Custodial and Maintenance Services: Examining Standards

“We are an industry that’s all about labor,” said Ron L. Bailey, CEH, associate director of Custodial Services at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, of campus custodial and maintenance services. “People. They’re the number-one resource, and it’s easy to get locked up in processes and procedures and fail to take into account our people. We have to keep their self esteem up and continuously communicate how critical their role and is to an institution’s success.”

Relying on the number-one resource — people — isn’t going to change, but the processes and procedures they use change all the time as the green movement edges forward, equipment and chemical advances are made, new buildings come on line, budgets shrink, and more. While taking care of their number-one resource, facility administrators must stay on top of advances in processes and procedures in order to best serve their clients.

There are four areas in which administrators strive to stay ahead: cleaning types and frequencies; work schedules and work-order procedures; staffing, training, and supervision; and inspections and necessary licensing.

Cleaning Types and Frequencies
In this first category, there are two directions in which the industry is moving. The first is toward green cleaning. As budgets have become tighter, a number of experts confess that they’ve found it necessary to reduce cleaning frequency in order to stay in the black. The push back has begun with the growing awareness of the negative effects of dust and mold. “With the concept of green cleaning and LEED standards,” said Brandon Baswell, building service manager at Michigan State University in East Lansing, “there’s more emphasis on higher-quality and smart cleaning, including using chemicals that are less offensive to the worker and occupant.”

The second direction in which the industry is moving is in continuing to follow APPA’s Custodial Staffing Guidelines, which is, according to the organization’s Website (, “the recognized resource for cleanliness in education.” The guidelines include "the five levels of clean" and information on specialized facility areas, such as residence halls.

“APPA’s Custodial Staffing Guidelines assists not only with base standards but also with balancing our zero-based budget model,” said Glenn Grippe, director of Business & Support Services at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The guidelines come with CleanOpsStaff software (Web-downloadable). The software allows you to run calculations on your cleanliness data in the following ways, according to “provides a computer-assisted audit/assessment tool to determine what level of cleanliness you are actually achieving, helps you justify the budget resources (FTEs and cost) you need to meet cleanliness levels for both new and existing buildings, helps you balance FTE assignments to individual buildings or zones on your campus, and helps you reduce the cost of your operation through reports that illustrate custodial resources by building and by room or space.”

Work Schedules and Work-Order Procedures
In this category, our experts note three state-of-the-industry trends. The first is toward a flexible schedule. “I’m hearing people talk about the challenge of custodial work being done at night,” said Baswell. “Administrators are using day cleaning because it’s green — it uses less lighting and provides better customer service simply because there’s more contact with the customer.”

A second trend is that building work schedules typically are created using the same computer program that’s used to measure space and determine resources, which allows you to equalize areas and be proficient in your scheduling. “It can be done longhand,” said Bailey, “but you spend a lot of time trying to make 200 employees have an equal workload. With the computer programs, you’re done in hours and minutes rather than weeks and days.”

Bailey also notes the third trend: Using the type of cleaning service (i.e.: team, zone, task cleaning) that fits each building’s needs, rather than forcing one type on all buildings. “We look at specific facilities to determine the best means of delivering our service,” he said. “Classrooms, offices, libraries, and athletic facilities all have different needs.”

Staffing, Training, and Supervision
When it comes this category, two things are apparent as state-of-the-industry. The first is that training is plentiful and continual, covering a variety of current issues. For example, in addition to direct job training, employees at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) receive training in blood-borne pathogens, asbestos awareness, customer service, harassment and discrimination, storm water drains, and more. “We are currently working on redeveloping our custodial training program,” said Lisa Adair, assistant director of Facilities Operations at CU-Boulder. “We utilize team cleaning specialist videos, PowerPoint training sessions, and hands-on training for team cleaning.”

At the University of Arkansas, 40 hours of training per year per FTE is the goal. Training is categorized in three tiers. Tier one is individual development, and includes things like CPR and diversity. Tier two is directly related to an employee’s job. Tier three is elective training. “It may improve the employee and make him or her a more valuable entity for the organization and provide opportunities for advancement, but it is not necessarily tied to the job,” said Grippe.

The second trend is toward levels of supervision, with supervisors doing hands-on work in addition to supervisory work. For example, at the University of Nebraska, supervisors are responsible for up to 15 employees and provide hands-on training, oversight inspection, and performance evaluations. “A supervisor is an hourly employee who is progressing through the department or industry toward an administrative position,” said Bailey.

Supervisors report to managers, who are responsible for a cluster of buildings, each with one or two supervisors, for a total of 40 to 45 employees. “The system has worked well for us,” said Bailey. “Most of the supervisors are familiar with the hands-on work and challenges custodial staff face every day. They also have the overall view of what we’re trying to accomplish and can tell that to the custodian, so the custodian knows he has an impact on faculty, staff, and students.”

Inspections and Necessary Licensing
Inspections fall under two categories, a level of clean and preventive maintenance. Again, many institutions are using APPA’s standards, which include a description of what is clean. Physical inspections are critical to ensuring that custodial and maintenance services are done well.

At the University of Oklahoma in Norman (OU), supervisors inspect each person on their teams six to eight times per year. “We give five days advance notice,” said R. Vickie Shoecraft, custodial-housekeeping manager at OU. “If an employee has been covering a different or additional area because of being short-staffed, it allows him time to prepare for the inspection.”

In addition, most campuses have a preventive maintenance program. At the minimum, inspections are conducted where mandated by law, including elevators and lab safety equipment. The trend, though, is toward a complete facilities assessment in order to reduce deferred maintenance.

“We have a full-blown preventive maintenance program for general purpose and educational buildings,” said Grippe. “We have 50 employees investing roughly 60 percent of their time on preventive maintenance.” Weekly reports are produced showing how much preventive maintenance has been completed. Much of it is simply inspecting mechanical and operating pieces to find something wrong before it fails completely.

When it comes to licensing, a range of expectations was discovered. For example, CU-Boulder does not have any special licensing requirements. And at Michigan State, licensing is an area in which they’re just starting to certify.

On the other hand, Grippe boasts that he believes his is only one of two schools in the State of Arkansas that requires licensing for all skilled crafts. “It has served us well,” he said. “We also require all outside local entities that support our workforce to be licensed.”

Implementing state-of-the-industry standards is sure to help you advance custodial and maintenance services, as well as take care of your labor force and assist you in best serving your customers. May your institution always be moving toward state-of-the-industry.

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