Manpower planning is the backbone of cleaning, hygiene and FM industry. This process starts with determining the right number of skilled staff−on the basis of contractual requirements, followed by a detailed milestone plan and defined timelines. To understand the ins and outs of managing the manpower by the service providers in the UAE region and the challenges they face, Rashmi Karanjekar speaks to three industry professionals from the cleaning and FM industry…
The nature of soft service industry is such that the manpower recruited ends up working at the client’s side and become the face of the organisation hiring them. Thus, recruiting the right candidate for the right project and taking care of his/her accommodation, transportation and welfare is a crucial part of manpower planning. In the cleaning service and FM industry the process of recruiting manpower starts in the last quarter of the previous year i.e. at the time of reconciling the books, finalising the budget for the upcoming year along with the organisation's growth and forecasts. “A number of factors determine annual forecast plans such as current contracts, renewal rates, market scenario and attrition rate among others. As part of extensive planning for the upcoming year, we further break down the manpower requirement according to different industries viz. housekeeping, finance, retail, government, hospitality and education which is usually guided by our understanding of the market, upcoming projects in the country, incumbent business, etc.,” explains Mohamed Adil Haneef, Chief Operating Officer, MBM. When done effectively this exercise helps attain a revenue target as well as gauge the manpower requirement, which is further divided into quarters and then in months. “We also have to be prepared for unforeseen scenarios usually caused by loss of business and major business acquisitions. In such cases, we set up a special recruitment team of ‘Process Champions’ which involves human resources personnel as well as members of operations and quality teams who are assigned different roles right from recruitment, on-boarding, mobilisation, specialised training, etc,” adds Haneef.
Ethical recruitment practices
MBM has a division under HR for manpower management and planning and they not only take care of the new staff but the day-to-day planning, movement of people, people going on leave and the relievers, etc. “There are times when there is reduction in numbers by the client. In such a scenario, the candidates have to be managed and moved to some other projects,” says Haneef. Similarly, ADNH Compass, offering support services across three core areas such as catering, cleaning services and manpower supply, has an in-house recruitment team, also part of the HR that receive and process hundreds of job applications on a weekly basis. They are also responsible for setting up the regular recruitment trips to source staff from various countries, for specialised jobs or bespoke requirements. “These trips are managed and attended by the recruitment team, with at least one person from the operations team having a firm understanding of the project/ contract requirements. To maximise the value we get out of these recruitment trips, we use hiring agencies to support us with in-country logistics and preliminary vetting of candidates. We only use agencies that we have pre-approved and trained and thereafter audit them to ensure they do not use unethical practices,” informs Imran Ahmed, Regional General Manager, FM & Support Services, ADNH Compass.
MBM’s in-house staff visits the agencies located in the Asian countries like Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines (from where they hire the maximum workforce) to keep a check on their training facilities. “In case they don’t have such facilities in their premises, we ask them to tie up with the training facilities available in their region. This is mandatory because we want the agencies to go through all the technical pre-qualification evaluation and then only the eligible ones are empanelled on to our procurement portals,” says Haneef. “At these training facilities they have placed similar equipment which are in practice here so the candidate learns how to operate the equipment before they reach UAE. They are also shown videos on how the cleaning practices are carried here” he adds.
Haneef further mentions, “Once they have undergone pre-training at their home country, the candidates are brought here, where we then provide the final level of training at our training facility in Dubai comprising of a mock apartment and office. We have also placed cameras across the mock rooms to help them identify where they are going wrong. When they observe their mistakes themselves, it becomes easier for them to register the missteps instead of the trainer or the supervisor pointing it out.” While hiring various candidates for the process, a key aspect of staff welfare is the payment of ethical wages. “We pay at least the minimum salaries stipulated by worker source countries, and ensure that they are paid in time every month. Upon joining ADNH Compass, we provide our staff with a good standard of accommodation, medical cover, daily meals and/or a meal allowance. They are also transported to and from their work locations. Apart from this, we have male and female accommodation managers who are responsible for accommodation and transportation of staff. These managers do regular checks to make sure that the people are in good health and the accommodation units are well maintained,” says Ahmed.
Haneef believes soft services are purely based on managing the manpower, camps and transport. He adds, “This also involves the major cost so you have to manage these three effectively. We have manpower strength of 7,200 plus for the cleaning services alone. Our logistics department that takes care of transportation has around 250-275 owned as well as hired vehicles across the UAE that are monitored through the GPS.”
At ADNH Compass, prior to reporting for duty, each new hired personnel is taken through an induction and on-boarding process, with specific training to cover the knowledge and skill requirements as stipulated by service standards, the UAE Government laws and regulations, as well as any training mandated in the service contract by the clients. Ahmed adds, “We are aware that this approach increases our manpower costs but based on experience we know it is worth it in the long run. We are rewarded with low staff turnover rates, we attract staff that is appropriate for the jobs selected, they can be trained to a high standard and most importantly our people are motivated and productive. This in turn leads to satisfied clients who can expect consistency in the teams of workers delivering their services.”At Al Fajer Facilities Management too once the new hire arrives, they undergo an induction programme. “We educate the new staff about the laws of the land and give an overview of the company. Post the induction, we organise training programmes as well as refresher training programmes every six months,” informs Vinod Varughese, Department Manager – Planning, Training, Quality & HSE, Al Fajer Facilities Management. Al Fajer Facilities Management is an integrated FM company and a part of the Al Fajer Group which has over 14 companies spanning across various industries. Al Fajer FM has over 3,000 workforce from 22 countries and speaking 17 languages.
Factors affecting manpower
In some cases companies have to deal with large attrition rate, which goes up drastically due to a number of factors. According to Varughese delay in hiring, labour approvals/systems and new regulations from the government at the local level as well as at the country of source can affect the manpower planning. Ahmed adds, “Another big challenge companies face in the manpower industry is sourcing the correct caliber of candidates at a market level salary. For instance, if your manpower is deployed within the Oil & Gas sector, the safety standards and high-risk nature of the environment will require additional and specific training.” “It is also the responsibility of the organisation to ensure that their staff are housed correctly, they have enough cooling and heating, they are provided with nutritious food and are paid the right wages. This should be a standard, and thankfully we have voluntarily been operating like this for years” says Ahmed. He further adds, “We want our staff to minimise travelling time to and from accommodation to work site and in most of the situations we identity accommodation camps which are close to the site they are deployed.” This year during Ramdan, MBM had organised close to 60,000 ifthar meals for its staff at the camps. They also organise many welfare events and competitions to keep the staff engaged and motivated. “We have also given them the liberty to complain to their supervisors if they don’t feel safe enough to work in some confined areas till it is inspected,” avers Haneef.
In today’s time, an important aspect and smooth facilitator of manpower management is technology. For instance, MBM has a number of small contracts which require not more than four to five working hours every day. In such a situation, technology enables the company to map their working hours and allocate jobs which are in close proximity to complete the eight hours shift every day. “We have to map the staff working for smaller projects to optimally utilise our resource and strategically move them to another contract where he/she doesn’t have to travel another 2-3 hours to reach the site. This activity also helps the bidding team trying to find smaller jobs around that area when they are aware that there are slots available within the team. This process is quite extensive and repetitive to be done manually so we have developed a mobile application with the help of our in-house tech team,” says Haneef. According to Ahmed, one of the biggest trend in the manpower supply industry is worker welfare. “Hopefully over time this will no longer be a trend, but instead will become the norm for every organisation to take a responsible approach to manpower hiring and welfare regardless of the expectations from their clients” he exclaims.
Health & Safety
Varughese feels that safety and security of manpower is of primary importance as well along with their wellbeing. A strong employee relations team goes a long way in improving the service quality and in retaining manpower. Use of technology (ERP reports) also aids the process. There are technical guidelines issued by the Dubai Municipality which includes the various safety measures and protocols to follow such as the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for chemicals since the staff usually handle a lot of chemicals for cleaning, and also in case of spill what are the precautions to be taken, etc. “We organise an activity called weekly Tool Box Talks wherein we pick up one topic and discuss whatever is relevant at that time. After every six months, we have a safety week which includes activities like posters on safety, slogans on safety, small write-ups, skits related to safety, for team building and sharing experiences and knowledge on this subject. During this programme we also have demonstrations from various companies, for example a fire company would visit us and train our staff on fire safety measures. These activities are usually carried out in camp areas” explains Haneef. Varughese concludes, “As part of the skills training, we give the staff the entire safety standard (chemical hazards, fire hazards, machinery usages etc.,) trainings. All our sites are provided with the required PPE’s. Seasonality and the required safety measures are also explained.We also conduct site visits to inspect the performances and identify any potential risks.”