A career in cleaning

Lee Andrews, CEO of DOC Cleaning, addresses what we can do to address the challenge of recruitment.

In April, I suggested that recruitment in cleaning was a two-part challenge. The first part was PR. I said that both we, the contractors, and our client organisations need to broadcast more conspicuously how much we all value frontline cleaning staff – both in terms of sanctioning better pay rates and by securing an inclusive approach by clients towards outsourced staff.

What a great message it would send, for example, if every client CEO made a point of acknowledging cleaners when they see them and openly praise their work?

The second part of the challenge is training. Despite the stereotypical image that frontline cleaning is exclusively the domain of the low-skilled employee, we all know this is not true. Not only are there many cleaning tasks that require very specific training – think healthcare, food production and preparation, data rooms, sterile ‘clean’ rooms, special needs schools, decontamination of areas affected by norovirus – there is also the expertise required to operate the increasing variety of cleaning machinery.

Further up the scale, onsite supervision and contract management is a challenging discipline involving people skills, health and safety knowledge and client relationship building. Meanwhile, at head office there are what could easily be called the generic skills of finance, HR, IT, business development and marketing, although in the cleaning context even these can be fairly testing and require real talent to master.

I believe that recruiting good people into management roles is the easier of the challenges. The far greater problem is the publicly held perception that you don’t need too much in the way of intelligence or skill to work as an actual cleaner, which holds back recruitment into the industry at this level of younger people who could then rise through the ranks to become managers.

As an industry we may be guilty, albeit inadvertently, of disconnecting this bottom rung of the ladder from the rest of the infrastructure, reinforcing the perception of it being a dead-end job. But what if there were a clear path of advancement from operative through to manager?

We face a major issue here. We all know that to provide proper training expresses confidence in an employee, guarantees a better standard of work and paves the


"What if there were a clear path of advancement from operative through to manager?"

way to career progression. Yet although good individual qualifications are out there, such as the BICSc ‘Licence to Practise’ and ‘Cleanlogic’, they are individually expensive, attract no funding and, as a result, we have struggled to ingrain the achievement of national qualifications as a standard feature of working our industry.

How many of our website recruitment pages talk in detail about career progression and how many of our staff handbooks clearly set out the qualification path leading to supervision and management, complete with assistance with learning English where necessary? To individuals looking for a worthwhile job, this merely reinforces the notion that there is no such thing as a career in cleaning.

For me, the answer is to establish a single, nationally- recognised qualification, combining classroom and on-the- job tuition, graded according to content, that brings with it the guarantee of improved pay and promotion as people move through the stages, finally resulting in the award of a Diploma in Cleaning or similar. And we must make sure it is delivered from within the industry, with funding from government that is held centrally and drawn down as it is used – something that can guarantee the participation of large numbers of staff.

The fact is, our industry may soon face a recruitment crisis in which we will need to encourage applications from a much wider spectrum of this country’s population than at present. We should send out a message to young people that the industry is one where if you apply yourself and are willing to learn, you can make a fulfilling career out of it.

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