Hiring Subject Matter Experts From Within

How to discover the best trainers (and ensure their success)

Hiring Subject Matter Experts From Within

Some custodial workers in a contract cleaning company can’t wait to land a supervisory position so they can begin training other workers on the fine art of effective, efficient, and proper cleaning. Let’s call these willing and wanting people subject matter experts, or SMEs.

Other workers will turn down such promotions. These employees do not want the recognition or responsibilities of an SME, including training others.

Although some people relish being an SME and others do not, does this mean those who do want to teach others will be successful at the job? Not necessarily. And in many cases, custodial workers who are hesitant to accept a more advanced position within the company that involves training others may find they are actually very good at it and end up liking the role far more than they imagined.

But first, why do companies such as large contract cleaning companies look for SMEs and hire trainers from within?

  • It’s efficient. Longer-term custodial workers essentially know the ropes and what others expect of them. They know how to effectively perform their jobs, how the company works, have an understanding of its culture, and how to make on-the-spot decisions. Many have learned some very good customer relations skills along the way. These people can be the most effective SMEs.
  • It’s financially responsible. Some contractors have reduced their training budgets, but still place a high value on training; as a result, they search in-house to find trainers.
  • They may already have important industry credentials. Some custodial workers have taken industry courses, such as ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) ISSA Certification Expert (I.C.E.) training workshop training course; programs with the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC); or programs by green certification organizations on implementing a green cleaning strategy. If promoted to SMEs, they can pass on the knowledge they already have.

Selecting the Right Trainer

A trainer will not necessarily be effective just because he or she wants to be one. Therefore, selecting an SME may involve a bit of trial-and-error. View it like hiring a new worker; candidates may be great in the interviews, but once on the job, problems may arise. Plus, while many contract cleaners have a job description, detailing the standard operating procedures for an SME candidate is not as easy.

Realizing the potential issues and obstacles of looking for an effective SME trainer from within the company, there are three hiring factors employers should focus on:

  1. The employee should have considerable knowledge of how to properly perform most cleaning duties.
  2. The employee’s skills should be top notch. He/she should know how to effectively use cleaning tools and equipment to help improve worker productivity and promote safety.
  3. The employee should have a good attitude. Some employers looking for SME candidates put this at the top of the list. Their belief is that knowledge and skills can be taught, but attitude—more specifically, a strong positive attitude toward the job and working with people—is something either someone has or does not have. Those who have the desire but not the necessary skills can be trained.

Interviewing for the Job

Determining if your candidate has the knowledge, skills, and right attitude to be an effective trainer is typically completed through an interview/assessment process. This can prove beneficial for the potential trainer, as well.

Interview questions can be related to tasks or equipment. Other questions may cover how the interviewee would handle a situation or different issues that might come up while training or working with individual custodians.

Also, ask candidates to teach you how to perform a cleaning task or operate a machine to get a first-hand look at how they work. Many times, the most important thing to evaluate during this process is the candidate’s communication skills and attitude.

There must have been some skills that stood out about your SME candidate to even consider this person for the job. When evaluating a candidate, also consider if he/she receives complaints when starting on a new account and if he/she is able to act as a lead worker within his/her crew.

Additionally, you may want to see if the candidate can handle some of the reports that a supervisor would need to manage and observe how the candidate would handle a customer complaint or request.

Training the SME Trainer

Let’s say you have found one person that you think will make an excellent trainer and have found the worker to be very knowledgeable and skilled in professional cleaning. Does this mean you just turn the employee loose and tell him/her to start training? No. The trainer also needs training.

Unfortunately, sometimes we set up a potential supervisor to fail. We observe that he/she has been a good custodian, and we promote that person with very little or no training. When the employee does not perform as expected, we put the blame on him/her. For example: “Joe Janitor used to be a great employee, but since being promoted, he is not producing. Maybe the promotion has gone to his head.”

As a result, many times we end up letting the employee go.

Usually a former trainer within the company, or someone brought in specifically for this purpose, such as a cleaning consultant or professional cleaning instructor, will handle training the new SME. It is important that instruction is provided on a number of cleaning tasks; in fact, training should be provided on most any cleaning task that custodial workers typically need to tackle, from caring for floors to cleaning windows.

However, an SME should also be taught subjects that reflect how cleaning is changing. We can refer to these as 21st century cleaning techniques, and among them are the following:

  • Water efficiency, since using water responsibly is becoming a growing issue in professional cleaning
  • Stretching refinishing cycles to reduce costs and protect the environment
  • Green cleaning techniques and procedures, along with product knowledge
  • Ensuring employees have a safe work environment so workers can perform actions to protect themselves and other building users
  • Understanding product usage and selection
  • Understanding hazard rules and regulations, as well as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules and regulations pertaining to cleaning.

We should note that 21st century SMEs, along with the custodial workers they train, are likely to play a significant role in helping facilities reduce waste, energy consumption, and water use, as well as implementing strategies that prioritize protecting the health of building users. This is evolving because building owners and managers are realizing the key role custodial workers perform in their facilities, and because, in many cases, SMEs know their clients’ buildings better than anyone.

Final Steps

There are also some logistical or technical steps trainers should take before beginning to work with a crew. First is rehearsal; the trainers should practice specific training programs before a small group of custodial workers and record them each time. Even though many people do not like to watch themselves on a video, the trainers should view them. These videos can provide a wealth of information and lead to considerable improvement, if necessary.

Additionally, pass out and collect feedback forms when your SME trainer is actually teaching custodial workers. Ongoing feedback helps ensure these training programs are working for your workers, reinforce the trainer’s strengths, and identify areas of staff or SME weakness.


Posted On January 27, 2016

Ron Segura

President of Segura Associates

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations to streamline their cleaning and building operations as well as promote sustainability and healthier cleaning strategies. He can be reached at

Topics Tags

Also in Training

CMI Certification Princeton
May 13, 2020 CMM Staff

Princeton University Takes a Professional Approach to Cleaning with CMI Certification

April 28, 2020 John M. Poole Jr.

Removing Gray Areas

April 9, 2020 CMM Staff

CMI Certification Creates New Opportunities for Facility Director

April 7, 2020 Brant Insero

Are You Future-Ready?

Sponsored in Training

CleanCheck® – Training Made Simple™
May 2, 2018 Sponsored by Spartan Chemical Co. Inc

CleanCheck® – Training Made Simple™

December 12, 2017 Sponsored by CMI

Industry Leading Training Solutions

October 1, 2016 Sponsored by ProTeam, Inc.

Jan-Pro of St. Louis Recommends ProTeam Backpack Vacuums to Franchises

September 28, 2015


Recent News

office building, office facility, work facility
September 24, 2020 CMM Daily News

The Future of Office Buildings

September 24, 2020 CMM Daily News

Hand Sanitizer Accessibility Calls for Increased Poisoning Vigilance

September 24, 2020 CMM Daily News

Hygieia Network Schedules Diversity Seminar and Awards During ISSA Show 2020

September 24, 2020 CMM Daily News

Straight Talk on the Customer Experience Journey

Hiring Subject Matter Experts From Within
Share Article
Subscribe to CMM