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Hard floor care - the education challenge29th of October 2014
Cleaning a floor can be very difficult, given the huge range of floor types around these days. But who trains the cleaners in this complex task, and how do they go about it? Ann Laffeaty finds out.
Cleaning a floor should theoretically be a simple matter of sweeping, mopping or scrubbing the surface to ensure that it is clear of dirt and debris.
But new types of flooring are being developed all the time, along with new cleaning methods, products and machinery. So training is essential to keep cleaners up to date with new floor types and processes. But who carries out this training, and how is it achieved in a multilingual industry where staff turnover is high?
Machine manufacturer Kärcher offers regular training sessions for partners, companies and customers. “We also offer an extensive training programme for sales, application and service staff through the Kärcher Academy,” said environmental matters public relations officer Linda Schrodter. “And our instruction videos are all available online.”
Physical training sessions are normally held in English, but Kärcher Academies worldwide run training sessions in various languages. According to Schrodter, floor cleaning can be complex since operatives need to consider a number of points before tackling a floor.
“They need to assess the surface structure and the type of dirt that needs to be cleaned,” she said. “They then need to decide on the correct cleaning agent and dosage, and choose from the various types of brushes, disks and rollers on the market. And they have to consider the volume of water required along with the brush contact pressure and cleaning speed.”
Diversey Care global marketing director Irina Klemps agrees that identifying the type of floor in question is the first major challenge for a cleaning operative. “Although there are various methods of doing this, few cleaners are thoroughly trained in applying these identification methods,” she said. “They may also lack the precise information they need on the specific type of flooring from the site owner or builder.
“Once they have identified the floor type, they need to choose a compatible cleaning product and method. Choosing the wrong product could ruin a floor which means the correct identification of floor type is essential.”
Diversey provides advice on the correct products and methods to use on various floor types along with a range of training options. These include classroom sessions that take place around the world and multilingual e-learning modules that can be tailored to suit individual customers.
“We also offer a ‘train-the-trainer’ programme that works very effectively,” said Klemps. “This involves intensive coaching of selected customer staff by Diversey experts to certify them as trainers themselves.”
Diversey also offers instruction at customer sites, either in the form of proactive training or in response to specific challenges. “This can be product-based training, machine or dosing equipment instruction, safety instruction or training on the correct cleaning methods and chemical
selection,” said Klemps.
“We also provide customers with printed and digital training materials including method cards, cleaning plans, training videos, product information sheets and brochures. Everything is available in all European languages and illustrated with pictograms to support multilingual staff.”
She says a continuous training programme is essential since staff turnover is so high. “Otherwise the knowledge level in customer organisations would decrease over time,” said Klemps. “A one-off initiative would therefore not be sufficient to suit the needs of the industry. Customer support needs to be continuous and thorough.”
She says floorcare training is crucial because any damage caused by using the wrong method or product could be costly to put right - or even irreversible. “If you deep-strip a linoleum floor using a high alkaline stripper, the floor will be ruined and can only be replaced,” said Klemps. “And if you use an acidic cleaner on a marble surface, the stone will lose its lustre and only time-consuming crystallisation might reverse the effect.”
Educate key staff
Like Diversey, 3M has been developing its own ‘train-the-trainer’ model to educate key members of staff in the correct way to clean various types of floors. The 3M Cleaning University has been rolled out successfully in South America and will be coming to Europe in 2015.
“We will be working with machine manufacturers to provide comprehensive training in all types of floorcare and maintenance next year,” said 3M business development manager for cleaning Tim Copner. “The course will take the form of workshop-style seminars and there will be hands-on sessions on different types of flooring and various types of machinery. The details are yet to be finalised but sessions will be held in various locations throughout Europe.”
According to Nilfisk-Advance’s global brand manager Lisette Zangger Nilsson, user-friendly machines can help to reduce the level of staff training required since cleaners can quickly come to grips with them.
“Our machines are clearly labelled with pictograms that show their vital functions,” she said. “It is one of the cornerstones of our development to supply products that can be used after minimal training and that come with a self-explanatory user interface. We even use QR-codes that allow the operator to watch an instruction video via their mobile phone.”
She says floor cleaning is one of the most complex cleaning procedures there is. “A range of solutions may be required depending on the type of floor and the kind of soiling,” she said. “Wear and tear of the floor might also be severe in high traffic areas, and it requires particular skills to preserve flooring under these conditions.
“Besides manufacturer training I would also recommend independent training and certification for cleaning staff. This will provide a clearer picture of basic cleaning techniques - and having this base will make it easier for operatives to attend other training sessions and understand user manuals and instructions.”
Kärcher’s Linda Schrodter agrees with Zangger Nilsson that user-friendly machines are a major training advantage. “Staff turnover is very high in the cleaning industry which means that machines and instructions need to be self-explanatory and to the point,” she said.
Kärcher products are clearly labelled to aid multilingual staff, says Schrodter. “We use pictograms and colour-coded controls, and the menu platforms on our machines are easy to use and feature around 18 different language settings,” she said.
The language barrier can often be a problem for a trainer confirms Hako’s application technology trainer and consultant Klaus Serfezi. “As machine manufacturers, this means our training needs to be as hands-on as possible so that all steps are self-explanatory,” said Serfezi.
He agrees with other manufacturers that identifying floor types can be a problem. “Some building operators are not even aware of the types of floor covering they have in their properties,” he said. “This means the building service provider will be required to use his or her expertise to determine the kind of floor coverings there are and how to clean them.”
Like Klemps he feels that any training initiative should be ongoing. “Repeating the training at regular intervals is particularly important when it comes to chemicals since new products are introduced more frequently than is the case with cleaning machines,” he said.
According to Serfezi, some service providers are not prepared to invest in sufficient levels of staff training due to high staff turnover. “This makes it even more important to train supervisors and project managers on a regular basis to keep them up to date,” he said.
Bio-Productions managing director Mike James says a floor surface can be badly damaged in cases where untrained or badly trained operatives are let loose on a floor.
“All too often we are asked how to restore or repair a floor that has been tackled using the wrong process and employing an inappropriate chemical solution,” he said. “We’ve had instances of flooring being permanently damaged through the incorrect use of equipment.”
He says regular training is the only way of making staff aware of the latest types of polymers, equipment and chemicals that are available to them. “This can be achieved by developing a relationship with the suppliers and manufacturers of cleaning compounds, machinery and processes as well as occasionally visiting retailers of flooring materials,” he said.
Experience on the job
“It is also beneficial to experiment on flooring tiles, laminates and strips of wood to see how different compounds react on different surfaces. There is nothing like first-hand experience to instil knowledge.”
He agrees with other manufacturers that it can be a challenge to train operatives in an industry where the staff is constantly changing.
“Often the time spent on induction and training programmes is wasted because of staff turnover,” he said. “However, it is foolish to set an inexperienced operative to work with equipment and chemicals that he or she doesn’t understand. Invariably an experienced staff member will be paired with an experienced hand who will train them while on the job.”
Contract cleaning company Julius Rutherfoord runs a BICSc-accredited training programme at its own head office. “No-one steps out in a Julius Rutherfoord uniform until they’ve completed our training scheme,” said general operations manager Andres Balanta. “Some of our equipment can be quite technical but there’s always a right way, a safe way and a more productive way to do things.”
Training will always be a difficult issue in a multilingual industry where so many of the staff are simply passing through. And for some manufacturers and cleaning companies, training can even be perceived as a waste of time and money. But the complexity of the floorcare industry and the potential cost when things go wrong means that proper instruction is a necessity.
As Diversey’s Irina Klemps puts it: “Well-trained staff are an investment – but one that will result in savings by preventing damage to the floor.”
And according to Nilfisk-Advance’s Lisette Zangger Nilsson, increasing levels of automation will eventually make the training question less relevant in any case.“We already have automated forklifts working in large areas and we will probably see increasing numbers of larger automated cleaning machines,” she said. “I would not go so far as to call these ‘robots’ since the complexity of cleaning floors and the various floor types means there is probably still a need for craftsmanship. But I’m sure this type of solution will be there some day in the future.”