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While Others Outsource, UT-Austin Investing in Custodial Training
While Others Outsource, UT-Austin Investing in Custodial Training  | aust_txbz, Maria Guzman,

While many educational institutions across Texas have outsourced their custodial services as a result of drastic budget cuts, UT-Austin continues to hire and train its own custodial staff under a state-funded program called OS1. Photo by Melissa Macaya.

By the time most students have left campus for the day, Maria Guzman’s job has barely begun.

At 5:30 p.m., Guzman gathers her 15-person custodial crew for daily stretching exercises in the Neural Molecular Science building at the University of Texas at Austin. They come from around the world: Cuba, Vietnam, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.

All wearing crisp blue button-up shirts with sewn nametags, the crew follows her lead. They sway their arms from side to side, touch their toes and reach for the ceiling.

“Good, let’s get to work,” Guzman says while clapping her hands after the last stretch.

The crew quickly disperses through the halls. Every night, they clean four buildings until 2 a.m., with two breaks in between. Guzman returns to her office and monitors the night’s activities.

“I started at the bottom and moved my way up,” said Guzman, whose office walls are dotted with certificates of training completion and excellence. “I wanted to give my children a better life.”

Guzman began working at UT-Austin in the late 1980s and is one of more than 300 custodial employees that help clean the university’s 130 buildings – approximately 12 million gross square feet. She credits the university’s strenuous custodial training program with the ability to create an organized cleaning system that offers promotional opportunities.

While many educational institutions across Texas have outsourced their custodial services as a result of drastic budget cuts, UT-Austin continues to hire and train its own custodial staff under a state-funded program called OS1. The university only outsources about 10 percent of its custodial services for specialized cases.

“Often, other universities come visit our program to learn about what we are doing,” said Laurie Lentz, communications coordinator at UT-Austin’s facility services. “It has worked well for us, it is cost efficient and the turnover is relatively low.”

While the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan are using in-house custodial training programs, UT-Austin is the only Texas university using such a system. NASA and Boeing have also adopted the program developed at Texas despite the high initial investment costs and longer training periods, according to Robert Moddrell, manager of training and compliance for UT-Austin’s custodial services.

In 2001, UT-Austin instituted the OS1 cleaning management system, which employs in-depth training from upper management down to the cleaning worker level. Custodians are trained and certified on specialized tasks. Every cleaning tool and chemical has been approved by the OS1 users’ team.

In the last decade, the OS1 program has helped reduce the university’s daily use of cleaning chemical products from 200 to three. Use of water, petroleum and cleaning tools have also declined.

“There is no program quite like ours,” Moddrell said. “There is a lot of planning on the management level and a lot of investment on the part of the university, but we are left with a very sustainable program.”

Deep budget cuts have had the opposite effect at other Texas universities. Last week, Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp announced that in an effort to save money and generate revenue, he will request proposals for private companies to spearhead the custodial services, building maintenance and dining services of the entire Texas A&M system. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has already outsourced its custodial staff.

The number of outsourced positions in College Station is unclear, but more than 700 employees are currently in the university’s facility services department. In most cases, private companies do not have existing workforce to perform the actual services for a new client. Therefore, they usually employ the current staff.

Paloma Martinez, communications specialist with the Janitors for Justice union branch in Houston, said outsourcing custodial staff is a major trend at businesses around the state. Putting facility services in private hands, she says, leads to a greater risk of exploited workers.

“Rather than the owner hiring its own janitor, many corporations now hire a contractor,” Martinez said. “Because they are not hired by the owner, outsourcing contributes to lower wages and very little benefits.”

At UT-Austin, however, custodial candidates can apply online, and after being hired, get a paid two-week training period in a classroom and a one-week shadowing period.

In the training period, trainees receive instruction booklets and learn about cleaning tools, human resources, and safety methods through videos and Power Points led by one of the four official trainers. During the shadowing period, custodians have cleaning simulations and observe custodians on the job.

Housed in the basement classrooms of a university building, the classes are conducted in two and sometimes three languages. Much like college courses, trainees take notes and are quizzed on the material throughout the eight-hour sessions. Hired custodians get an additional 40 hours of optional training throughout their time at the university.

Mike Ciruzzi, a plant manager at the U.S. Postal Service for 38 years before accepting a position with UT-Austin’s custodial program, already has seen benefits to UT-Austin’s approach.

“A lot of money is being saved with this program,” Ciruzzi said. “I am very impressed with the whole process and commitment the university has with this program. It gives us a sense of pride. My perception of cleaning has definitely changed.”

UT-Austin’s facility services have not experienced custodial layoffs so far, but some positions remain empty. Moddrell said the university will not only keep the program, but also continue to expand it to other universities in Texas outside the UT system.

“We are the only group of people that go to every four corners of this campus every day,” Moddrell said. “We get a lot of exposure and have a very large staff.”

With the OS1 program, he said, “We have consistent results all throughout campus – it is extremely efficient and just creates a better environment. We are hoping to get more people on board.”