How to lift the industry?

15th of June 2010

For far too long, the cleaning industry has been at the bottom of the pile in terms of social acceptance, writes ECJ's UK correspondent. What can be done to change this?

We accept that, as forecast, FM companies have begun to dominate the major account areas for contract cleaners. It was once said of the larger contractors: “They used to be cowboys but now they're ranchers,” but the scenario has broadened with the arrival of the 'barons'.

For as long as we can remember it does seem that cleaning and cleaners have been at the bottom of the pile in terms of social acceptance. The British Cleaning Council (BCC), British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc) and Cleaning & Support Services Association (CSSA) and other associations have worked manfully to improve the situation. One of the BICSc prime goals was to improve the status of the cleaning industry through education and it has certainly made strides in the education field.

Despite this we find FM companies and their clients do not give cleaning its rightful place in value and importance. It is classified in a way that denigrates by expression as ‘soft FM’. At FM and other exhibitions contract cleaners are in a small minority. While cleaning is often on the menu at conferences and seminars for FM managers and clients, speakers are often struck by the lack not only of knowledge of the cleaning industry, but of cleaning itself. Frequently unintelligent questions are asked at the end of sessions. Journals catering for the FM field carry a disappointing level of advertising from contract cleaning companies.

It is true that the industry has been helped by the developing 'green' and 'sustainability' issues. FM clients take an interest since declaring your company to be 'green' is allegedly high in customer approval. Prominent in this are companies other than cleaning companies that at the same time are profiting from near slave wages in the third world while declaring their climate change credentials.

The task of lifting the cleaning industry to what it believes is its rightful place at the top table can be seen as daunting in the extreme. This is not to say it's not worth trying, and many good men and women are fighting for the industry but it lacks the lead it deserves. The chairs of the various associations have the capability to give this lead but are at least partly hamstrung by their various committees and members who often have different and opposing views.

The BCC looks the logical body to lead but clearly does not have the wholesale support of its members who often consider it to be trespassing on their preserves. The point of its trumpeted (but only in the cleaning industry) manifesto escaped me and to publicly express concern about job losses in the public sector when the country has debts of over €190 million suggests a lack of reality. At least in this the BCC is not alone.

At the time of writing we also have a new coalition government. We are now waiting for action on debts, cost cutting, immigration and education.

Cleaning remains alas still at the bottom of the pile but is doing the job day and night.


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