Building Up, Mobilizing and Retaining the “Seven-Percenters” While Investing in Custodial Leadership

By Allen Rathey.

Keith Webb, Executive Director of Plant Services, Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), Newport News, Virginia, oversees construction, renovation, and operations for the district’s 30,000 students, served by 5 early childhood centers, 24 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, 5 high schools, 1 middle/high combination school, and 9 program sites.

NNPS received the 2013 Grand-level Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities (Sponsored by American School & University magazine, The Green Cleaning Network and the Healthy Schools Campaign), an accomplishment made possible by the custodial team under the direction of Webb’s Custodial Supervisor, Marcella Bullock (American School & University, 2015).

Their secret?  Invest in people through training to improve life skills and professional skills and to foster improved work quality, program cost-effectiveness, worker retention and upward mobility.

In 2015, this is modeled through a pilot cohort of 15 entry-level workers in a state-approved apprenticeship and certification program under the auspices of Thomas Nelson Community College, featuring Custodial Technician I and II levels, a program customized and developed in-house (Virginia Department of Industry and Labor, 2015; Thomas Nelson Community College, 2015).

Line workers completing the Custodial Technician I program get a 3.5% pay raise after year one, and another 3.5% after completion of Custodial Technician II in year two.  The 7% is in addition to annual raises for all employees.

Building and Keeping the “Seven-Percenters”

“We give beginners an opportunity to attend college for free, so to speak,” noted Webb.  Webb also stated, “Thomas Nelson Community College is the State of Virginia’s representative, requiring syllabi and lesson plans within a state-sanctioned program, and they provide qualified teachers when instructional needs are beyond what NNPS can provide internally.”

Year one courses include math and English proficiency, using computers and the Internet for research, computer management of work orders, green cleaning and, overall, teaching the “behaviors of successful people,” notes Webb.

Annual coursework consists of 144 hours of classroom time, followed by 2,000 hours of fieldwork under the mentoring of custodial leads and/or area supervisors.

Graduates receive a handsome certificate of completion from the Commonwealth of Virginia in addition to “college-attendee” prestige and receive pay incentives based on meeting defined standards.

“We are big on expectations, and we make them clear,” adds Webb.   “The goal is to train and retain workers by building them up personally and professionally, providing attractive pay-raise incentives based on learning and skill milestones, and getting them involved in continuing education as they matriculate out of the two-year program.”

Mr. Webb expects Thomas Nelson Community College to provide continuing education credit opportunities for those who complete the two-year curricula.  “We expect this program will not only improve our green cleaning program and make our schools healthier, but lower our turnover and retraining costs, as 20% of new employee wages go toward getting them trained and prepared,” he notes.

As employees stay longer with better training, they can advance to leadership positions if desired.  Senior-level custodial staff members receive management level training via Cleaning Management Institute’s basic and advanced programs, with bonuses tied to course completion (Cleaning Management Institute, 2015).

When schools invest in a sound learning culture and standardized training becomes embedded, it fosters continuous improvement, personal and professional development for all team members, and improved facility outcomes.  Investment in the custodial workforce improves service and is a key ingredient of making school facilities cleaner, safer, and healthier.

Quick Facts

Apprenticeship Training Program for Custodial Technicians

A partnership between Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), Thomas Nelson Community College, and the Commonwealth of Virginia


Ensure the professional development of the Custodial Services employees by providing relevant education and on-the-job training

Benefits to Custodial Staff

  • Advanced knowledge and skills
  • On-the-job training
  • Industry certification
  • Increased pay for higher level of skills
  • Potential for career advancement

How it Works for Maximum Results

Incorporates classroom and field Instruction, performance monitoring, and financial incentives

  • 144 hours of classroom training per each certificate course – conducted at the local community college, a vocational technical center, or at a NNPS facility
  • 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with a highly skilled mentor
  • Recommendation from a Senior Custodian, Lead Custodian II, and Custodial Area Supervisor
  • Satisfactory performance evaluation
  • 5% salary increase and a title of Custodial Technician I (with a Certificate of Completion) for successful completion of Year 1 program

An additional 3.5% salary increase and a title of Custodial Technician II (with a Certificate of Completion) for successful completion of Year 2 program


  • American School & University. (2015). Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities. Retrieved from American School & University:
  • Cleaning Management Institute. (2015). Custodial Technician Training Program. Retrieved from Cleaning Management Institute (CMI):
  • Thomas Nelson Community College (2015). Thomas Nelson Apprenticeships. Retrieved from Thomas Nelson:
  • Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. (2015). Virginia Registered Apprenticeship. Retrieved from

Allen Rathey is President of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI) and Executive Director of the 501c3 Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS).  Call him at 208-724-1508.

Keith Webb is Executive Director of Plant Services for Newport News Public Schools, a nearly 30,000-student school division in southeastern Virginia.  In that capacity, he oversees construction, renovation, maintenance, energy management and custodial operations of the division’s 72 buildings.  In 2011 his department earned the prestigious Facility Masters Award at the Platinum level from National School Plant Managers Association in conjunction with the Virginia School Plant Managers Association.  Keith earned his Educational Facility Professional designation from APPA in 2012.  Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine named him a Manager of Distinction in 2015.