The national economy is always in flux, but the past two years have been particularly turbulent, in no small part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many industries are gradually recovering, public education institutions still face a significant labor shortage across the board. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the state and local public education sectors have seen nearly a 5% drop-off on average since the start of the pandemic – 6.8% for K-12 teachers, 14.7% for bus drivers, and 6% for school custodial staff. Many public school staffers are quickly approaching or surpassing retirement age, too, as we discussed in our previous blog, “Small Schools Must Prepare to Maintain Facilities as Custodians and Facility Managers Retire.”
When added up, these staffing concerns can pose a real problem for education facilities as they gear up for the upcoming school year. The summer break period is a crucial time for comprehensive maintenance, repairs, and renovations. Without proper maintenance staffing, students and teachers may return to a less-than-optimal place of learning in the fall. A poorly maintained school doesn’t just affect its reputation – it also affects the everyday health, safety, and success of everyone inside. With that in mind, here are some important items to add to your school’s summer checklist while managing a labor shortage.
There may be a labor shortage when it comes to school facility maintenance jobs, but there are also plenty of people looking for work, even if only over the summer. If your educational facility is struggling to keep up with all its important maintenance tasks this summer, make an effort to seek part-time and full-time workers for the summer and beyond. Of course, tight budgets can make it difficult to entice potential employees. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) states that, “Low pay is a long-standing issue for support staff. From 2014 to 2019, the median weekly wage (in 2020$) for food service workers in K–12 education was $331, while school bus drivers received $493 and teaching assistants $507. In contrast, the median U.S. worker earned $790 per week.” As such, schools may need to pour more budget resources into increasing facility support wages to maintain adequate staffing, especially when it comes to preparing their facilities for the new school year. Offering other incentives, such as flexible hours, improved health insurance, and other immediate benefits, can further entice new employment at your school.
Like any other building, an education facility needs to have its components periodically inspected to ensure the ongoing health and safety of all occupants. Chemicals must be properly organized and stored, water and air quality need to be addressed, and surfaces/rooms must be cleared of any asbestos, mold, or mercury concerns. Tackling these inspections and tests during the school year is both challenging and hazardous, so it’s vital to take care of it all over the summer months – this will also give you enough time to remediate the most pressing issues, should they arise. Keep in mind that specialized contractors are required to properly assess these various concerns. Make sure you have access to reliable local inspectors well before the summer nears its end.
Schools must be kept clean year-round, but more intensive cleaning projects must be tackled periodically to address those more intractable problems. Once again, the summer break provides the best opportunity to catch up on this deep commercial cleaning and get every room up to speed for the fall. Exteriors could use a good power washing to eliminate lingering dirt, pollen, mold, mildew, grime, etc., as well as enhance your school’s curb appeal. As for interiors, every room should undergo high and standard dusting, rigorous surface cleaning, deep floor cleaning, window cleaning, etc. Certain rooms may require more attention than others due to their nature, level of activity, or size, such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and gymnasiums. Prioritize these cleaning tasks accordingly.
Disinfection is sometimes conflated with cleaning (and often takes place in tandem with cleaning), but it’s a process all its own. And during this ongoing pandemic, deep disinfection has never been more important in public settings. When disinfecting surfaces, maintenance staff should only use EPA-registered products, making sure to closely follow instructions on their labels. After all, different disinfectants have different dwell times (i.e., how long they must linger on a surface to kill targeted germs before they can be wiped away) and safety precautions. Schools also stand to benefit from more recent disinfection methods such as antimicrobial barrier technology, such as the solutions provided by PRO-Techs® – this powerful electrostatic disinfectant spray clings to surfaces and lingers for up to 90 days, constantly electrocuting germs within a given space with a 99.9% effectiveness rating. Adopting this approach greatly reduces the need for ongoing disinfection throughout the school year, helping your school better manage this current labor shortage.
Your school’s green spaces might not receive all that much use over the summer, but your landscape still needs ongoing attention throughout the off-season. Neglecting your school’s landscaping can result in significant pest invasions, exterior building damage, extensive pollen accumulation, and more. If nothing else, an overgrown, unkempt landscape is an eyesore – one that’s much more difficult to manage after it’s gotten out of control. Make sure your education facility is well-equipped to keep up with mowing, edging, trimming, treatment, irrigation, and more.
Everyone returning to your education facility in the fall should be able to breathe easy upon re-entry. In our blog, “Why You Should Know How Indoor Air Quality Affects Education Spaces,” we go over how IAQ directly correlates with student performance, productivity, focus, enrollment, retention, and more. Put simply, the cleaner your indoor air, the more successful, happy, and healthy everyone will be. As such, inspecting, cleaning, repairing, and/or upgrading your HVAC and air purification systems can have a major positive impact on students, teachers, and staffers in the upcoming year and beyond.
Read our article, “Top Ways Our BreatheWell Program Has Enhanced Our Clients’ Facilities,” to see how we at The Budd Group have improved all aspects of one of our educational partners’ facilities with IAQ improvements.
At The Budd Group, we’re well aware of all the work that must be done to get education facilities in prime condition for the upcoming school year. If you’re experiencing a shortage in facility management or staffing positions, our support staff and maintenance programs can help you get your facilities up to speed so you can provide the best outcomes for all students, teachers, and staff this year and beyond.
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