the 1900s, safely removing dirt and contaminants from an area or surface — the basic definition, purpose and goal of cleaning — required the use of manual carpet sweepers and impractical machines by today’s standards that used gas or oil, such as John S. Thurman’s 1899 gas-powered machine.

While the vacuum cleaner transformed over the century, such as the first convertible upright line of vacuums being introduced in 1950 and in 1963, when David Oreck started manufacturing uprights specifically for the hotel industry, other cleaning tools, such as mops, brooms, buckets and dusters, evolved slowly. 

Moreover, the connection between clean surfaces and the environment on health has been well documented over the centuries as well.

An appropriate measure to help combat cross-contamination and outbreaks, specified cleaning steps can help keep people safe and environments sanitary.

We can look as recent as this century to highlight cleaning’s importance on health and well-being.

For example, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which was first reported in Asia in February 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shined a spotlight on an emphasis for cleaning.

Both CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as other prominent associations, offered cleaning-specific guidelines to meet this challenge.

Evolution Continues   

As cleaning’s importance and impact on health evolved, the professional JanSan industry elevated in status.

With this attention and investment in interest now being paid to a once thought of mature industry — when thought of at all — a rejuvenation occurred.

Environmentally safer products were introduced over the past decade that buyers trust are cost comparable and effective.

Equipment became smaller, quieter, easier and safer to operate, lighter and more versatile.

Automated tools and processes have now infiltrated the market, minimizing manual stress and requirements.  

Even industry knowledge and training made significant advances over recent years.

Today, there are custodial training programs and management training programs available.

However, about the only thing stuck in the past in this industry is how managers and owners pay, recruit, recognize and retain quality workers.

Wearing The Hats

Furthermore, as our country and its economy struggled these past few years, businesses had to make tough choices.

Employees were let go and their positions were left open.

Budgets were reduced and, in many cases, results suffered. 

Workers who were able to retain employment were asked and tasked with extra work to compensate.

An effective cleaning worker today is not only expected to remove dirt and contaminants from surfaces, he or she is also expected to complete other unconventional facility tasks, which can include lighting, security, roof maintenance, plumbing, grounds care, painting, etc.

Additionally, cleaners are also expected to achieve results up to the standards now set for the cleaning industry.

These multi-talented workers must be recognized, appreciated and invested in for your cleaning operation to succeed during these times and into the future.    

Since the new evolution of cleaning tools and equipment is now underway, these employees must stay current with the latest offerings and seek the training needed.

Typically working and managing a mixed workforce, in terms of age, education, ethnicity and experience, these leaders must set the right example to follow.

Can you easily identify these workers in your business or department?

Jacks and Jills of all trades that can adequately meet facility maintenance and cleaning needs can be considered the most important and influential people in keeping the indoor and outdoor environment accident-free, safe, properly functioning and healthy.

Do you have one or more on staff?

Recognize And Invest         

We spoke with three industry experts to discuss the role of the cleaning worker moving forward.

Particularly, we wanted to learn how the cleaning worker’s status can elevate with the industry’s image.

Turning cleaning workers into cleaning professionals is a key step in the JanSan industry’s new evolution.

Demand that requires capable cleaning workers to achieve more tasks in the facility is worthy of additional investments in employees.

“The resources available today are almost unlimited for the training of cleaning and maintenance workers,” notes industry trainer Bill Griffin, president of the International Custodial Advisors Network (ICAN) and owner of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc. “Examples include classes, publications, seminars and online webinars offered by equipment manufacturers, distributors, consultants, associations and private educational institutes.”

And, as Griffin confirms, the challenge today is not the educational resources available; it is a hesitation to invest in worthy employees.

“A larger problem is that workers and management often don’t see the importance and value of ongoing education,” notes Griffin. “In the long run, this proves to be extremely costly for business owners and limits advancement opportunities for workers.”

According to Griffin, organizations and departments must invest in both entry level and ongoing training for all workers.

“When it comes to identifying those who should be considered for advanced or more intensive training, look for the same behavioral characteristics we look for in what is referred to as a ‘good’ employee,” Griffin says, noting that managers such consider such factors as dependability, integrity, high levels of performance, interest, a positive attitude and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Hiring And Realizing The Risks

Starting off on the right foot with new employees is critical.

Hiring cleaning workers should be an intensive process and not viewed as a hindrance to fill an open position.

“Of course,” explains Allen P. Rathey, president of The Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI), “the best way to train workers is to hire the right ones to start with.”

Rathey’s research supports that there are also risks involved when looking to hire or train Jacks and Jills of all trades.

“Yes, there are risks in creating generalists, when that is defined as doing many things in an average or below-average way, versus doing many things with consummate skill.”

The solution, Rathey continues, is that you must first train specialists, then cross-train them in several specialties.

The work process, however, should always be that of a specialist to avoid wasteful and distracting multitasking.

“A study published in the American Psychological Society’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found that people who multitask are actually less productive than those who focus on one project at a time. More specifically, the research discovered that people actually lose time when they must switch from one task to another,” educates Rathey.

“Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task,” writes David Meyer, Ph.D., one of the three researchers who led the study.

Meyer and fellow researchers refer to multitasking’s downtime as the “switch cost,” which, they say, occurs in two distinct stages: goal shifting (I want to do this instead of that) and rule activation (I’m turning off the rules for that task and switching them on for this one).

According to Rathey, the cleaning industry can take a lesson on this topic from the auto maker industry.

“Toyota recommends creating ‘T-type’ leaders, when the long-stem or trunk of the ‘T’ represents deep knowledge and skill in a certain area,” Rathey says. “Then, encourage cross-experience, cross-department exposure to develop the top or cross piece of the ‘T.’ Thus, they are specialists first that are empowered to be even more useful later through exposure to other departmental disciplines, adds Rathey.

Know The Limits And What’s Involved

Many facilities, as mentioned, are tasking cleaning workers to perform additional tasks around the facility.

Two such tasks, painting and plumbing, were discussed with Klaus Reichardt, founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc.

Both of these additional responsibilities can be practically performed by in-house or current staff members.

However, facilities managers and building service contractors (BSCs) must realize that there are several steps to take before an individual can effectively perform these duties.

Professionals who select these trade careers will typically attend years of apprenticeship and technical training.

“Some may start by attending a technical school that teaches the basics about plumbing, while others may learn on the job, working with a seasoned plumber, pipefitter, etc.,” adds Reichardt.

When adding any new task, specifically plumbing and painting, to the list of responsibilities for the in-house or hired staff, Reichardt believes that workers should have these skills or characteristics: customer service; managerial; mechanical; physical strength; stamina; and troubleshooting.

The past few years, while presenting challenges, have helped many companies reassess their business and reposition the organization to meet current needs.

From those evaluations and challenges, there was an opportunity to look at operations under a microscope.

“Competitive pressures of the marketplace require that workers and managers do as much as possible to reduce waste from the process, without a loss of quality,” concludes Griffin. “When profits [were reduced], it provided an opportunity to improve business operations by removing needless inefficiencies that add no value, slow down the process and drive up costs. Having individuals on staff who are cross-trained and multi-functional is a sound operational business practice.”

The industry continues to evolve and enhanced training, certification and innovative equipment and products are the result.



Maintaining Focus In Training

When conducted improperly, custodial training can be stagnant and boring.

The result is a lack of focus, understanding and applying proper technique.

Rathey offers the following modern day training tips.

“In learning studies evaluated by the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI), it has been determined that the two top ways people learn are through:

  • Human interaction and dialog
  • Hands on.

The other learning styles include: video, audio, reading, etc.”