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Roundtable Discussion


Training – The Key to Efficient Cleaning Practices


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Cleaning Services
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Roundtable Discussion

A close-knit network of suppliers, service providers and end consumers is involved in ensuring the efficient cleaning of facilities and spaces in any country. Training is the key to ensure that cleaning technicians implement the best practices and effectively use and apply the latest equipment and chemicals. Addressing this was the second Clean Middle East Roundtable on training. Shanti Petiwala reports…

One of the most glaring factors in the UAE is that most, if not all, of the labour force is recruited from other countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Africa, etc. Training the personnel is key in ensuring efficient use of products and services. While the UAE cleaning industry does have standard training certifications and modules in place, challenges still remain. The second Clean Middle East roundtable addressed how the network of suppliers, service providers and consumers can work in tandem towards this goal.

Training standards

One of the lifelines of training in the cleaning and hygiene industry is the British Institute of Cleaning Sciences (BICSc). According to Serah Ngunya, Head of Soft Services - H&G, Farnek, “This internationally recognised course was widely adopted in the UAE by service providers and clients 3 years ago, and today both cleaning service providers and end consumers seek this certification in any tender.” Andrea Deutschbein, Director-FM Soft Services, The Dubai Mall, Emaar Malls, says, “The mandate has always been to have BICSc or equivalent certification of international standards. Early in 2012, Emaar introduced BICSc as a mandatory standard for every service provider to work with Emaar.”

According to Deutschbein and Ngunya, BICSc teaches safe system of work and has three mandatory units in addition to other base & additional units that every operative has to successfully complete to be considered competent and proceed with further modules. Based on the required skillset, every cleaner will go through different modules to become a cleaning operative and the BICSc certificate for it has to be provided.

When it comes to legislations and other training certifications, Dubai Municipality has strict standards for specialised cleaning activities like water tank cleaning and highlevel cleaning needs, both of which need certification. Apart from this, the municipality is also involved in health and safety standards in general cleaning practices.

Sreekumar Panicker, Head of Sales UAE Professional, Kärcher Middle East, says, “The GCC countries are currently involved in formulating standards similar to the BICSc and the CIMS. This has been a good step. Small cleaning companies have poor cleaning standards, unskilled staff, and improper usage of cheap chemicals and equipment affect public health. This standardisation helps separate the chaff from the grain.”

Processes involved

Doris Mc’Hall, Quality Control Manager, Luxury Cleaning Services, says, “The first step in training is to introduce staff to the various aspects of housekeeping. This is where they are taught that there is more to housekeeping than just a duster, mop and a bucket. Ngunya adds, “With multinational staff, we have to start with the three mandatory units, then the basic training, after which we teach them core skills like mopping, vacuuming, etc. We rely on video training, which is highly popular, too. Suppliers play a huge role especially when it comes to specialised training, as they are always hands-on on site. In an industry like ours, where we round the clock, we need our suppliers to be flexible and have a good response time.”

Supplier support

Supplier support is extremely important in any cleaning job – especially the role it plays in technique, health and safety. Panicker contributes, “The cleaning industry is extremely complex with different types of flooring, chemicals, processes, equipment, etc. As a supplier, we play the role of a consultant to the service provider or end user and suggest the right kind of cleaning solution.

Moreover, we offer specialised training with our products. Some training tools include presentations, training videos and hands-on training.” He further explains, “By simply operating the machine, the efficiency and output is not much. Hence, the user has to be trained in using the machines in the right way to get the most efficient performance.”

Jose Martelino, Key Account Manager and Product Specialist, ALMADION International, says, “We have been supplying chemicals to the airline industry and make it a point to train not only the cleaners but also the supervisors and managers as far as possible. The prime reason being chemicals are particularly delicate to handle, and safety is a very important aspect. We also train our clients in dilution processes, because they may want to economise by buying concentrates from us. It is important to also teach them the limitations of the chemicals – so that they don’t expect miracles.” Deutschbein says, “We recently started working with a new service provider at The Dubai Mall. Before they commenced on site, I ensured that my entire team underwent the same training that the service provider was offering its staff – this includes supplier training for chemicals and equipment.” She says that this step is important because it helps the end customer understand exactly how the cleaning is being done. “I don’t buy the products from the supplier – the service provider does – but I know the products. And, this gives me an upper hand in being aware of the work on my property and where refresher training for service provider staff is required. Also, my team will be able to evaluate correctly the performance of the service provider with regard to the cleaning methodology, correct use of equipment and chemicals. It helps me fill the gap.”

Maintenance for machines

Supplier training is also not just about how to use the product but how to maintain the machine. A company like Kärcher usually provides a one-year warranty including maintenance and regular checkups. In the post-warranty period, clients are encouraged to sign annual maintenance contracts to get routine checkups, with or without spare parts, depending on their budget. Ngunya says, “We have planned preventive maintenance for machines and a system that gives us an idea of how much mileage each of our machines has covered. For misused or damaged machines, suppliers have to take some action. Panicker says, “This depends on our relationship with the service provider. Nevertheless, damage or misuse helps us understand that our client is in need of refresher training.” Mc’Hall suggests, “A trainer should educate staff about purchase and maintenance cost of an equipment, in a manner they can relate to easily. A machine can be repaired or replaced, but an unpleasant guest experience is irreparable.”

Refresher training and monitoring

Refresher training is nothing but assessing the technicians’ work, filling the gaps and updating them on new technologies. Panicker says, “Initially, during training, the operators learn and familiarise themselves with the training. Once they use the machine on a regular basis, they understand it better. Refresher training works to cement this knowledge and understanding.” Martelino adds, “Moreover, in the cleaning industry, people come and go. Refresher training can also be re-training, and there are always new people who may need the same training as the old ones.” Moreover, as Deutschbein explains, “Any job can be saturating – if you have been trained in something and it becomes a routine, you do tend to overlook stuff or take shortcuts, which is understandable because of the tight deadlines. For instance, in an emergency situation, we may have to put a technician on a job he doesn’t do regularly – we can’t stop the work – hence refresher training ensures he knows all aspects of his job.”

 According to Mc’Hall, “Engaging staff in refresher training classes helps improve their morale, adds motivation and in a way reduces stress levels.” Ngunya recommends that refresher training be carried out at least once a year, depending on the number of staff and the project scope. Skills assessments are carried out with all cleaning operatives prior to deployment. This offers a clear idea about who is ready for deployment and who requires more training.

Apart from regular and refresher training in cleaning, the staff undergoes a variety of soft skills training including basic language, customer service, supervisory and management skills, and etiquette. Martelino also suggests training in the transfer of machines into the site, working in restricted areas, etc. He says, “We also provide clients with manuals for reference or guidelines.”

Deutschbein adds that they must also be trained to work in emergency situations with spill kits, etc. At The Dubai Mall, the service provider must supply the mall team with a one-year training plan with an overview of each month. Each month’s training is then updated depending on the lacunae. That’s why she believes that every service provider must have a separate training department. Every cleaning department has different disciplines – hotels, hospitals, etc. The staff is asked which department they would prefer to move to to specialise in. Mc’Hall says, “If the staff expresses interest in a certain area, it is an indication of their eagerness to learn more, perform better and thus give excellent results.”

Train the trainer

In Kärcher, twice or thrice a year, trainers from different Kärcher subsidiaries participate in in-depth training in Germany. Conversely, the company’s product management teams travel to different regions for training on new and existing ranges. Panicker says, “We also have inhouse training for our trainers when it comes to new machines and how to work them.” Ngunya adds that supervisors are also trained separately in human resources from an outsourced party – this includes skills for team building, communication, reporting, leadership, how to work with downline staff, customer interaction, etc., with the aim of meeting the client’s requirement, the set KPIs and SLA’s. Monitoring is also important. And, that is up to the supervisor and manager. They must know what chemicals are used and for what applications since they make the invoice at the end of the month.

Martelino mentions, “We conduct performance reviews where we see the rise and fall in consumption of the chemicals. Sometimes, cleaning technicians replenish their liquids in the aircraft resulting in spillage or hang spray cans over the back of the seats – and it is the duty of the supervisor to ensure that all this is not done.” After all, as Mc’Hall says, handling not just machines but people too is what will build staff into capable leaders.”

Instilling sustainability

Sustainability starts with the tender document, where the customer must identify specifications on eco-friendly material and practices. Accordingly, the service provider sources equipment and products. Deutschbein says that the end consumer must also be aware of what is used to produce the chemical, where it comes from and how it is transported to the location. Panicker says, “CSR is a strong part of our ethics. For us, sustainability means doing business in a fair way for the environment and people. We manufacture eco-efficient machines that have less water and energy consumption. And, the machines are made of recyclable material.” However, he finds that while several cost-conscious clients feel that eco-friendly is the way to go, they finally opt for non-eco conscious materials to save cost.

He feels that if clients budget better, it will help them make more green decisions.Deutschbein adds, “In the long run, eco-friendly is most sustainable. It is the supplier’s job to educate the consumer/client about his product and the benefits in regards to performance and cost. And, the end consumer must educate the staff – including the procurement guys because they can see the difference only when they see how well the product works.” She also suggests that it’s a better negotiation point if the service provider takes the full range from one supplier where possible. Moreover, if the service provider is aware that the contract is longterm, he should also have a longterm contract with the supplier to offer a sense of commitment and get a better negotiating price.

When it comes to instilling sustainability in the cleaning technicians, the panel felt that it had to be through comparisons that they understand. For instance, cost is a huge factor. As a result they can be told about how sustainable practices save money. Incentivization at various levels is one great way of getting better results. For instance, at Luxury Cleaning Services, hotel managers track reviews and the room numbers of guests who stayed using various online portals. Staff who serviced these rooms are rated accordingly, and at the month end, these scores are added up. The attendant with the highest score is given an incentive voucher (like a shopping voucher).


Given the multicultural nature of the workforce in the UAE, language is the biggest challenge for any trainer. As a result, videos, icons, colour coding are used extensively along with basic English. But, time constraint is an issue, especially when a contract is signed and staff has to be mobilised almost immediately. To combat this, some service providers set up training academies in the home countries of the cleaning attendants – so they are trained in the basics before moving to the site. Another challenge, as Deutschbein underlines, is the high attrition of staff. Within the first 6 months of joining, most staff members take time to adapt and most often resign. Moreover, as Panicker says, “Many people are unaware of their job profile and find it difficult to adapt to a cleaning job.” Mc’Hall says, “To combat feelings of low confidence or dissatisfaction of job profile, we as trainers show staff the possibility of growth. It is important to display emotional intelligence through appreciation of their efforts. It is through continual training and mentoring that we instill pride and confidence in them, helping them realize that they are indeed experts in their roles.”

Budget is another constraint, finds Ngunya. She says, “If the customer wants to work in a lower budget than we offer, then a customised training programme is adopted. The trickiest part is to find a balance between quality and economy.” The idea is to get the best output and that is where the supplier comes in – Panicker says, “The machine plays a huge role here. With more coverage, you reduce cost and with more training, you get better efficiency. We have our own training centre, where companies can send their staff to train on our equipment. At the same time, if a someone wishes to set up their own training center, Kärcher can contribute ecofriendly, efficient cleaning machines for the same.”

Apart from this, the panel discussed the need for time management training and the fact that a lot of managers are from the hard FM side and have a tough time understanding soft services. The final challenge in training is retraining or refresher training of people who have experience in this field. These are the people who are older and have a fixed notion of techniques. They aren’t open to learning new updated techniques. Getting them to open their minds is a task! But, despite these challenges, training in the UAE has reached quite a high standard. And now, with the CIMS coming into the GCC region to support training certifications like BICSc and other international level training programmes, the future looks bright!