Why an expert Facilities Partner is your Best Defense During and After the Pandemic

WRITTEN BY: Aramark K-12 Education

The pandemic continues to present new challenges to school districts, especially in the management and operation of their buildings. During this time, focus areas have shifted across a spectrum of challenges, from cleaning frequencies to social distancing strategies to indoor air quality strategies, and most recently to masking guidance. District administrators and facilities leaders find themselves continually on the front line of the pandemic. As the pandemic continues to redefine daily life, many K-12 schools and districts have realized they are not fully prepared for the return to pre-pandemic operations. This realization is causing academic leaders to rethink their approach to risk management, and to give serious consideration to partnering for facilities services. Indeed, the adoption of facility services outsourcing by both K-12 and higher education has accelerated since the beginning of the pandemic.

Partnering with facilities service providers ensures districts are best positioned to meet the ever-changing building needs and challenges of tomorrow’s school environment. Here are five reasons why partnering with a service provider for facilities management is your best defense during and after the pandemic.

Reason #1: Keeping up with the speed of innovation

The pandemic unleashed a flurry of innovation. New ideas, products and best practices quickly flooded the market at a pace not previously seen within the facilities management industry. For example, new cleaning products, social distancing solutions, remote monitoring sensors, contact tracing methods and air filtration products sprang into the market — all with carefully articulated promises and claims about efficacy. Additionally, as efforts migrated to improving indoor air quality, much misinformation accompanied a host of new mechanical solutions to improve ventilation and filtration solutions,

Districts are expected to adjust their operations and leverage new technologies to create environments that convey health, as well as enable learning. With this comes the added pressure of evaluating new ideas, understanding their pros and cons, researching performance, and piloting and testing — an expensive and time-consuming process.

Few districts have the in-house resources to research, test, and pilot emerging technologies. Yet, access to such innovation provides a critical advantage — whether during a pandemic or simply in daily operations. A facilities partner brings a dedicated research and development (R&D) team and a pipeline of continuous innovation. This partner can assess several new solutions at once, ensuring your district ends up with results tailored to your organization’s needs.

What Aramark is doing:

With a service partner, districts are assured access to leading-edge solutions, helping them stay abreast of an unprecedented pace of change and innovation.

  • Aramark has a dedicated R&D team that focuses on continuous innovation. From spring 2020 into fall 2021, our operations and R&D teams evaluated more than 95 innovations that offered value in protecting building occupants. Our R&D teams continue to evaluate new guidance and technology as it emerges in order to bring best-in-class solutions to our partners.

  • Several innovations that quickly offered promise were already in the pilot stage before the pandemic, such as AIWX™ Connect, which delivers a suite of business intelligence to drive efficiencies, improve planning and enhance customer service for safer building spaces. Proven in commercial, education and healthcare settings, AIWXTM Connect successfully combines the power of data with operational expertise to create safer environments and improve building performance.

  • As the CDC and ASHRAE changed their guidance for organizations to focus on airborne transmission, Aramark embraced a layered-strategy approach to increase effective air exchanges in occupied spaces. We are now deploying cost-effective and proven solutions to mitigate virus transmission, improve air quality, and instill teacher and parent confidence. Solutions are tailored to each school’s unique infrastructure and financial limitations.

  • As part of a multi-solution layered strategy, we have deployed Upper Room Germicidal Irradiation as a proven solution to increase air exchange equivalency and create healthier environments. This solution is particularly useful in K-12 environments given its low cost of installation, low cost of maintenance and operation, and silent operation.

Reason #2: Maintaining compliance with regulatory changes

The regulatory environment that guides facilities has always been extensive, and COVID-19 exacerbated and accelerated this regulation. Guidance from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has evolved over time. Guidance on such areas as cleanliness and indoor air quality changed at a frequency not normally seen in other areas of facilities management. Staying abreast of shifting recommendations, and more importantly, successfully responding when changes are needed, can be a challenge for most districts.

What Aramark is doing:

School districts often do not have a full-time staff that can keep pace with these changes, nor understand their implications and how they may apply to their own organization or buildings. Service providers bring with them resources that can assist in this process.

  • Aramark has a Global Safety and Risk Department that constantly evaluates and reaffirms safety standards in order to reach Target Zero: no harm to people or the environment.

  • We work closely with both our R&D and Legal teams to stay abreast of changes in industry guidance and regulation.

  • Aramark advises clients on upcoming regulatory changes and how to interpret them. Reason

#3: Focusing on safety

The pandemic has understandably ushered in a sharper focus on safety for school districts and their operations. Prior to the pandemic, cleaning was focused on dirt removal and environmental systems on user comfort. Now the focus is on healthier environments that are safe for student and teacher occupancy and that promote attendance. Far outside its core mission of education and in addition to creating engaging learning environments, district administrators must now focus on creating environments that maintain and protect the health, safety and well-being of the school community. The health and safety of the school environment has become an occupancy prerequisite for students and their parents, as well as faculty and staff.

What Aramark is doing:

  • Aramark developed EverSafe™, a multidimensional safety platform designed in partnership with Jefferson Health to empower students, teachers and staff with confidence in their safety.

  • We’ve utilized our experience serving the healthcare market to incorporate infection-prevention solutions akin to those used in hospitals to protect patients.

  • We provide third-party validation from Jefferson to support public perception of safety and cleanliness.

  • We are aligned with channel partners in cleaning and environmental systems to jointly develop, test, and pilot emerging solutions that support healthy environments. Proven solutions are shared with our clients.

Reason #4: Accessing financial solutions

Pandemic response and return-to-school operations have required extensive investment to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being — leading to rising costs. Fortunately, the funding in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) will help relieve some of the financial pressure districts face. However, K-12 education still faces enormous costs, with some estimates showing a deferred maintenance backlog as high as $500 billion. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has found that 54% of public schools need to update or replace multiple building systems and 41% need to replace HVAC systems in at least half of their schools.

In addition to these costs, many K-12 districts who managed to stay afloat due to federal CARES act funding are facing looming budget cuts—projections show a 10% cut in state education funding is expected during the upcoming academic year. Financial flexibility is an acute need today and for the foreseeable future. Partners are adept at identifying and harnessing funding opportunities to help relieve financial pressure. For example, financial benefits can be realized through operational efficiencies, productivity gains through staff training, and energy savings through performance optimization.

What Aramark is doing:

Service providers have a proven track record of delivering value and securing savings for reallocation, and Aramark is able to reduce costs in several areas.

  • Demand-driven services and AIWXTM Connect help achieve increased cleaning frequencies without additional resources.

  • Remote monitoring capabilities allow space, systems and equipment to be assessed more efficiently through data analytics.

  • Energy performance contracting and high-return projects provide additional access to hidden capital opportunities.

  • Our energy management programs consistently deliver savings of 10-15% without impacting user comfort.

Reason #5: Thriving during a labor shortage

The facilities management environment has faced a labor shortage for years as experienced and knowledgeable employees age towards retirement. This challenge has only been exacerbated by the nationwide labor shortage caused by the pandemic. The onset of these economic issues also prompted many employees across a variety of markets to reassess their career goals and how those goals align with employer-offered opportunities. Crucial to successfully managing the labor shortage is understanding the key aspects that potential hires are searching for: confidence in job stability, a safe environment, and a sense of belonging within an organization that will invest in them and offer opportunities for professional growth.

What Aramark is doing:

From technology that increases operational efficiencies to new talent acquisition strategies, our team has been approaching the labor shortage from multiple angles to combat its effects and ensure the success of our partners. We employ strategies that strengthen retention of current employees, accelerate recruitment of future employees, and deploy technologies for employees to complete their tasks when staffing levels are limited.

  • Continuous training and certification programs consistently engage employees and encourage retention.

  • The Aramark Frontline Education program provides full tuition coverage to front-line employees for undergraduate degrees, offering endless opportunities for growth.

  • Software utilized by the Aramark Talent Acquisition team tracks metrics and data to create a more seamless user experience throughout the hiring process. Additionally, these programs incorporate AI to enhance and personalize the job search experience, while making information collection more intuitive. Our AI system has scheduled over 26,000 candidate interviews to date.

  • AIWXTM Connect allows building managers to better understand their real-time space utilization to deploy labor resources where most needed while maintaining overall cleanliness.

  • Our Center of Excellence team evaluates and deploys autonomous vehicles to supplement standardized cleaning routes, freeing staff to focus on other areas of importance.

  • Solar powered, smart waste receptacles allow alerts to be sent when and where changing is needed.

A healthier, safer education environment starts with partnering with an expert with proven experience in facilities management. Ready to get started?

Aramark is a leading provider of integrated facilities management services to education. Through deep technical expertise, extensive training programs, and continuous innovation, we tailor solutions to improve learning environments for public and private schools.