Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Taking Advantage Of What You Have

October 11, 2011

Sometimes, doing things a little out of the ordinary can become the norm.

When thinking about the custodial department of a facility or an educational campus, there are certain norms that come to mind.

More often than not, we think of in-house custodial staffs or contract cleaners; however, one university in Texas uses a completely different pool for its labor.

The school, Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), utilizes the student body to fill out the majority of its custodial department and, while the idea might seem farfetched, it''s an established part of university life.

A Look Back

SWAU was established in 1893 by a group of Seventh-Day Adventists on 800 acres in Keene, Texas.

The university was established at a time in our nation''s history when, especially in the still developing West, labor was expected of nearly everyone.

The thought was no different at SWAU: All students worked half a day and went to class for half a day.

Some would work through the morning, taking their classes in the afternoon, while others would have the opposite schedule.

The practice of using student labor has continued for the past 118 years and has become an accepted and established practice within the university, rarely garnering resistance from students or staff.

According to Donna Morrison, director of custodial services at Southwestern Adventist University, the original, alternating schedule was the accepted practice.

Within the last 30 years, though, that schedule was not able to be maintained and a new, current plan was put in place.

Student Labor

The world, however, is an ever-changing place and, over the years, emphasis has shifted away from at-home manual labor to a more fluid and flexible balance between work, play and education.

Morrison explains that the current work environment at SWAU reflects those changes.

When students register for classes, most will also apply for on-campus work in one of the many departments that hires students.

The student then submits his or her class schedule and the times that they are available to work.

The frequency with which the student will work differs from as little as two hours, two times a week, to up to 30 hours a week.

Once hired by the custodial department, students are trained using an in-house training video, produced by students, which features actual campus buildings and the chemicals and equipment they will be using in their day-to-day jobs.

To ensure each task assigned to a student is performed to the standards set forth by the custodial department, students work closely with a supervisor or an experienced student trainer for several shifts.

Well Received

While it is an unorthodox way to keep a campus clean, Morrison says there is little resistance to using students as custodial staff.

"Students are generally thankful to have an on-campus job because we try to work with their class schedule," Morrison explains.

There are limitations when it comes to working with student labor, the biggest being the need to accommodate various schedules.

At any given time, on any given day — except Sunday — classrooms and offices are in use, which makes matching a student''s work schedule with a vacant room challenging. But, it''s a challenge the department takes head-on, leaving many students grateful for the opportunity.

"Some students do not have the transportation to work off campus and most international students are not permitted to work off campus," Morrison states. "Our program allows them a way to earn some money."

There is fluidity to the student labor program, as few stay with the department for the entirety of their academic careers.

But, no matter how long or how short their commitment, all walk away a little more prepared for their lives after graduation.