Welcome to the inaugural installment of “Faces of Facilities,” a new Q&A series profiling facilities management experts. Stan Robinson, Director of Facilities at Roanoke City Public Schools (RCPS), joins us as our first interview guest.
In his role at the K-12 school district in Roanoke, Va., Stan manages 36 facilities and dozens of team members. He’s a life-long learner who stresses the importance of training, so it’s only fitting that he works for RCPS, an organization focused on education.
Stan entered the workforce as a young boy and has long been passionate about cleaning and sanitation. Over the years, he has grown particularly interested in green cleaning. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he relied on his training and skills to help provide a safe environment for students and school staff.
Here’s what Stan had to say…
How did you get your start in the field?
I have been involved in the janitorial/sanitation industry all my life. I started a cleaning business with my now-deceased brother that was in continuous operation for 17 years. I started as an operational worker. I worked overnights, weekends, holidays, and any other time that was needed. I have truly cleaned everything. As the business grew, we were able to hire crews. I ran two crews and worked alongside them nightly. As the business grew again, I was able to take on a supervisory role that allowed me to perform quality checks.
After a decade in that position, we decided to sell the business. I then bought into another business for 18 years, where I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and found my passion for teaching others. Additionally, it’s where I continued to forge my work ethic and where I learned there was power in teaching others to do what I was taught.
For the past five years, I have been in the public schools K-12 education sector. Of which I have served as the Director of Facilities for the past three years.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
The influences in the industry for me are the organizations like ISSA and Heidi Wilcox, owner of green cleaning and infection control specialist Wilcox EVS.
ISSA is a great group of industry experts. No one person is an expert in everything! ISSA is a resource I can contact to get answers immediately.
Heidi Wilcox is a “heavy hitter” in the industry. She is a microbiologist and a former professor at UMass. Her last public post was working for the State of Massachusetts. Heidi is a major resource that understands what is effective in cleaning. She is an influence specifically to me because our values align so well.
I met Heidi when she spoke at a conference about green cleaning and how it can change indoor air quality (IAQ), and our professional relationship flourished. Heidi is currently helping with a major project that will take RCPS to a completely different level, while providing the best air quality and cleanest facilities around.
What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?
Not achieving the buy-in on decisions. Always ask the four magic words: “What do you think?” Having advocates for the tough decisions is key to a successful implementation.
What are the biggest facilities management issues at your organization? Are there any unique FM challenges (or benefits) compared to some other organizations?
As we face a global pandemic, we face a global shortage of personnel. This sadly is not unique in any market. Effectively we are all fighting for the same work-eligible people. Many of my colleagues have the same issue and will throw money that is not sustainable at the problem. I counteract that with education; my team members are highly sought after due to their training. This makes them more marketable in this economy. Additionally, there are several institutions that do not provide additional training. We are not that institution.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic change the way you operate? Did priorities shift? Were there any specific steps you took to address the health issues?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we clean to the way we should clean. We shifted focus to high-visibility cleaning, where there is no time for much else. We enlisted the support of the educational wing to assist with minor cleaning. We refocused the non-operational tasks, like putting together desks and furniture, to deep cleaning.
We created specific protocols for cleaning common areas like restrooms using aqueous ozone and a disinfectant every two hours; high-touch items hourly. And a host of other mitigation strategies.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
My favorite part of working in the industry really is finding and innovating new technology into our skill sets. For example, finding no-rinse chemical formulas that increase efficiency and save my teams from doing additional work.
My least favorite part is working with employees that are low performers, and despite all the training and coaching we do, sometimes you have to say goodbye.
Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group, always said, “Hire the personality and then teach the skill.”
My ideal situation would be to find the “reset button” and change the low performers to high performers. The difficulty is finding people who are willing to show up for this type of work day in and day out.
Historically, this industry has been looked down upon, and the workforce is seen as unskilled. My motivation is to change that view and have the maintenance/operations teams be seen as equal partners in a child’s education.
One innovative way we are coaching up team members is certification from ISSA. This empowers the team member with a science-based approach to cleaning while working smarter and not harder. This, for some, changes their total outlook and approach to the position. Sometimes it just clicks, and you see an entirely new attitude.
How can company leaders make facilities management a value within their organization?
For the K-12 educational systems, facilities management is a major component within the organization because, quite simply, if we don’t do what we do, then the teachers and administrators cannot do what they do. There truly is a yin and yang to all the functions that we both provide for the betterment and the education of our future.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Are you noticing any major trends?
I am so excited about this question. The direction I see the industry headed in the next five years is in a very positive way. The use of greener chemicals, like hypochlorous acid. The use of Green Seal products is the way of the future.
Hypochlorous acid is truly the holy grail for cleaning because it can be used as both a sanitizer and a disinfectant, is EPA registered, is on the N list, and can be used for electrostatic spraying. It is skin safe, has an amazing kill claim for everything from rhinovirus down to COVID-19. And it contributes to a better IAQ.
What are you most proud of?
Gosh, there’s so much to be proud of. I’m really proud of my team. I’m proud of the fact that these men and women are willing to be frontline workers. They are the ones that have been the door breachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. They put themselves in potentially harm’s way to provide safe and clean spaces for others.
I’m proud of the innovations and technology that we’ve adopted and added to our skill sets.
I’m proud of bringing my teams up to a professional certification through ISSA. With the continuing education we provide, our teams can earn industry-recognized certifications that, if they decide to leave the school system, can make them great candidates in the job market.
It’s a win-win situation and scenario for everyone! When they win, we all win!
I’m proud of changing the culture of my school system, where the custodians were not highly thought of. Now they are thought of as partners in the educational process.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Learn everything that you can. Become part of NSPMA, a member of your state’s plant managers associations, and a member of ISSA. Become an expert in your buildings, in your technologies, and in your standard operating procedure. Get your ISSA ICE certification, and become GBAC certified. Talk with people, be open, learn, grow, and put into practice everything that you learn.
Have a plan for a professional ladder of advancement. Have a plan for succession. My ideal success story is having hired my replacement. This would be someone whom I hired as a building operations worker, someone who has learned all aspects of the trade. Someone we can groom to become a building manager, then a coordinator, and then, ultimately, they are able to take my position and continue on the good work.
Note: For this to work, you cannot be afraid or threatened by your inevitable succession. It will happen germanely, and you will know when it is their time.
My successor has not been chosen, and potentially is not on my team at this time. My role is to grow people to the level that they want to achieve.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I don’t know everything, but I know everything in my bubble. We are all experts within our own bubble. I always have room to learn and to grow and to change and to innovate and to educate, to reach and to teach others. That’s really my life’s goal.
Are you or a colleague an FM professional interested in being profiled for the new “Faces of Facilities” series? Please contact Editor Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com