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South Jordan Journal

School custodian job a stepping stone for various careers

Mar 09, 2023 10:16AM ● By Jet Burnham

Custodian Mark Nelson maintains the Jordan School District Administration Building from top to bottom. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Riesgraf)

Mark Nelson started his career at age 15 when he began working as a school sweeper. He transitioned to full time custodian in college and became a head custodian of an elementary school at age 22. He continued to work his way up and has been Jordan School District Office Head Custodian since 1999.

Nelson said his job as a custodian is fulfilling and challenging.

“I know everyone thinks a custodian just vacuums and dumps trash, but our jobs involve everything from heating and ventilating and control systems that run them all,” he said. “You almost have to have a computer licensing degree to run some of this stuff nowadays—it's all computerized. You've got to know formulas and how things work. It's good because you learn a lot of skills with this—everything from plumbing and electrical—these jobs require you to continue to learn. Some people don't like that—they thought it was gonna be a mindless job—and it can be, I guess, but if you put your mind to it, you can learn so much.” 

Jordan School District Head Custodian Steve Peart said custodial work is a good entry job for anyone planning to work in a trade or in an education career.

“A lot of our maintenance workers—the carpenters, electricians—they have been custodians to start out with,” Peart said. “So it's a good stepping stone in several ways. You can either get promoted through custodial or you can get promoted through education or you can get promoted through a trade.”

Peart said people who like physical labor or are social do well as a custodian. Future teachers get an education in how a school runs while working as a school custodian during college. 

“At the elementary level, it's almost like you're part of a family,” Peart said.

There is currently a shortage of school custodians and sweepers in Jordan District that is putting a strain on current resources. A variety of positions are open. Full-time custodial positions begin at $14.93 per hour with full health and retirement benefits. School sweepers (age 14 and up) start at $10.30 per hour.

School sweepers work one and a half to three hours a day, Monday through Friday, with holidays off, which makes it an ideal job for middle and high school students wanting to learn good job skills, Peart said.

“It's a good part time job for going to school and still doing homework and still being involved in after school activities,” he said.

Another perk of beginning a career with Jordan District at a young age is that state retirement benefits start accruing with the first full time position.

“A person that starts off as the assistant custodian, works through college, and then later on becomes a teacher and then administrator, or becomes a civil engineer for a state agency, or a district attorney, all of that time counts toward their retirement at their highest salary,” Peart said.

Because he started at such a young age, Nelson could have retired at age 50 with full retirement benefits. His story is not unusual. Many of his coworkers have more than 40 years with the district. They remain in their job because they enjoy the work, the people, the environment and the purpose.

“Being a custodian is not the most glamorous job but it is a job that needs to be done,” Nelson said. “I care about people's work environment. I know we're supporting kids' education. Even down to the sweepers, we're all part of that process and part of that system that educates people.”