Should Tennessee public schools consider outsourcing custodial services? As with any significant change, the shift to an outsourced solution will require careful planning and communication. Whether stated or unstated, the following questions will be on the minds of administrators, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders as you consider an outsourced solution:
- How does the cost of outsourcing custodial services compare to our current cost of using in-house staff?
- Will the quality of the service increase or decrease upon outsourcing?
- Can I trust an outsourced custodial services in our facility?
- Will the current custodial team lose their jobs if we outsource?
Cost of Outsourcing Custodial Services
Typically, the discussion of outsourcing custodial services begins at the administrative level with the motivation for discussion being budgetary concerns. In other words, school faculty members are not likely to approach administrators with the idea of outsourcing custodial services. As such, it is important for administrators to connect the savings associated with outsourcing with the ability to provide more funds for educational purposes such as more teachers, aides, or assistants.
To create an “apples to apples” comparison on cost, it will be important to identify the current cost of custodial services for each facility including both direct and indirect labor costs. Below is a comparison of these costs:
Other Cost Considerations
Cleaning supplies (chemicals, mop heads, rags, etc.): Outsourced vendors scrutinize this cost and will generally spend less on this category than an in-house team.
Equipment Cost & Maintenance (new purchase, repairs, and replacement): Outsourcing custodial services relieves the school system from purchasing, maintaining, and monitoring equipment. Reputable outsourced vendors have high-quality, well maintained equipment and use tools and equipment to increase efficiencies.
Vacancy Costs: Team members working in these positions rarely provide a 2-week notice, normally quitting without notice. In addition, absenteeism among custodial team members tends to be a challenge facing most school systems. As such, consideration must be given to the cost of overtime or cost of temporary labor to complete the tasks of the departed/absent worker, and the cost of managing this process.
Recruiting, Hiring, On-boarding, & Training Costs: As mentioned above, turnover in custodial positions can be rather high for a variety of reasons. As such, companies must consider the frequent cost of new job advertising, application screening, interviewing candidates, onboarding new hires, and training new team members.
Reduced Productivity Costs Outsourced workers in almost every profession work more efficiently than in-house workers. In other words, schools must consider tasks that take an in-house team member 6 hour per day to complete, might only take 5 hours per day to complete for an outsourced team member. Competent janitorial companies use cleaning techniques and equipment that are designed to improve efficiencies. This cost can be significant if you have multiple team members.
Quality & Dependability
The quality of custodial services will be very important to each school’s faculty, both principals and teachers. Comments such as, “The school was so much cleaner when our (school system’s) people cleaned our building,” should be anticipated. In all other business segments (manufacturing, corporate, medical) outsourced custodians raise or maintain the quality of cleanliness in a facility. Competent, respected janitorial companies have the right tools, training, and processes to keep facilities clean and sanitized on a consistent basis over the life of their service agreement. To be prepared for the questions that will surround the quality of custodial services, we offer the following suggestions:
Establish A Baseline Rating: Develop a methodology for scoring or rating the cleanliness of each facility. Then, perform an inspection and analysis of each school, giving each a baseline score. In this way, you will be able to compare the quality when the work is outsourced. APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities has useful tools for developing a scoring system. A note of caution: Since scoring or rating cleanliness can be very subjective, it is important to have a sound process for evaluating your facilities.
Request Reports: When searching for outsourced vendors, ask the vendor to provide examples of their inspection reports. Reputable janitorial vendors are diligent in their inspection process as this is the only means for ensuring consistent, high-quality service.
Dependability Questions: When trying to determine the dependability of an outsourced vendor, it will be important to ask the following questions:
- What is your operations structure?
- Who will I contact if I have concerns?
- How long has that person worked for your company?
- Where is your office located?
Scope of Work: Communicate to school faculty the duties and the frequency of duties that are being performed by the outsourced team. For example, most outsourced vendors will empty trash each evening as a part of their base scope of work. However, certain areas, like high reach areas, may only get dusted one time per month. Moreover, if the system chooses to maintain their own custodial team while students are present and outsource just the evening cleaning, then it will be important for everyone (faculty, in-house custodians, outsourced custodians) to be very clear on things like:
- What are the duties of the daytime custodian(s)? Scope of work is “fluid,” meaning cleaning messes, moving tables, preparing for assemblies, being a lunchroom and restroom attendant. Will the daytime team be responsible for refilling consumables such as paper towels, toilet tissue, and soap?
- What are the duties of the outsourced evening team? Typically, the “big 4” (1) floor care, (2) wiping/dusting, (3) trash collection/removal, and (4) restroom service.
Can you trust outsourced custodial services?
Trust will be on the minds of all stakeholders, especially the parents of students. Questions such as, “If we outsource the custodial services, what kinds of people are the outsourced company going to put in our schools?” should be considered. Reputable janitorial services companies understand the importance of establishing trust and dependability with their clients. They have established a process for vetting each of their team members.
Review Current Vetting Process: Gather a summary of the current vetting process for your current custodial team members. This is an important step as it will represent the baseline for how any custodial team member, in-house or outsourced, will be measured.
Questions for Vendor: When searching for outsourced vendors, consider asking the following questions:
- Do you conduct pre-employment background checks, and what types of things would disqualify someone from working for your company?
- What are your pre-employment and ongoing drug testing policies?
- What are your levels of insurance coverage for general liability, worker’s comp, and umbrella? Do you have a fidelity bond and what is the limit?
- Will you provide your most recent OSHA 300 log?
Custodial Job Loss
In most cases, an outsourced vendor will offer positions to most of the current custodial staff. While the custodians might not have the benefits package of the school system, they will have an opportunity to continue working.
Consider Phase-In Approach: As custodial team members retire or leave the system, consider replacing those team members with outsourced team members.
Company Culture: Seek an outsourced vendor with a reputation and culture of caring for its team members. For example, certain reputable companies provide incentives for quality work and attendance, provide paid time off, and offer insurance and retirement benefits.
Local Ties: Consider an outsourced vendor that serves other clients in your area. In this way, some of the displaced team members could be deployed to other sites. Moreover, companies with multiple large clients in the area may be able to offer promotions, such as supervisor, to team members.
Not Unprecedented – Most businesses outsource the custodial work in their facilities – manufacturing, governmental, medical, and public venues. In addition, most private K-12 schools outsource their custodial services. And many public K-12 schools in other states outsource custodial services. In other words, choosing to consider outsourced custodial services would NOT be unprecedented.
IMPORTANT – Local/Regional Presence – When considering outsourced vendors, it would be advisable to consider vendors with a strong local presence. Because their continued growth and operations in your region is dependent on their reputation, a regional or local vendor will work diligently to ensure that you are pleased with their work. Moreover, a regional or local company will have a variety of resources located in your area to assist in keeping your facility clean, such as additional team members and project teams.
Base Scope of Work – Establishing a base scope of work for the custodial teams is important. As stated above, the daytime team members tend to have a more fluid scope of work as compared to the evening custodians. The following is a sample base scope of work for evening custodians. The base scope of work may be modified by school or school system based on budget and the characteristics of the facility.