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The Staff Shortage Crisis – Recruiting and Retaining Cleaning Staff

The Staff Shortage Crisis – Recruiting and Retaining Cleaning Staff
13 September 2021
 

Amidst national staff shortages in the UK, cleaners and domestic staff are some of the most in-demand.

In the week of 23-29 August, there were a total of 1.66 million active job adverts in the UK, according to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)’s latest Jobs Recovery Tracker.

These are the highest weekly figures in job adverts since mid-December 2020.

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, commented that hiring businesses need to assess their workforce plans and work out how they are going to attract and retain the staff they need in the coming months and years:

“Recruitment businesses are best placed to help with this, as experts in the field. But employers also need government to work with them in a practical, co-operative way on skills, unemployment and immigration changes in order to get through this crisis.”

The number of new job adverts being posted each week has remained high since early June 2021. This high level of demand continues as many sectors find themselves with a shortage of available workers and companies battle to recruit staff.

REC stats indicate a 1.9 per cent increase in unique active job postings for cleaners and domestic staff during 23-29 August 2021, compared to 16-22 August 2021.

We spoke to several industry spokespeople to ascertain what can be done to attract more people to the cleaning industry.

 

“The industry has always voiced its very real concerns as to whether any shortfall in staff would result in an upsurge in UK nationals joining the industry for the simple reason that historically this has never been the case."

–Jim Melvin

Chair, BCC

 

Recognising Cleaners as Skilled Workers and Changing Immigration Rules

 

The British Cleaning Council has long-campaigned for essential worker status for cleaning operatives, an issue initially arising from cleaners being missing from government-designated key worker lists. Such workers were exempt from the nationwide call to working from home, were permitted priority travel on public transport and were also part of the very first stages of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

This led to the establishment of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the sector, with part of that remit to examine predicted staff shortages due to Brexit rules. The group urges the government to urgently review their changes to immigration rules and recognise the skilled nature of the work done by cleaning staff.

British Cleaning Council Chair Jim Melvin told us of his concerns: "While there are skills shortages and arguably a skills crisis in many sectors across the UK, we believe that the cleaning and hygiene industry is one of the areas where businesses will be hardest hit by problems in recruitment. 

"Many firms are struggling to recruit the staff they need and the situation is getting worse daily. Some of this may also be down to the change in immigration rules following Brexit which effectively classified the work of cleaning operatives as 'unskilled' and made it much harder for the sector to employ workers from overseas.

“The industry has always voiced its very real concerns as to whether any shortfall in staff would result in an upsurge in UK nationals joining the industry for the simple reason that historically this has never been the case."

 

Image

Picture: a photograph of Jim Melvin

 

Improving Standards

 

Jim Melvin continued:

"We hope and believe that we will see an increased demand for cleaning and hygiene staff across the UK due to a widespread desire for improved standards of cleanliness and hygiene following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"We are very concerned that the recruitment issues in the sector may potentially hinder the nation's recovery from the pandemic. 

"We have been calling for the government to urgently review their changes to immigration rules and recognise the skilled nature of the work done by staff in our sector.

“The recognition of this work, which has assisted the country so greatly throughout the pandemic, would make it easier for the industry to recruit staff, whether skilled UK nationals or those from other parts of the world, in order to ensure that we fill these vacancies.

“We will shortly meet with the Interventions and Sanctions Directorate section of The Home Office Immigration Enforcement Department and look forward to constructive discussions in seeking to find a mutually agreeable way forward.”

 

"When people get their first job in cleaning it’s usually because they need to secure income, not a life’s long ambition. What we need to ask ourselves is, why people don’t see that a career of many prospects is available to them in the cleaning industry?"

–Mary-Jane Pettit

CEO, Pioneer FM

 

Retaining Talent in the Cleaning Sector

 

Mary-Jane Pettit, CEO of Pioneer FM and former cleaning operative herself, spoke to us about how her FM company aims to attract and retain cleaners:


“Let’s be honest no one ever dreamt of a career in the cleaning industry. It’s an industry most people fall into. When people get their first job in cleaning it’s usually because they need to secure income, not a life’s long ambition. What we need to ask ourselves is, why people don’t see that a career of many prospects is available to them in the cleaning industry?

"Following in my parents’ footsteps I started out as Cleaning Operative and worked my way up to Operations Manager. This led onto Business Development roles and then my current role as founder and CEO of Pioneer FM. I started my own FM company was because I was wanted our front-line workers, the true Pioneers of our industry, to get the reward and recognition they deserve. And I’m proud to say we are a Real Living Wage Employer. 

 

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Picture: a photograph of Mary-Jane Pettit

 

"All of us in the cleaning industry have had problems recruiting and attracting talent, even more so in the last 18 months. The competition for hardworking, reliable, and motivated people is fierce. That’s why we must do more to promote the many opportunities available in our industry.

"My team and I am working hard to develop a pilot Trainee Area Manager scheme at Pioneer FM, likened to a graduate scheme. We are hoping to go live in the next six months, with 10 people aged 18-24 across the UK. The scheme will run for six months, and we are looking to make some of the trainee’s permanent members of the team. It will see them take on different roles across the business, ensuring they learn the basics of the cleaning industry, such as contract management, health and safety, security screening, recruitment, human resources, quality management, social responsibility, and business development.

"If more cleaning companies take this approach to development, I am convinced we will drive recruitment and attract more people to the cleaning industry.

 

Offering Better Benefits

 

Lorraine Davis, Director of Cleaning Services, Mitie added her thoughts on employee benefits and the importance of flexible working:

“One clear way for employers to attract the best talent is by providing the best employment terms – not just pay, but other benefits too. For example, at Mitie we offer benefits that set us apart from other companies in the sector, such as free access to a virtual GP service for all our frontline colleagues and their families, free life assurance, as well as financial services and support through our financial wellbeing provider, which can help colleagues who may be struggling with high interest debt.

“Beyond pay and benefits, employees increasingly want to feel valued and see the potential to progress, not just in the cleaning industry but also to take advantage of the wider opportunities offered by the FM industry. Investing in ongoing training and development helps forge a pathway for colleagues to build a long term career that can take them from the frontline to a management position, if that’s their goal.

 

Image

Picture: a photograph of Lorraine Davis

 

“The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to invest in a robust cleaning regime. Given the high level of training and use of technical expertise required, such as robotics, this is an inflection point to elevate the industry but, more importantly, those working in it. The skill and expertise of these roles cannot be underestimated. Becoming a cleaning technician can and should absolutely be a career of choice.

“Coupling this with offering more flexible working wherever possible, as well as the ongoing shift in demand for more daytime cleaning, will support the industry in employing a broader range of colleagues, for example, those looking to build a career that complements their childcare needs.

Picture: a photograph of a person in full PPE and gloves cleaning a door handle, with a cloth and spray bottle

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 13 September 2021

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