ICS Magazine

The Future of Hard-Floor Maintenance

November 8, 2005

There are some who can still remember applying paste wax with steel wool and spray buffing with a low-speed machine. And the nasal-passage-burning memories of stripping a floor with all-purpose cleaner and 26-percent ammonia are something you never forget.

But things have changed. Waxes gave way to polymer-based seals and finishes; spray buffing has evolved to ultra-high-speed burnishing; cotton mops have been replaced by synthetic mops and micro-fiber applicators; and low-odor stripping chemicals are much more effective, and without the nasty odors.

Improvements in hard-floor-maintenance chemistry, equipment and materials have reduced or eliminated many of the problems that have confronted the technician. These developments have significantly improved our industry; however, the most significant improvement of all is the hard-floor technicians themselves.

Who is the Hard-Floor-Maintenance Technician?
If you look at the hard-floor-maintenance field, you will usually see it divided into three parts. There is the janitor whose primary responsibility is to provide daily/routine maintenance such as sweeping and mopping. Then there is the floor maintenance technician (in many cases the best janitor) who performs the periodic maintenance and in the case of some floor covering classifications the restorative portion as well. Then there are the skilled craftsmen who generally perform the more sophisticated restorative process.

Unfortunately, in our "one size fits all" industry, the customer does not want to look for three different companies or more if their facility happens to have more than one category and multiple classifications of floor coverings. They want one company to cover all aspects of maintenance; after all, "isn't it just mopping and waxing?"

There are six categories of hard-surface flooring and three to 10 classifications in each category, which can then be subdivided into sub-classifications. In short, there is a heck of a lot of hard-surface flooring. So, a natural question that comes to mind is why you would think that all of those different surfaces should be maintained in the same manner. True, there are some common service procedures that can be used on all floor coverings, but when it comes to periodic and restorative maintenance, these are areas of specific expertise. All floor coverings are not the same, and should not be treated generically. Some classifications can take years to figure out, and categories such as wood and stone can take a lifetime to master. Some techs have worked their way through the trials and tribulations, successes and failures to become professionals in their trade. These are the ones that have realized that what they do is not easy, and requires significant technical skills.

Restorative maintenance for floor covering categories such as stone and wood require advanced training and should be done by certified technicians. Clay-component flooring is starting to demand a higher level of understanding to master the sophisticated methods of restoration and maintenance. Resilient-floor maintenance is impacted appreciably by new classifications of flooring, and in performance coatings and equipment. Even concrete, which was once considered a functional floor in the warehouse, is segueing into several environments that have altered maintenance and restorative procedures. Everything seems to be changing, except for the way we look at the technician.

A New Horizon
The technician has traditionally been looked at as a cleaner, although cleaning the floor is only a part of the whole. When a technician maintains a floor covering, he is protecting it from the adverse effects of erosion and maintaining the integrity of the product. By removing soil, the technician is maintaining the cleanliness of the facility.

Appearance of the floor is extremely important, and safety, achieved through a combination of cleaning chemicals and polishes, improving slip resistance and reducing accidents, is always an issue. All of this is the responsibility of the floor maintenance technician.

The cost of floor maintenance is soaring, supporting the trend of ensuring that the technicians who are performing the services are qualified to do it. The hard-floor-maintenance technician can no longer be lumped into the janitorial industry; they have more responsibility than that. He is as much a journeyman as an electrician, automobile mechanic or ironworker. The difference is that there has never really been a career path for the hard-floor-maintenance professional to tread. It has been up to the individual to seek out knowledge and education on their own. This usually ends up being trial and error in the school of hard knocks.

The good news is that many facility and building managers who are in need of hard-floor-maintenance services are now beginning to look for skilled professionals to provide them. They understand that the useful life of the floor covering is directly attributed to the maintenance they receive. They have a significant investment in their floors and floor maintenance is much more than just mopping and waxing. The realities of education and training are becoming apparent, and certification is a guaranteed method of ensuring skill sets.

So, if you are looking to capitalize on hard-floor maintenance, pursue education and training as a general-floor-maintenance technician, or maybe expand your horizons and look at certification within a hard-surface flooring category that interests you. There are a number of areas to find them, even if it takes some research. Any way you look at it, education, training and certification will be the future of hard-floor maintenance.