Like many other higher education facilities, the University of Vermont began centralizing its custodial services department several years ago, to streamline operations and save money. As anyone who has been through this process knows, departmental consolidation can be an extremely stressful time for employees at every level. Frontline employees wonder what will happen to their jobs; mid-level managers worry they will be managed out, and directors do their best to allay concerns while setting up the new operations and procedures.
It wasn’t the first time former Director of Custodial Services, Leslye Kornegay, REH, had been through this process. Through similar experiences at NC State and Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina, she knew that education was the key to empowering her team and helping the process go as smoothly as possible.
All mid-level managers in the custodial services department were required to take IEHA’s Professional Education Credentialing Program (PECP) and earn their Certification. Leslye had earned her Certification through IEHA’s early in her career before completing her undergraduate degree and recognized the value it had for entry and mid-level managers looking to advance and take the next step in their career.
“Personally, I believe the 330-hour Certification program is the next best thing to having a professional degree in housekeeping leadership,” she said. “Oftentimes, managers or people coming into leadership positions don’t have access to professional development and/or educational opportunities. It can be really difficult to source talent at this level, so investing in our employees and establishing a career track progression to include professional development [with IEHA’s PECP Program] was a great way to grow our own talent.”
Training for the Future
To build camaraderie within the department and enhance the value of the department’s educational program, all managers and supervisors were required to complete the 330-hour program together at once. This would enable everyone to talk through situations they might be experiencing on the job and learn from one another. It would help improve their overall communication and teamwork.
Each Wednesday, the team of UVM supervisors and managers traveled to a local adult education center where they would have an independent instructor who reviewed the materials in IEHA’s PECP for four hours. Students represented various cultural backgrounds, including Bosnian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, African, Nepalese and French. The adult education center offered tools for translation, as approximately 60 percent of the individuals studying for the certification did not speak English as a first language.
Matt Dugener, CEH, is the President of the Vert Mont Chapter and one of the 18 individuals on the UVM Custodial Services team who earned their Certification through this program. After serving in the military for several years, Matt went on to work in construction before beginning his job as the Custodial Supervisor at UVM.
“The PECP is a great program and our instructors were blown away by the scope of the curriculum,” Dugener said. “We had different instructors for each course, and they regularly acknowledged how valuable the information was that we were learning. That made us feel good about the time we were investing into it.”
The team work hard and spent an extensive amount of time working through the modules. But it was work that paid off. It not only gave them the technical knowledge that they could apply to their immediate jobs, but it also empowered them by providing them with management skills and training that helped them in other facets of their careers.
“It was amazing to see how the university rallied together to encourage these individuals. They had to overcome a lot of adversity along the way,” said Sarah Miller, IEHA Education Consultant. “Each had a unique story that led them to UVM, but while taking the program their primary instructor passed away, which was really devastating. Not to mention that several of them didn’t speak English as their first language. The University embraced and empowered them, making accommodations to help the custodial team grow as individuals and as a unit. They are an amazing group.”
A Seat at the Table
Kornegay has moved onto a new senior leadership role in higher education, but the initiative has lived on. Some of the newer UVM team members are currently in the process of earning their Certification.
“Earning your certification requires you to invest a lot of time in yourself, but it’s been such a worthwhile process,” said Dugener. “We’ve found that it’s not just a great tool for educating our staff, but it’s several different aspects of our operations.”
While the initial goal of helping empower staff through the department consolidation was successful, there have been several other benefits realized from the initiative. Averages to the department’s CORE scores have improved across the board, which is a quality control metric in place. In addition, the education presented in the PECP has equipped UVM’s custodial team with tools for better communication, customer service and cleaning techniques.
Most importantly, it has made members of the team more confident and proud of the work they do.
“Going through this program has improved the way we look at our jobs and how we inspect our work,” said Daniel Delude, CEH, and Vice President of the Vert Mont Chapter.
Dugener agrees, adding that it has also improved their perception amongst other departments in the university.
“There was a time when we wouldn’t have been consulted about improvements around campus,” he said. “Now we have a seat at the table when there’s discussion of new buildings. And we’re more confident when we have these discussions. It’s really been a win for everyone involved.”