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What opportunities will 2019 bring for the cleaning industry?

19 December 2018

The turn of the year brings much uncertainty and seems set to throw up new challenges for the cleaning industry. But James White of Denis Rawlins argues that 2019 can also be a year of opportunity – to make a break from our industry’s shackles and re-position cleaning as a profession.

Staff shortages, higher material and equipment costs, an imports hiatus? What does the new year have in store?

Brexit and its fall-out are likely to pose additional and new challenges for facilities managers and cleaning contractors. And whatever happens, the political turbulence could hit the pound and the economy.

Time for a Cleanexit?

But amidst all the uncertainty and concerns, there are opportunities that the cleaning industry can seize in 2019. Ever an optimist, I hope this could be the year that we make our Cleanexit from the straitjacket of time-worn practices and attitudes that are holding the sector back.

The over-arching challenge is professionalism or rather the lack of it. Our sector’s problem here is not just one of perception, though cleaning is held in pretty low esteem in too many organisations. Unskilled and demotivated staff and cut-throat bidding are symptoms of the industry’s underlying problems. They require a concerted, pan-industry response.

Can our trade associations and training organisations sit down together and agree a strategy to turn perceptions and performance around? We have an opportunity to re-position cleaning as an essential service for the health, safety and wellbeing of our ultimate customers – whether they are office workers or the general public.

The multi-pronged strategy needed to bring this about would embrace performance management, technical guidance, health and safety, and sustainability as well as training and commercial practice.

Evidence-based approach

It would mean bringing best practice guidance into the modern age by advocating scientific measurement of the results of cleaning (which is perfectly practicable now with ATP meters). This, in turn, would highlight the inadequacy of outdated cleaning practices such as hand mopping and other unhygienic methods. So cleaning codes would instead focus on achieving the highest standards of cleanliness consistent with value for money.

Where cleaning teams take this evidence-based approach they are more likely to gain the respect of clients and paymasters. Cleaning is an essential service. It is fundamental to the efficient, safe and professional operation of any building. Reliable, hygienic cleaning is synonymous with prevention rather than cure. As employers and client managers become more aware of the need to promote wellbeing, the cleaning team can earn greater recognition for their role.

Overcoming workforce challenges

Training needs a re-think so that staff can understand the importance of thorough cleaning, and how to measure and manage performance. Cleaning managers and supervisors must undergo the training themselves – as well as operatives – if this professional approach to cleaning is to take root and be sustained. 

Professionalising cleaning can also help us as employers deal with the workforce challenges we are facing. Restrictions on immigration will impact all low-wage sectors of the economy. The additional social and political pressure for payment of a living wage is likely to grow. 

A better-trained and -paid workforce will mean lower staff turnover. Operatives can also be motivated to deliver a high quality of service and be more productive. 

But they must be properly equipped to deliver the higher productivity that will ensure cleaning to a professional standard is cost-effective. 

Modern, tested cleaning methods and equipment are also essential because they can raise not only the standards of cleaning but also its status – for the onlooker as well as the operative. Consider, for example, the cleaner slopping a mop across the floor of a toilet, before crouching down in the cramped cubicle to wipe around the bowl; or an operative – in a smart uniform – spraying the surfaces instead and wet-suctioning away the used cleaning solution and soils. This is the difference between menial work and a professional service. 

Expectations of the cleaning service are rising not only in relation to hygiene and wellbeing, but also sustainability. We need to be able to show responsibility in our use of chemicals and packaging, and energy consumption. Again, a more professional approach to appraising cleaning methods based on results and a holistic view of costs – from labour to consumables – can help align hygienic, financial and environmental performance.

Whatever happens with Brexit, by rising to these challenges we can make a clean break with the past and archaic practices in our industry. Cleaning is still seen as the poor relation in facilities management. Making cleaning a profession would change that perception and give cleaning its rightful place at the heart of FM.