2021 was a very turbulent year for the cleaning sector. Cleaning operatives worked tirelessly and proved to be frontline heroes, keeping thousands of people safe through the pandemic. 2022 was another challenging year for recruitment and retention in the cleaning sector.
Why did this happen? Shortage in the cleaning staff is not a new problem but the pandemic seems to have aggravated it. Amidst increasing pressure to increase pay in the sector and reports of severe shortages of cleaning staff, we spoke to Mr. Tommy Taylor, Director, T- Taylor Solutions to investigate what has changed and how businesses can protect themselves from the potential impact a shortage of cleaners would create.
Many markets around the world, even the UK and Middle East are witnessing a severe shortage of cleaning staff. Why has this suddenly happened?
In my opinion, the whole thing about shortage of staff is not really a sudden thing and has really been exaggerated b COVID-19. In many countries, especially around Europe, what has been found is that the cleaning staff switched to alternative jobs such as delivering, working in supermarkets, etc and what they found was that the pay was better. I’ll bear witness to this fact. During the COVID period, so many people wanted staff and were willing to uplift their staff. So many employers wanted to pay them a better wage. His wasn’t very easy in cleaning because once you are locked into a contract with your client, anything you give to your cleaning staff over and above is going to be deducted from your profits.
So a lot of people switched from cleaning because they found better jobs that required lesser effort and hours. In some cases, the work was better in terms of their career progression.
As we know, the cleaning industry does have a reputation of employing people with below average education. In my opinion, the shortages in staff were already there but were aggravated by COVID, which is a shame!
We also found that once the effect of COVID waned almost a year ago, the staff didn't return because their conditions had not changed very much, they had put themselves on the frontline during the pandemic and their work wasn’t rewarded as expected. On the contrary, workers in other industries and professions were duly rewarded with greater flexibility and better wages. This stark comparison proved to be one of the reasons why many skilled cleaners left the industry. There were many other factors involved but yes, the shortage has existed prior to COVID as well.
When you look at the Middle Eastern market, where you are dependent on getting the cleaning staff from other countries, the amount of flexibility enjoyed by the cleaning staff becomes a matter of concern for organizations. Earlier you would sign them for a span of let's say 2 years and you would be sure that they will work with you for 2 years. Now, due to the greater amount of flexibility, the cleaners switch from one organization to another.
I don’t really think a lot has changed but it has definitely escalated because of the pandemic.
What can organizations do to attract skilled cleaners?
The key factor for people in this industry, especially at the operational level, is money. This is not an industry where you dream of becoming a cleaner. People become cleaners because of certain circumstances - whether it is convenience in time or flexibility or another reason. As a consequence, what you find is you get staff and their main driver is money. They want to make their ends meet and make as much money as possible. Here’s nothing wrong about that either - it is just a fact of life.
Talking about skilled staff, there is no real definition of skilled staff in the cleaning industry. When was the last time you saw a formal job description for a cleaner? Never really! Basically organizations want someone who is fit, able to follow orders and able to do the job on time. In terms of them being skilled, yes there are benefits of having a skilled worker but b and large, whenever a worker joins a new company, they would have to follow the company ethos which means they would have to be retrained anyway. Then there are certain departments where people need to be given a higher training so they can deliver optimum results.
Talking about attractions, money would top the list. Secondly, they need to know that they are going to be treated well and they have proper equipment in place for them to do their job. The need to feel like they are a part of a team. However, the attraction of more money from a third organization will always surpass these factors. People might also settle for less money but more benefits like lesser workload, proximity to home, etc.
It's a very popular phenomenon that cleaning staff leave or switch organizations after they are trained. How do organizations retain them?
Paying them well really is the key. In the Middle East, special care is being taken that cleaning operatives are trained to a level that they are able to deliver a service properly and to achieve the desired outcome. The good part is that they get trained. The problem area is that the level of their training becomes currency for a job switch. They are able to switch between contractors based on their training and I believe there is nothing wrong with that.