It's not unusual for Dawn Schrader to race up and down the hallways of Las Vegas' grand hotels or jump rope inside their luxurious suites.
Those are just a couple of ways the local professional nanny entertains her young charges while their vacationing parents leave them in her care for a few hours to have dinner and see a show, or for an entire day while mom and/or dad attends a business meeting, convention or other event.
No matter the assignment, Schrader, who has worked for the Las Vegas-based Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A. agency for nearly five years, reports to every job dressed in the company's uniform (khaki pants and a polo shirt) and toting a "Mary Poppins"-type bag brimming with age-appropriate activities for the little ones.
"I always try to bring games, books, crafts, coloring (supplies)," as well as "something fun," like a beach ball, explained Schrader, a 47-year-old North Las Vegas mother of two. "I love to watch what they connect with. Some children are artistic and love to draw and color. Some kids are hands-on and like to play."
Schrader is one of the more than 250 nannies employed by Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A. The licensed employment agency was founded a dozen years ago by Lexy Capp, who noticed a lack of nanny agencies when she moved to Southern Nevada from Los Angeles in the late 1980s.
"You used to hear the word 'nanny' and you'd think, 'That sounds expensive.' But now, a lot of people need a nanny," Capp said. "It's not like it used to be when extended family (lived) within a five-mile radius" and could help parents with child care. "So there's a real need for this, and there's an art to it."
Capp has expanded her business over the years to also provide such services as household management, personal chefs, butlers, drivers and personal assistants. Most services are available on a permanent, temporary or on-call/as-needed basis. The company has also developed on-call baby-sitting, housekeeping and pet-sitting registries, for which clients pay a membership fee to utilize services.
Nannies can be hired to work in area homes, as well as at hotels. Salary costs vary depending on each job's specific requirements, but Capp said her nannies usually start out earning $12 per hour.
"In Europe, the art of being a nanny is highly regarded. Over there, when you say you're a nanny, it's like being a doctor," Capp explained. One of her goals when founding Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A., which last year was named national agency of the year by the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies organization, was to develop that type of credibility for the profession stateside.
"I think families are understanding that there's a difference between a baby sitter and a nanny," said Becky Kavanagh, co-president of the International Nanny Association, which will host its annual conference in May in Las Vegas. Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A. is among the trade association's 800 members worldwide.
Nannies "really have to be passionate about working with children," Kavanagh said, and be "really fascinated by children and able to meet their developmental needs, so they do have to have some understanding of those milestones and how to get the child to the next one. I think they have to be fun-loving. Yes, you get to play, but play is the work of a child, so it is a serious business."
In an effort to hire what she calls the "cream of the crop" for her agency, Capp requires that all nanny candidates be at least 20 years old, legal to work in the United States and have at least two years of previous experience in the field with verifiable references. Nannies must also be first-aid trained and CPR certified. Applicants are subjected to various extensive background checks and drug screenings.
As many as 80 percent of the nannies on her staff are college educated, estimates Capp, who has employed current and retired schoolteachers and principals, foster parents and even doctors to work as nannies. "We want simply the best serving the best," she explained. Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A. accepts employment applications on its website, lasvegasnannies.com
Capp requires her staffers to participate in intensive, ongoing training seminars and workshops, including the company's monthly "Steps to Excellence" events, where guest speakers include service-industry professionals from around the globe.
Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A. will host an event April 28 in honor of National Nanny Training Day, being celebrated in cities throughout the United States and Canada. Nannies and child care providers (including those not affiliated with the agency) are welcome to attend the local event, being held at the Tuscany, where guest speakers will attempt to raise awareness about the importance of training for early child care providers, as well as the level of quality nanny care. Additional information is available at lvnntd2012.eventbrite.com
"In the private service industry, it's very important that we're there to equip these (employees) to really go the distance and know how to serve," Capp said. "It's a privilege and an honor to be able to serve in someone's home, so we equip them and motivate them and inspire them to do their job to the best of their ability."
Even when clients are of the four-legged variety. Capp recalls an unusual pet-sitting assignment her agency once fulfilled for a woman vacationing with her small dog at an upscale Las Vegas resort. "She was going out to dinner," and while under the pet sitter's watch, Capp said, "her request was that the dog's sweater be changed four times."
MAIDS IN THE SHADE
Pleasing the customer is also the name of the game at Merry Maids, a national residential housekeeping company, which has developed its own ongoing training and safety programs to teach employees practices for cleaning homes from top to bottom.
That's especially important since surfaces that the company's cleaning professionals must tackle frequently change, said Debra Janos, owner of a Merry Maids franchise in Las Vegas.
"We've seen floors go from shag carpet, and now we're into the Pergo laminate floors, and we're going back to shag again," she explains. "Each one of those (requires) different training and different tools (to clean them), so we're constantly evolving with the new products that are showing up in customers' homes."
Janos employs between 16 and 18 cleaning professionals, who typically work weekdays for wages starting at $9.50 per hour, or they can opt to earn a percentage of the company's fees collected from each cleaning job they complete.
She said she's always looking to hire employees who are at least 18 years old and "understand the physical nature of the job, love traveling to different locations and have a great customer-service attitude." Applicants must also pass a drug screening test and criminal background check. Additional employment information can be found at merrymaids.com/las-vegas
It benefits a cleaning professional to possess what Janos calls a "second instinct" to identify what the customer's looking for in terms of service. "It's not necessarily dusting the table top, it's making sure that things are arranged just right because it drives them crazy when they come home and find things moved" following a Merry Maids visit.
She would know: Janos began her career nearly 30 years ago cleaning homes in Colorado as a part-time Merry Maid. "It's amazing what coming home to a clean house can do for somebody, and I just love that feeling. That's what's kept me going all these years, and I still love doing that," she said.
"There's a sense of completing a goal that you get when you finish cleaning a home, and the bigger the job, the better. And, believe me, we've had some big jobs. We've had to get shovels out now and then," Janos said. "I've been in some one-bedroom, one-bath apartments that take as long to clean as a 3,000-square-foot house."
Beyond making floors shine and countertops sparkle, the job of a cleaning professional is "not so much about the actual cleaning, but it's responding to that particular customer."
What stands out in Janos' mind, she said, "are the personal touches we have done" over the years, especially for some longtime clients. "We've been through divorces where (the customer) has said, 'I don't care about (retaining) the house; I'm keeping Merry Maids.' That's kind of sad, but it's kind of good."
Then there was the customer who experienced a diabetic episode while her employees were present. "It was our cleaning team that helped the (emergency medical technicians) find the home, and get in and get that client taken care of," she said.
Building solid relationships with clients is essential to the services provided by Home Instead Senior Care, a national licensed personal care agency whose employees tackle duties including light housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation and even providing companionship for its aging and elderly clientele.
The agency's services give clients "another option, versus somebody going into an assisted-living (facility) of some sort, of staying at home. That is our goal -- to keep people living in their own home as long as possible and keep that independence," explained Luke Johnson, who is the general manager of Home Instead Senior Care's Las Vegas franchise. A complete list of the company's services can be viewed at homeinsteadlasvegas.com
In terms of the nation's elderly population, "A lot of people aren't to the point where they need skilled care," Johnson said. In those cases, it can be beneficial to hire "somebody who can come in for three hours a day and help out (around the home) with just the basic needs of a person as far as (cooking) meals, or doing shopping for them, or helping with the housekeeping."
As the baby boomer population ages, he said, such services will probably become more necessary.
Johnson said he is constantly in search of the right employees to work for Home Instead Senior Care. "We prefer that somebody has had some experience, whether it's caring for a family member," or if they've been previously employed as a professional caregiver. "We are looking for somebody who has the compassion to work with the elderly."
The agency has about 90 employees who earn $10 per hour after completing an initial eight-hour training session, which includes lessons in proper bathing techniques and continence care issues, among others (annual follow-up training is also required).
There can be an emotional component to the job. "The caregivers get attached to the clients, and vice versa," Johnson said. That's why "consistency is always the goal when we start with a new client. We try to definitely match them with (a caregiver) who we feel personality-wise would be a good fit on both ends."
Caregivers must also have the desire to help others, he said, as well as possess "a great deal of patience. They have to be extremely understanding of what somebody else is going through."
Not unlike the work of a nanny. "You have to care for the kid," Schrader said. "You have to be able to get down at their level and just connect and listen. I think listening is the key."