COVID-19 and The Custodial Training Component

In less than a month, we find ourselves in a different world today with changes across all sectors. Schools and universities are closed, some for the rest of the year.

Sit-down restaurant meals have almost universally been replaced by carryout; unemployment claims are growing; and retailers and several other industries are joining the ranks of businesses either required or voluntarily closing their doors for a time.

Amid these earthshaking shifts, the services of professional cleaners are in higher demand than ever before. School and campus administrators, building owners and managers everywhere have now come to recognize without doubt that their facilities need effective cleaning to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

custodian cleaning wall 

Photo courtesy Avmor Cleaning Manufacturers

Crises can teach us many things. Through the present pandemic, we are learning, according to Patty Olinger, executive director of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a division of the International Sanitary Supply Association, “that we don’t have enough trained individuals” in our industry, referring to the professional cleaning industry.

Training is a crucial point to note. Safely battling the coronavirus in all settings — schools, workplaces, government and public buildings — requires specialized training in cleaning processes and procedures. Training that many professional cleaners may lack, and which contractors may fail to provide for a variety of different reasons, as we shall discuss below. Specific skills and experience, in addition to advanced cleaning equipment, are also required.

Issues with Training

Training challenges are not new to the professional cleaning industry. Because of the traditionally high turnover rate in the industry, many building service contractors have been reluctant to spend a lot of time training their staff. The assumption is that once they are trained, they’ll venture off and find another job. This makes training not cost effective.

But there are other issues negatively impacting the ability of cleaning contractors as well as school and campus administrators when it comes to training cleaning workers. These can vary in different settings and situations. However, all of them must be overcome, and urgently, if we are going to get on top of the COVID-19 situation.

Among some of the most common are the following:

  • Scheduling
    Most cleaning workers work at night. Most training classes happen during the day. Many cleaning workers cannot attend daytime seminars, and administrators may find they have to pay overtime to have custodians attend day classes. Whatever the case, ultimately training is delayed or postponed entirely.

  • Finding Trainers
    Many janitorial distributors and manufacturers have stepped up to the plate and are providing excellent custodial training, especially now, to address COVID-19. However, that is not always the case in every community. Some distributors believe all they can do in such a critical situation is recommend cleaning “best practices,” and suggest disinfectants approved to be used to fight COVID-19. Further, some school districts or colleges no longer work with janitorial distributors. They purchase janitorial and related supplies from major retailers. Often this is due to a need for cost savings. But mega-retailers rarely provide training opportunities for custodial workers.

  • Comprehension
    This should not come as something new for educators, but just because something is taught does not mean it is remembered. A study conducted in 1986, which has been updated through the years with few if any changes, finds that 50 percent of what we “hear and see” — for instance, in a classroom setting with other people — is forgotten in a matter of days. In many cases, within minutes. However, 90 percent of what we “see and do” is remembered if students practice what they have just been taught. Remembering what we have been taught is crucial now in preventing the spread of novel coronavirus.
custodian vacuuming library 

Photo courtesy of Kaivac

Finding Solutions to Training Challenges

The professional cleaning industry, as we pointed out earlier, is aware of this situation and is taking steps to make learning stick. Some cleaning-related organizations are providing educational materials in traditional formats as well as online, specifically addressing COVID-19 and cleaning.

Further, at least one manufacturer has begun installing electronic “tutors” on their cleaning machines. These tutors have access to an entire library of cleaning methods, procedures and best practices. Similar to a tablet computer, such tutors offer benefits to address the learning retention issues we mentioned earlier. Among them are the following:

  • Workers learn at their own pace. Using electronic tutors also allows workers to avoid the potential embarrassment of asking a supervisor for help.
  • They are never “absent from the classroom.” The tutor and the cleaning equipment are the classroom.
  • Systems are designed to provide best practices that can be updated, with training demonstrated by experts.
  • They provide on-demand reinforcement or retraining.

Further, when using electronic tutoring systems, what’s happening is that custodial workers can “see and do,” which we know is the most effective way to learn. This is how people learn today, and it is not only proving effective, it is also proving cost effective for both administrators and cleaning contractors.

We should note that most all forms of custodial training, whether electronic on tablets, online or in classrooms, are useful to meet all custodial training needs, especially now. Training helps cleaning workers feel more professional, confident, realize the value of their work and stay on the job — reducing the turnover problem mentioned earlier.

The Global Biorisk Advisory Council, mentioned earlier, is establishing a new certification program that would formalize training standards to address situations such as COVID-19. Olinger hopes the program will become widely adopted throughout the cleaning industry, promoting the use of best practices to prevent the spread of disease.

However, just like a COVID-19 vaccine, that could be many months, even years, away. As a result, school and campus administrators must take advantage of what options they have available now to address this crisis.

Electronic tutors appear to be one training solution. But, if those are not available, individual instruction or group classes in a classroom setting may be the only other option. School and campus administrators must include custodial training as one way to address this pandemic. Further, to help make them even more effective, these should be ongoing sessions, repeated every few months, until this crisis is better under control.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.