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Staffing Your School’s Cleaning Team

Best practices for hiring new custodial team members in education facilities

Staffing Your School’s Cleaning Team

As a custodial manager, you need to ensure that your workers are top notch. They should have spotless background checks, superior references, relevant experience, impressive résumés, and suitable personalities. This is especially true when you work in educational facilities.

The education niche of the cleaning industry is one that requires excellent customer service and the ability to work with people of all ages. Since your workers are interacting with children and young adults on a daily basis, there is much more of a liability involved with hiring for a school than, say, hiring to clean an office space or store.

If you are a facilities and grounds director of a school district or university, a private contractor hired by a school, or aspiring to be in the education cleaning business, the following are tips for hiring the best custodians for your team.

Carefully Review the Résumé

You’ve posted your job listing for new custodians online and published it in your local newspaper. The applications, cover letters, and résumés start coming in.

The first thing you should look for on an application is the person’s experience. Has the applicant worked as a custodian before? If so, was it in a school district or educational facility? Does their cover letter indicate a strong interest in the position?

You should also figure out whether or not the applicant has the capacity and enthusiasm to do the necessary work. “The most important items are availability, background, and knowledge,” says Brian Hoover, custodial services supervisor at Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia. “If someone doesn’t have the experience, I can hire them if they have a willingness to work.”

In his time as a custodial services supervisor, Hoover has found that some of his hardest-working employees transferred from the hotel or housekeeping industries. When custodians work in a hotel, they have to clean every nook and cranny of different rooms several times throughout a shift. Housekeepers have similar duties, plus they have the customer service background.

Along with knowing the standard practices of cleaning, Hoover says, “If you have knowledge with equipment like walk-behind floor scrubbers or carpet extractors, that’s another feather in your cap.”

Watch Out for Red Flags

When looking over applicants’ resumes, Mark Bissell, executive director for facilities at Academy School District 20 in Colorado, is mindful of lapses in employment. Hoover says the biggest red flag is “when someone has listed multiple jobs over the course of a very short span of time.”

Stephen Hatcher, director of environmental and supply services at Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, says during an interview, he matches up what the applicant says about his or her experience with what’s on his or her résumé. If there is missing or contradictory information, that’s a bad sign.

Ask About Attitude Toward the Students

A promising applicant has a great track record and experience, and knows about the ins and outs of the cleaning business. The other piece of the job, of course, is the ability to properly interact with the students.

“A lot of times when I finished the interview, people shot themselves in the foot at the end,” says Rex Morrison, president of Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS) and the former housekeeping training coordinator for the Washoe County School District in Nevada. “I asked how they got along with children, and they said they didn’t really like them, or they kept their distance from children.”

Duane Kester, district custodial supervisor at Palo Alto Unified School District in California, says he always asks potential employees if they’ve worked with kids, and if they have kids of their own. However, he says it’s about more than lip service. “Anyone who is trying to get a job in a school district will tell you that he or she is good with kids. The on-the-job work tells the real story.”

Require and Check References

You’ve got a good feeling about an applicant. He or she not only has experience, but also likes working with children and young adults. If you’re ready to move ahead, start calling the references. When you do this, ask about the applicant’s work ethic, willingness to do the job, and attitude, and confirm that he or she worked there during the time indicated on the résumé.

Bissell requires a minimum of three references on an application, while Hatcher asks for two. “The most recent supervisory reference is confirmed with a telephone interview prior to issuing a job offer,” Hatcher says.

Conduct Comprehensive Background Checks

The hiring process is almost complete. The résumé, interview, and reference confirmations went swimmingly. At this point, it’s time for the background check.

Morrison says when he worked in the Washoe County School District, he would do tri-state and federal background checks. “First, we completed the tri-state check. If they passed, we would hire them conditionally, and then start their full FBI background check, which would sometimes take up to three months. If there were any discrepancies when it came back, then they might not have a job with us anymore.”

Training to Ensure Success

Congratulations! You’ve hired a new employee. The next step is making sure he or she receives the proper training for the job.

You want to show your new employee the equipment that’s used, how different rooms should be cleaned, and where to store the supplies. Even if he or she has prior experience, no two cleaning methods are the same. “Training was number one,” Morrison says. “[In my district], we had 450 custodians, and we had 450 ways that we cleaned a classroom and a bathroom. Some did a great job, and others did not.”

Morrison adds, “What we needed was a repeatable system so that every custodian achieved the average time. That meant that we needed to give the maximum amount of training to our employees.” [Editor's Note: Morrison and his take on repeatable systems are also mentioned in this issue’s Facility Focus article. You can read more about his PC4HS initiative on page 38, where you can also pick up tips on process cleaning for your new employees.]

Discuss Student Interactions with New Employees

Your employee knows how you’d like the educational facility to be cleaned. Now, you also need to talk to him or her about how to deal with students, teachers, and faculty. “We don't really want our staff interacting with students that much,” Bissell says. “We tell them to treat everybody with trust and respect. You don’t want to engage in any kinds of activities with the students, like taking the time to sit down and talk to them.”

Hoover says, “Our general advice is to be cordial with everybody. You don't want to become too involved with interaction with children on a daily basis.”

He also noted, however, that children in elementary schools are going to interact more with the custodians, and may even “high five them when they’re in the lunch room.” As long as custodians are polite, that isn’t an issue.

If custodians find students damaging school property, Hoover says he advises his employees to ask the students to stop. The next course of action is to find the nearest administrator or the principal to step in and handle the situation.

Keep Employees Inspired

Custodians don’t just clean. They also help to guarantee that students, teachers, and faculty are spending their time in healthy and safe environments. If your employees keep that in mind, and are told that you, the students, and the staff depend upon them, they will be more inspired to work hard.

“We wanted to instill workers with the responsibility they had,” Morrison says. “These were not our buildings. The taxpayers paid for these buildings. When we hired someone, we wanted him or her to understand that fact.”

Kylie Jane Wakefield is a freelance writer and content marketer based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work has been featured in publications like NewsCred, Vertical Response,Dell’s Tech Page Oneblog,and Forbes.com’s EMCVoice.

Posted On May 5, 2015
Kylie Ora Lobell

Kylie Ora Lobell

Freelance Writer

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer and content marketer based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work has been featured in publications like NewsCred, Vertical Response, Dell’s Tech Page Oneblog, and Forbes.com’s EMCVoice.

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