A bright future?

18 January 2019

Stan Atkins, group CEO at The British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), looks at some of the key trends and developments that will influence training and education in the cleaning sector in 2019 and beyond

The office is changing 

Daily office cleaning has changed dramatically since the 1950s and 1960s when most offices were modular and the biggest open plan area was generally the typing pool. In those days, charladies would effectively clean in the morning and then move on to the tea trolley duties later in the day. They had no formal training as it was assumed that housewives who cleaned at home could clean at work. 

We have now progressed to more open plan offices. Also, office based staff are reducing in numbers. Many staff members can work remotely as long as there is a good internet connection. A lot of people use coffeehouses as their office. Some of the more labour-intensive office functions such as call centres are now being run by artificial intelligence which has taken over some of the more routine call centre jobs. Therefore, the very nature of daily office cleaning is changing before our eyes.

The rise of automation

We are also in the midst of the Third Industrial Revolution. Also known as the Digital Revolution, it refers to the use of electronics and information technology to automate production. A Fourth Industrial Revolution has also arrived. Building on the Third, it is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in a number of fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Our children will be working in job roles not realised today. In the future, no one will join a company and spend their working life there until retirement. Jobs in the future will be more orientated towards man/woman and machine. 

Some entry level jobs will disappear within my lifetime. For example, how many drivers of vans, trains, lorries and taxis will we need in the future if self-driving vehicles become the norm? What will those people do instead?  

In the future cleaning operatives will have to be more technically orientated. This means acquiring new skills and interfacing with robotic machinery. However, the cleaning industry will never be fully automated and the sooner the working environment is improved for the operative the better. By this, I mean better facilities for cleaning staff, lockers for personal items, cleaning cupboards etc. and greater acceptance of daytime cleaning to negate the need for unsocial hours wherever possible. With the latter will come a requirement for high levels of customer service skills for operatives working during the day. 

A shift towards higher qualifications 

One of the biggest proponents of training in the UK was originally the National Health Service (NHS) where all cleaning was undertaken by in-house staff and also the education sector. In the early 1960s the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) was formed and by the late 1960s they had recognised a requirement for an accreditation in the cleaning industry.  

Over the next 20 years it is expected that the cleaning industry will see a shift towards people holding higher qualifications. There will be employment growth across higher level occupations including managers and technical roles. The proportion of people with no formal qualifications is expected to fall to 4%. Generally it is this 4% who will find themselves working in the service industries.

Blended learning

The most difficult task in training someone is when you have to undo someone else’s training or correct an institutionalised habit. There is no doubt that cleaning training in the future will be of a blended nature i.e. practical (show, tell, do) online and classroom type learning.

The Institute is often accused of not being up to date with online learning. Currently the Institute is looking at various ways to introduce blended learning. For example, you can take your driving test in two parts, theory and practical. I am of the opinion that many of the manual tasks can be learnt online. However, the assessment has to be done face to face. Which is also true of the driving test.