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It is one of the most frustrating questions a manager or supervisor can hear: “Okay, now what?”
Yet, the question is an important fixture in the work environment when a new hire begins his or her training and development.
One step has been completed, one task has been learned … now what are the next steps to finish the job properly?
Taken to its logical end, this simple but sometimes exasperating question is the basis of all success and profit in the JanSan and service industries.
Answering The Question
Figuring out the proper response to employee training needs has been a challenge for facility managers and business service contractors (BSCs) for many decades.
“Training in the past — and even today in most instances — is very weak in the industry,” says William Griffin, president of Cleaning Consultant Services Inc. and a noted industry trainer.
According to Griffin, the best case scenario is frequently training by slide presentation or video; the worst case scenario is a manager handing a new employee a set of keys and saying, “Here’s my number. Good luck.”
Joel Levitt, the main trainer and president of Springfield Resources, recalls that about 85 percent of training in the maintenance market traditionally consisted of on-the-job and worker-to-worker learning.
Other training opportunities were more formal apprenticeships, but in recent years, these apprenticeships have disappeared, leaving a large gap in necessary development, Levitt notes.
Many see the lack of formalized training today as an especially large problem for an evolving JanSan industry looking to develop professionalism and pride in its workers around the world.
“That’s, in my opinion, one of the problems that we have in the industry [when it comes to] attracting and keeping staff,” Griffin explains.
Managers and owners often speak about “jobs” rather than “opportunities,” and this marginalization is followed up with a lack of formalized training and no significant opportunities for personal improvement and advancement.
In response, employees frequently look at positions in the cleaning industry as temporary or part-time, and they leave as soon as another company offers them a few more cents an hour, Griffin says.
Training Is A Must
Over the years, these high turnover rates and a fear of new competition have been the main excuses employers have used to not train employees.
Facility managers felt that the investment in training did not provide a good return on investment due to high turnover while BSCs worried a well-trained employee would eventually start their own operation and turn into a competitor.
“I think that they are false beliefs, personally,” Griffin states. “I think that when people are involved in training and they have a goal in mind to get a different opportunity or to learn more … then they do a better job while they’re there.”
Still, this cyclical situation sets up something of a cleaning conundrum.
“What’s worse, you train them and they leave or you don’t train them and they stay?” Griffin asks.
Another important consideration here is the increased need for training in the modern industry.
“Today, more knowledge is needed than ever before for even the simplest jobs,” Levitt says. “There are labels to read and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to understand.”
“There was a time where having the skill was all that was needed,” Levitt continues. “Now they need the knowledge, too.”
Levitt explains employees need three competencies in the janitorial and maintenance industries today:
While the knowledge needed for a task or job can be taught in a classroom or from a book, skills and confidence only come through performing the specified task.
Skills, such as floor stripping or refinishing, can be studied in theory, but the actual skill is developed using the hands, muscles and brain, Levitt notes.
Further, confidence and the mastery of the specific process come only from doing the job a number of times.
“If you try to teach knowledge on the job or skills in the classroom, you will waste your efforts,” Levitt states.
Mastering The Blend
As training has developed and evolved, the leading-edge or newest trend in training and education has been a blended approach that mixes classroom training with a focus on hands-on involvement, according to Griffin.
“[Workers] learn better by doing rather than talking about it and sitting on a chair,” Griffin notes.
Another modern trend is mobile training where, instead of having a worker come to a classroom, the training is taken to the individual at the actual jobsite.
Griffin attends numerous training conferences every year, and he realizes that this blended approach may even point to a future where trainers, owners and managers agree that training does not have to occur in a classroom at all.
Taking the “no classroom” idea even further, Griffin states training should become an everyday component of operating a business or leading a team of workers.
“Every interaction that a supervisor or manager or co-worker has with another worker is an opportunity for reinforcement of good behavior or identification of areas where [he or she] needs to improve,” Griffin says.
After training for a specific process or technique, in-the-field follow up has proven especially important.
“You have to go out on the floor where the people are working and then have a discussion for a couple of minutes, involving them in that discussion,” Griffin recommends.
Workers should be asked what the training covered, and they should be expected to apply or use what they learned in the presentation or hands-on training session.
This process should be repeated three times after every training session: two days, two weeks and two months later, according to Griffin.
Levitt agrees, “The best way to retain learning is to use it as soon as possible after the training. The second best way is to incorporate non-punitive feedback into the job.”
Newly-trained workers need non-punitive feedback to adjust and fine-tune their performance of the new task, Levitt says.
Turning To Technology
More and more, the development of training processes is turning to technology for new advances and ideas.
The growth of new technology over the past few decades has enabled new modes of teaching including computer-based, Internet-based and virtual classrooms, Levitt says.
The drivers in the training industry today are cost per student and the cost of delivery, and using technology, trainers like Levitt can deliver more training to more people at a lower cost.
Electronic media also allows trainers like Levitt to capture the teaching of master teachers and make it available online to students around the globe.
Equipment companies in the cleaning industry are taking advantage of electronic training offerings as well.
Digital media libraries are an option for operator training videos and documents, says John Reed, director of training and sustainability with Betco Corporation.
The digital training offerings are online and can be accessed and downloaded anytime, day or night, through a tablet application or through the scanning of a QR code.
The graphic codes are included on the equipment, and a worker can scan the code for immediate access to the proper steps needed to prepare and operate a machine.
"We've noticed that more and more people want to have the flexibility of utilizing the training when and where they want," Reed states. "They can't always be at the headquarters with a training video."
In Griffin’s opinion, the future of training will be more interactive training options, including the utilization of specially-developed video games.
“The younger people that are coming into our industry, they’re used to playing games,” Griffin says. “My goal is to develop training programs that people can be so involved in and it’s so challenging and engaging and enjoyable that they don’t even realize they learned something.”
Even so, these games will be developed especially to teach workers the skills and information they will need to complete a cleaning or maintenance task properly.
Up to this point, these interactive, gaming-based training offerings have cost millions of dollars to develop, and they have only been used by large corporations and the government.
Griffin states his goal is to bring this training option to the cleaning industry over a period of time in a more economical way.
Ready For Results
For the facility manager or BSC that offers training to his or her employees, what will be the verifiable advantages?
It can be difficult to validate specific return on investment criteria for the cleaning industry, but Griffin says training can provide improvements in:
Managers or owners who provide training should be able to see a difference in the amount of time employees spend with an operation, the retention of their cleaning accounts and the amount of complaints they receive from their customers, Griffin states.
In addition, industrial insurance and workers’ compensation insurance rates may decrease due to fewer workplace accidents and injuries.
“I think you can look at production rates and quality assessment inspection rates as well and put some numbers with those to validate that the training you’re doing is making a difference,” Griffin notes.
This growing list of advantages should cause managers and contractors to gain a new interest in the training opportunities available to the cleaning and maintenance industry.
“Most managers respect the impact of good training,” Levitt explains. “But for the most part the barrier is time to evaluate the offering and money.”
Still, the comment that comes to Levitt’s mind when it comes to training is, “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance.”
Griffin sees a bright future for companies and operations that offer proper, up-to-date training for their employees.
“I can’t look at anything that we do … that is not in flux in some way right at this time,” Griffin concludes. “It’s a really exciting time in the cleaning industry, and I think that training plays a key role in our success.”