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Talking Technology with Neil Spencer-Cook, BICSc Group Managing Director


We explore the benefits of adopting AI, VR and AR technologies for training in the commercial cleaning industry.


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June 10, 2024
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Talking Technology with Neil Spencer-Cook, BICSc Group Managing Director

In an exclusive interview with Clean Middle East, Neil Spencer-Cook, BICSc Group Managing Director discusses how adopting technology in the commercial cleaning industry offers numerous benefits. Employers save on costs related to sending staff to training locations and reduce downtime as training can be done online in small chunks. This minimises the need for shift coverage. Employees benefit from the flexibility to review and revisit training content at their own pace. Mobile applications enhance accessibility, allowing staff to refresh their knowledge conveniently. While VR and AR are still developing in this field, data analytics help improve training efficiency by identifying areas needing improvement. E-learning platforms cater to diverse learning styles, making training more inclusive and adaptable.

What are the primary benefits of adopting technology for training in the commercial cleaning industry?

The benefits of adopting technology in the industry are the advancements in online and virtual training. 

The benefit to an employer is that they don’t have to budget for the expense of sending their staff to a training location. They also don’t have to budget for their staff to be out of the business for necessarily long periods of time because they can do the training online in bite size chunks. 

What it also means is that rather than having to provide cover for an entire shift or number of work shifts, they can afford to lose their operative from the business for part of a shift rather than an entire shift.

If they are not necessarily paying for their people to be trained out of the business, they are also not having to pay for a trainer to come to the organisation to conduct training sessions. 

From the employers’ perspective there are numerous operational and cost savings they can make. 

From an employee perspective, on a lot of occasions, and it depends on the person being trained, numerous operatives prefer individual training, as it allows them to go back and review and revisit training content. 

The technology allows repetition more than face to face training does, whereby you only get to go through things once. 

How can mobile applications enhance training programs for commercial cleaning staff?

These days everybody has a handheld device of some description. Depending how much access they get to the training programmes, and if they have continual training or are learning something new, staff tend to have a handheld device that allows them access to a mobile application.

This gives them easy access to let them have a quick look if they are unsure of something or to refresh them if they are doing something they haven’t done for a while in the workplace. 

As with all mobile applications, it makes things much easier. We are all used to using mobile apps now, it is very much part of daily life and is second nature. 

It makes training more accessible to anyone, wherever they are located, and everyone learns differently and has different lifestyles and work patterns. 

Looking at it from the company’s point of view, how many cleaning operatives, if you are training commercial cleaning staff, will have a desktop computer provided through their work?

If we look at the way the advancements in technology are going, more and more cleaning operatives are likely to have access to tablets or something handheld, including a mobile that will be on their person daily. 

What role do virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) play in training commercial cleaning personnel?

VR and AR is currently in its infancy within the professional cleaning industry. We know that people are trying it out and are working on it, trying to find ways of utilising VR and AR. However, when it comes to incorporating VR or AR, we haven’t yet found anything to be effective for training purposes. 

It is very much the buzzword of the moment and everyone is looking at this technology, however it needs to be well thought out and proven before you can actually use it and I think commercial cleaning personnel are probably further down the list of this type of technology being utilised for them. The more practical the skill you are training, the more difficult it is to use VR in the first instance. 

It is a technology that is developing and at some stage may well be fit for purpose for many professions, but it is not something at the forefront of the cleaning industry currently. However, it is very much a case of watch this space. 

How can data analytics improve the efficiency and effectiveness of training programs in commercial cleaning?

Through the use of technology and virtual platforms, the data you can now get on training is much greater. For example, it allows you to see how long people are spending on lessons, how many times candidates have to go through quizzes before they can move on.

It also demonstrates how much they are engaging with the virtual training. 

A good virtual training suite gives you so much data and what it means is that you can look at your training programmes and you can see what may be causing a problem and then strengthen that area, so people understand it better.

It gives a training developer the ability to look at where they can make improvements, where they can make usability easier for candidates or where it might be too easy for the candidate, and maybe needs to be strengthened as well.  It helps if you need to enhance and refine elements. 

What challenges might a commercial cleaning company face when integrating technology into their training processes?
It very much depends on the level of technology that a cleaning company has within its business. Some are highly technical and have their systems closed and very controlled and a full-blown IT department. 

It is a question of whether people want their training technology run through their business, developed internally, or do they want it provided by an external company?

Any challenges will depend on several factors including, what are you doing, are you creating your own training or using external training? External training will always be harder to develop within your own IT platform. 

How can e-learning platforms be tailored to meet the specific needs of commercial cleaning training?

The cleaning industry has one of the biggest diverse workforces of any industry. There are so many people within the industry who have so many different learning capabilities and capabilities when it comes to IT.

What an e-learning platform does is offer lots of options. You can add video, you can have closed captioning, candidates can replay the lessons and use translation tools, if they are struggling with language, and they can go over and review the information.

Learners can ask someone to sit with them and explain the training to them when they rewatch elements, if they are struggling. 

There are so many ways you can address the diverse workforce we have and what e-learning platforms give, which is something that BICSc has always done, is that we explain and then we demonstrate. 

That demonstration doesn’t need to have a voice as you can see someone doing it. Some people are vocal learners, some people are visual learners, some like to learn by doing it themselves – every learner is different. 

An e-learning platform gives everyone the ability to look at their own style and try to find a way they can make the e-learning platform work for them. 

The difficulty with a classroom style setting is that you are limited to the trainer’s style and a trainer should adapt to their candidates. Whereas an e-learning style is fairly static but there are tools, like the captioning and if you have someone videoed and talking at you, lip reading is another option.

You can also use different backgrounds, which are easier to change to neurodiverse backgrounds and it is easier to make your e-learning more accessible to different neurodiverse people and different learning styles. 

In what ways can artificial intelligence (AI) be utilised to personalise and improve training for commercial cleaning employees?

Currently you can use AI to help produce your closed captions, you could potentially use AI to produce language translations, however unless you know both languages, that could have its potential pitfalls. 

AI on that level is starting to provide quick and easy ways of getting things done but we are not yet at the point where it is totally proven to be 100 percent reliable and, therefore, I would question how beneficial AI is in personalising and improving training currently. 

What are the cost implications of adopting advanced technology for training in commercial cleaning, and how can companies justify these investments?
When it comes to justifying your investments in training, there’s a well known saying: “What happens if I train them and they leave, but what happens if you don’t train then and they stay?”

The cost implications will very much depend on the technology adopted. Whether you are building your own in-house training and you want your in-house training to incorporate VR, AR and AI, then you are understandably going to have higher cost implications.

You have the headsets which would need to be provided, the development code costs, when sometimes a simple learning platform is not that expensive, if you are building your own training content. 

However the problem with that approach is the cost of your time, the time that it takes to build and the people you need to build that for you. 

The cost implications can be as much as using an external trainer’s technology within your business, which is probably the most cost-effective option and will have the least cost to the business.

Or it will come down to the time it takes to develop, and the time to develop will eventually, depending on the size of your business, outweigh itself. Because you might be paying a certain amount of money for each course and each person and you might be paying a massive amount to develop your own training, however when that significant amount to develop the training is split over training 20,000 people in the future, it works out to a very minimal amount per candidate in the long run. 

Commercially the question is do you want it to be a drip, or do you want it to be an upfront cost that you gradually claw back.  

How can technology help in maintaining compliance with industry standards and regulations in commercial cleaning training?

With technology, particularly if you look at the BICSc platform, we have it scheduled regularly to check on the latest legislation referenced within every course. Because it is so much easier to change one platform and then you know everyone will have the updated information at the same time.

Whereas if you are reliant on receiving updates from trainers, who are often travelling between different locations, they might miss an email requesting updates regarding regulations/legislation that should be included in their latest training presentations to candidates. 

It is more efficient to have everything on one training hub where everything is reviewed and updated regularly when required and is accessible to everyone. 

Additionally, from a printing perspective, if all the updates are available online, you do not have to reprint booklets or training materials. That, in itself is, a cost saving and also another benefit from a sustainability standpoint. 

What feedback mechanisms can be integrated into technology-based training programs to ensure continuous improvement and engagement in commercial cleaning?

You can see how people are progressing through the courses and where they are having difficulties or flying through and getting 100 per cent. 

The technology allows you to encourage people to rate your courses or to fill in questionnaires; it gives us the ability to present it to candidates as an option and for those who want to participate, they are easily able to do so.