Janitors are thankless heroes to us all. I remember attending grade school in the early 2000s and wondering how on earth did the janitors at a middle school deal with all the missed tossed paper basketballs that didn’t make it into the trashcan and the accidental throw up from a student who couldn’t make it to the restroom. I had to admit that even sometimes I made their jobs challenging by taking more paper towels than I should or leaving used napkins on the table after 4th-period lunch because I didn’t want to miss walking down the hall with the older kids in the grade above me.  Now as an adult, I feel like a janitor in my own house; however, I’m not getting paid. I guess that’s what sparked my interest in the career of a janitor. It could be potentially rewarding? Right? Think about cleaning a disgusting restroom but maintaining its cleanliness to the point that people always want to use the restroom that you clean? I’d start telling everyone it’s me who keeps it looking this good. You may have heard of a custodian and thought it meant the same thing as a janitor but believe it or not there’s a huge difference. A custodian maintains a property at any given time of day. A janitor comes to a specific location to clean.  I’m going to explain why being a janitor is a great career move and why you should say thank you the next time you see one.

The Job of a Janitor

The workload of a janitor can be moderate depending on the location and obligation of duties assigned. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics here’s a list of things they do:
  • Gather and empty trash
  • Sweep, mop, or vacuum building floors
  • Clean restrooms and stock them with supplies
  • Lock doors to secure buildings
  • Clean spills and other hazards with the appropriate equipment
  • Wash windows, walls, and glass
  • Order cleaning supplies
  • Make minor building repairs
  • Notify managers when a building needs major repairs
The duties above are just the minimum. Also, janitors may find themselves working outside sweeping walkways, cutting the grass, and maintaining the beautification of the property during the day and night. Some are even expected to shovel the snow and take care of the heating and cooling systems in buildings.  To handle those responsibilities, janitors must know how to use the proper maintenance tools to properly complete those duties. They must also do a lot of bending and lifting while utilizing the tools. The tools used are: 
  • mops 
  • brooms 
  • rakes  
  • shovels 
  •  snow blowers 
  • floor buffers
  •  carpet extraction equipment

Workplace

You can find a janitor in many places. Janitors work in the public school systems. There are jobs provided by the government, state, local and private sectors. Literally, you can find a janitor everywhere. There are 2.4 million janitor jobs in the U.S. The hard part is getting a janitorial position. You must obtain a GED or High School Diploma. Certificates are not required but definitely a plus if you want to go higher in this career. Some places to earn certificates for a janitorial position are available through the Building Service Contractors Association and  ISSA. Most janitors receive on-the-job training with prior experience but it’s possible to land an entry-level position without experience.  Back in 2015, I applied for a janitorial position. At that time I was recently honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. I knew I needed a job, so I applied to as many janitorial positions as I could. I wasn’t surprised to hear back from the hr department for the janitorial position. I was confident due to my resume and experience in the Marine Corps. Why wouldn’t they want to hire me? However, I found out that they wanted people with prior experience cleaning. The only experience I had other than doing chores as a kid was cleaning the restrooms in Bootcamp. Of course, I didn’t put either on my resume.  On the day of the interview, I came into the building ready to knock the socks off of the hiring manager. The night before I even did a little bit of research on being a janitor. I believed it would get me cool points. The hiring manager said that although I had an impressive resume it wasn’t the reason he wanted to hire me. The reason he wanted to hire me was that he knew that at some point in the Marine Corps I cleaned and I had to take orders from someone. That was good enough for him to offer me a job. I didn’t take the job but the experience humbled my opinion about the job of a janitor that I took so lightly. Being a janitor is just as important as any other job. You do need more than a high school diploma or GED, you also need experience because it’s essential.  Speaking of essential, we are currently in a pandemic. Covid-19 has shaken the lives of everyone all around the world. We are depending on doctors, nurses, grocery store cashiers, and even janitors on the front lines to help prevent this illness from spreading. Janitors have played a major role during this pandemic. They risk their lives every day cleaning up bodily fluids, human blood, and infectious material. Their health is compromised as well. They are required to wear proper PPE. Below are the PPE that’s required:
    • Gloves
    • Gowns
    • Masks
When cleaning hazardous chemicals the following things are required below:
    • use ordinary commercial-grade cleaning products
    • Follow manufacturer instructions like Safety Data Sheets 
    • Proper PPE to protect from chemical hazards.
If the work doesn’t excite you maybe the money will. The median wage for janitors is $13.19. That’s a $5 over minimum age. Their salary usually averages out to about $30,000 a year. Providing a decent living for your family is just as rewarding as everyone raving about how clean the restrooms are.  Janitors haven’t always made the amount. SEIU spent years creating the Justice for Janitors movement so that janitors would make appropriate wages for the work they do. Over 125,000 janitors fought for justice together to make it happen. According to SEIU 57% of them now make over $15 per hour. Stories that date back to 1985 janitors fought back because of wages being cut.  Even now with covid-19 businesses have taken a huge hit which ultimately trickles down to the occupation of the janitors. A lot of businesses have been forced to cut budgets and choose between keeping their businesses open or letting go, janitors. Some businesses have cut the hours. San Francisco passed a law for more strict cleaning rules. Other states like Harrisburg, Pennsylvania are also setting the tone for strict cleaning rules as well. This puts a strain not just on businesses but the people who are cleaning them! Right! You guessed it. It puts more strain on the janitors since they have to clean more in a shorter amount of time. 

Testimonies From Janitors

According to Board Panda, many janitors enjoy their jobs. Here are a few testimonies below:  On an Ask Reddit Thread Redditor Lusterkx2 shared his views on being a janitor. He started by saying that he loved his job as a janitor because he is OCD. It truly makes him feel happy knowing that his building is cleaned when he goes home. That’s not the only thing that excites him. He also enjoys having a state janitorial position which means he doesn’t get regular pay. He gets paid really well. Also, the Redditor said that he gets to take the cans and recyclable things home to earn extra cash. There are other janitors who started as janitors and are now self-made millionaires. On CNBC.com leadership editor  Benjamin Snyder reported on 3 self-made millionaires who started as janitors. Sean Colon is an immigrant from Ireland, who came to America and started as an assistant janitor. Conlon worked hard and saved his money to buy his first apartment. He believed in the American dream. While working as an assistant janitor by day, by night he started selling real estate. Eventually, he became one of the top real estate brokers in the country. He also became the host of CNBC’s The Deed: Chicago. A true philanthropist and business mogul.  The next on his list was Ronald Read. Read bought into stocks and eventually became wealthy off his investments. He passed away back in 2014. Read said he knew he was going to be great a long long time ago. Read left much of his fortune to a hospital and library in Brattleboro, Vermont. He was notably known as the 8 million dollar janitor by the Washington Post.  Last on his list was Steve Hightower. The Ohio native worked for cleaning service nights and weekends while also working as a custodian for a college. Hightower now owns his own oil and transportation business. The name of his business is called Hightowers Petroleum. In an interview with CNBC, he said, “I started as a janitor. I started cleaning floors and toilets and doing those things that most people would never even dream of doing,”  However, he adds, “I wanted more.” “When people ask me would I ever have imagined I would be where I am today? Absolutely,” Hightower tells CNBC. “Because if you don’t think that you can be great, you’ll never be great. And I knew that I was gonna be great a long, long time ago.”  Although there are good things that come with being a janitor, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the not so good stories that come along with it. There are some disgusting stories out there that also should be shared as well. It’s not all glitz and glam either. Janitors on Reddit weighed in on another thread about the worst mess they ever had to deal with. Check out these gross testimonies below:
  • A janitor at a summer camp had to clean up the feces of kids deciding to all collectively defecate together once a week. They each would go to a stall and defecate without flushing the toilets. 
  • A janitor at a veterinarian hospital had to clean up a sick dog’s vomit who threw up an opossum in bits. 
  • A janitor who worked at a high school had the duty of cleaning the women’s restroom. The janitor had to clean a pentagram of blood off the wall. 
  • A janitor at Walmart had to clean diarrhea that was splattered all over the bathroom stall. 
  • A janitor working for a restaurant chain had to by hand with an industrial bag over the hand remove roughly 5 pounds of defecation. Then after the janitor returned from the compactor, he walked into the women’s bathroom and had to clean a butt print of blood off the seat of the toilet. 
  • A janitor for an apartment complex had to let firemen in to do maintenance on all the alarms in the apartments. When the janitor and firemen stepped inside they saw fecal matter smeared all over the sofa and floor.
  • A janitor at a movie theater had to clean blood written on the bathroom wall that said Team Edward during the release of a Twilight Movie. 
  • A janitor working during the night shift for a school saw a lunchbox with flies gathering around it. The janitor opened the lunchbox and the smell was so strong that the janitor dropped it on the floor. Slugs splattered all over the floor. 

Say Thank You

If you’ve had a thought about being a janitor I hope this blog inspires you to push yourself to take the next step. I hope you’ve gained more insight into the life of a janitor. It’s important to know the ends and outs of something you’re interested in.  If you’re not interested, at least you understand the things that they have to deal with on their jobs. It’s not easy, but to some, I’m sure it’s worth it. Remember you don’t have to stop at being a janitor it could just be a stepping stone. Many janitors come to mind that I’ve crossed paths with over the years. They were nice and respectable people in the community. I’ll be forever grateful that those men and women decided to be of service to me and hundreds of other people. Keep in mind we need janitors. They do all the dirty work so that we don’t have to deal with it. That should be enough to at least make you want to say thank you to our thankless heroes!

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