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The future starts with apprenticeships

23 August 2021

Dave Wheadon highlights the vital role that apprenticeship programmes hold for our future, not just in cleaning, but for the UK generally.

RECENTLY, I was asked to be involved with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Apprenticeships. I regard it as a privilege to be able to represent the cleaning industry on this issue, and hope that my years of experience will be of value. The evolution of apprenticeships in the cleaning industry is one that holds great importance in my opinion – it will shape the future of it, with the potential to make huge strides in our industry’s development.

The worth of the cleaning industry apprenticeship must be communicated and shaped as a diverse resource, open to all who want to dedicate themselves to a new profession. As young people, and indeed some older ones, seek to create new and exciting career paths for themselves, it’s important that the cleaning industry should not be regarded as the last choice, but one of the first. It requires dedication, training, and provides prospects for career development, thereby creating  professional leaders of tomorrow. It has the characteristics of any other valued profession, but is not often perceived as such. This must change.

The existence of an apprenticeship programme demonstrates that anyone can become an expert cleaning professional, as long as they are prepared to invest in the correct foundations for the role. Working in cleaning isn’t a job - it’s a career. It too requires continuous professional development and so apprenticeships should start the training process in the way that the aspiring professional means to continue. They must address a variety of technical skills, from caring for fine floors to fine fabrics, the detailed considerations of hygiene, cleaning technology, team management, cleaning strategies, business development and customer care, to name but a few elements.  

The importance of the cleaning industry

The onus is on us, as the established professionals, to reiterate that the cleaning industry is not to be looked down upon. Instead, regard it as a collection of professionals with specific skill-sets that contribute significantly to our built environment in myriad ways. 

This was reinforced during the coronavirus crisis. In extraordinary and challenging circumstances, cleaners risked their safety to keep the population safe, and they continue to play an integral role in getting us back to normal for both work and leisure. In August, it was reported that thanks to the ‘dedicated approach’ of cleaning teams, no traces of COVID-19 were found on swabs taken in four UK main train stations across the UK, or trains running to and from them. This is a significant development for pandemic recovery.

The UK labour market is facing some tough challenges, not just because of the pandemic, but from Brexit too. A strong apprenticeship programme offers the opportunity to re-build and re-shape the UK’s worker landscape. We can cultivate new talent from every level of experience, whether it’s for school leavers or professionals who want a career change. There should be no discrimination, only the intention to develop existing skills, create new ones, and engage any person who is willing to put in the time and commitment. 

Anyone of any working age who wants a career change, to learn new skills, or interact with different sectors, and make a real difference to our built environments, should ignore the stereotypes. Instead, explore the diversity and opportunities on offer in the cleaning industry. It is  built on so much talent and commitment, and it’s time we shared them to a wider audience. We can maintain the highest standards of performance, and in my view, that starts with apprenticeships.  

Dave Wheadon is CEO of the National Carpet Cleaners Association.