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Q&A: Engineering Laundry Engineers (Part 2)

Qualities, skills of trainable employees; training options

CHICAGO — For years, the laundry and linen services industry has struggled to locate and hire plant engineers.

Over the past few years, it’s become more of a challenge to find mechanics, technicians and full engineers to keep operations running smoothly.

One solution to this growing problem is for laundry operators to train up engineers from within their facilities.

American Laundry News communicated with four laundry professionals involved with the engineering side of the industry to find out how operators can train up their own engineers.

Jeffrey A. Carney is corporate maintenance director for United Hospital Services (UHS) based in Indianapolis.

Shane Ledbetter is senior vice president of operations for NOVO Health Services which makes its headquarters in Atlanta.

Jeremy Jabaay is corporate engineer for Wildman Business Group headquartered in Warsaw, Indiana.

David Griggs serves as general manager for Superior Linen Service’s healthcare division based in Oklahoma and is a columnist at large for American Laundry News.

What type of employee (skills, qualities, etc.) would you look for to train?

CARNEY: The first requirement that I have is that they come to work on time every day.  

We look for someone who shows an interest in their current position and wants to learn new things. We look for employees who have a great attitude and it is reflected in the work they are performing whether they are stacking washcloths or running the dryer line. 

Most importantly, we look for employees who ask questions and don’t assume things. If you are afraid of asking questions, then I don’t want you as an employee because you will end up hurting yourself or someone else.  

LEDBETTER: It is helpful when a candidate is hungry for a challenging position like this and possesses a basic mechanical or technical aptitude from the start. 

The best candidates must have the ability to comprehend basic mechanical concepts, possess a very systematic thought process and they must be very good at problem solving. They also must possess the ability to multitask while remaining calm and collected to efficiently think through solutions, as well as good communication skills. 

Most importantly, however, they must be motivated by a drive to learn, be committed to grow in the field as a career path and strive for continuous improvement. 

When an organization finds a candidate that has a skill set like this from the beginning, it should encourage them to share their knowledge and their skills to help improve the team overall.

JABAAY: Obviously, industry experience would be best; however, industrial maintenance experience would be preferred. 

Ideally, a candidate would have a high degree of mechanical or electrical aptitude, preferably both.

GRIGGS: We just want, coming out, that they just have some mechanical abilities and then very light electrical, for the most part. 

To me, our plants, we kind of divide up in three different tiers. We have our basically PM/ clean-up person, and that’s all they do is with the PMs. 

Then we have the technical person who can help out and we’ll call in if something is wrong, and then the maintenance manager, who is, in our plant, usually the tech who got promoted to be the manager. He’s the one who should organize the PMs and such. 

So, the lower level, we’re just looking for a dependable, virtually an oil-change guy. 

What types of training can be done on-site?

CARNEY: We perform all kinds of different training on-site. Some examples are fire extinguisher, confined space, lock-out/tag-out, aerial lift safety, forklift, ladder and welding safety, just to name a few. 

We perform bloodborne pathogen and hazardous response training, also.  

Certified trainers teach and certify people to operate forklifts and aerial lifts with a test and hands-on learning. We have our fire inspection/extinguisher company come in and perform hands-on training where our employees will put out a real fire with the extinguisher.  

We utilize our insurance provider Gregory & Appel’s online safety training program through their Risk Management Center. Their Online Training Library has a collection of comprehensive online e-learning training courses. 

Gregory & Appel offer a large library of workplace safety and compliance videos. They have PowerPoint programs for instructor-led training and presentations; one-page safety pointers on a wide range of topics; short, instructional documents and toolbox talks, perfect for group-led safety meetings; and quizzes that test employee knowledge with quizzes that complement the training materials. 

A large portion of their content is both in English and Spanish for our employees. 

We also utilize Industrial, Mechanical and Electrical Training provided by TPC Training Manuals that the maintenance employees use.  

LEDBETTER: Implementing a knowledge-based assessment for candidates to be benchmarked with the current engineering team can help determine what a given candidate brings to the table and identify the specific technical areas that need improvement. 

Additionally, practical application can be verified by a senior tech in the department. 

On-site training programs work well, and there are different training platforms on the open market that can be adapted to provide training for the critical skills these positions demand. 

Programs that contain interactive videos are helpful as well as in-person vendor training. 

Having an in-house electrical training program including training boards and the opportunity to shadow existing engineers can also be effective. 

JABAAY: Most of the training is done while working side by side with an experienced engineer. Some of the training would involve online learning.  

GRIGGS: What we do is we go through our maintenance management software. Of course, going through the lock-out-tag/out on each individual machine, going through everything that has any power source on a machine. 

Also, we have it to where you can’t do a PM on a machine until you’ve done the lock-out/tag-out for that. 

And then on-the-job training as far as the techs training the other techs, we do a lot of in-house training. 

What training would need to be done off-site? Share some locations/institutions where this training could be done.

CARNEY: Equipment-specific training by the manufacturer is also available.  

We utilize Kannegiesser ETECH’s Pro Support Membership Program. The program gives us access to service seminars both in person and online. There is interactive online training. 

They provide monthly webinars that are transformed into e-learning courses to view. 

LEDBETTER: Nearly every manufacturer offers some kind of machine-specific training on their products. Some provide a remote classroom session (which offers limited disruptions) or some are available on-site at your plant (which facilitates “real world” practice). 

There are also support/supply vendors to the laundry industry (power transmission and chemical vendors, for example) that offer “learning lunches.” 

Taking all the above into consideration, there is training available for nearly every budget.

JABAAY: Equipment manufacturers often offer off-site training, but this can vary depending on what equipment a plant has. 

Industry advocate groups also offer good training. TRSA just partnered with TCP Training to develop a maintenance training and certification program.

Click HERE to read Part 1 on the challenges of finding engineers today and the feasibility of training current employees. Check back Tuesday for the conclusion on the level of investment needed and pro/cons of training engineers.

Engineering Laundry Engineers

(Image licensed by Ingram Image)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].