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ECJ looks back on 20 years - Andreas Lill, EFCI18th of March 2013
ECJ celebrates its 20th birthday this month. To celebrate our birthday we look back at the key trends affecting the industry over the last 20 years, with the help of some of the best-known names in the industry. Today, Andreas Lill from the European Federation of Cleaning Industries (EFCI).
From a European perspective, the most significant development and predominant trend in the professional cleaning industry over the past 20 years is the continuous trend to outsourcing, whereby supporting and ancillary services in administrations and companies, previously done in-house, are awarded to external contractors.
Indeed, the new edition of the EFCI industry survey that is published since 1989 gives a clear picture in this regard. While at the beginning of the 90ies the outsourcing rate was at 43%, it increased to 58 per cent in the beginning of this century and is now at 65 per cent on average in Europe.
In addition, continuous diversification of activities towards integrated services and facilities management are now a reality throughout Europe. This is increasingly pushing in particular larger companies to offer their clients facilities management and support services rather than simple cleaning services.
For smaller companies, especially SME's, this trend results in an increased pressure to offer more specialised cleaning services next to office cleaning.
One of the main improvements is that the whole industry it is nowadays recognised as a professional business offering concrete solutions to many different (public and private) clients. Over the last years, the interested public has begun to acknowledge the professionalism of the industry and the constant increase of services that are provided by external contractors.
This is certainly due to the coordinated action of national associations representing cleaning contractors, machine manufacturers and suppliers. Furthermore, in many countries closer ties have been established with training centers and other organisations related to the industry.
Next to this and as a consequence of the continuous trend to outsourcing, contract cleaning has grown steadily over the past 20 years. This dynamism of the sector is directly translated in terms of regular job creation. Indeed during the last 20 years, the industry recorded an annual growth of about five per cent on average.
According to the last edition of the survey , about 140,000 cleaning contractors, which are in majority small and very small organisations, employ more than 3.3 million workers with an annual turnover of about 62 billion euros.
Every European country has of course its own national context. However, from a European perspective there are some issues that are affecting the industry in a more or lesser extent in all countries. Those are issues that the EFCI is addressing at European level (next to national associations at national level).
The main political issue is to continue to make the industry known and taken into account by the decision makers at European level. The establishment of the EFCI in 1988 was a response to this challenge and quite a lot has been achieved since then. It is the service industries and not the industrial world that create employment and growth.
Services account for about 70 per cent of the GDP in Europe. It is therefore essential to create a positive political and economical environment that helps to develop the full potential of the industry.
From a social perspective, there is the need to built consensus with workers and their representatives in order to create a positive business environment that helps to attract and to keep workers in the industry. The European social dialogue driven by the EFCI and its trade union counterpart UNI Europa is a response to this. The main challenges we face are: professional training, sickness leave (especially through ergonomic problems), turnover of personnel and, as being even more a threat in conjunction with the demographic change, the lack of personnel.
Several initiatives at national and European level have been taken, such as the promotion of daytime cleaning, improved training opportunities and, to quote a French example, liaising with schools, organising meetings with local football clubs etc. in order to attract young people. All these initiatives certainly help to create a better image of the industry among the interested public.
In addition, other services increase the demand for a flexible and adaptable workforce and reduce the number of available workers. They can consequently chose the industry they want to work in and often tend to choose those sectors where they find a more stable work environment with less part-time jobs.
In financial terms, it is first of all the continuous trend to outsourcing that mainly created the strong position the industry is in. On the other side, increased and sometimes unfair competition tends to decrease margins in many European countries. Contracts (private and public) are still mostly awarded on the lowest price criterion despite the many initiatives taken at European and national level.
The EFCI best value guide demonstrates very well that the constant recourse to price based competition works to the detriment of quality and financial stability of cleaning contractors. There is the strong need to make clients understand that the purchase of quality services, delivered by cleaning professionals, is an investment and must be considered as such.
Already today, the cleaning industry is suffering from lack of personnel in some countries. This trend will aggravate in the future and it will be of utmost importance that business will adapt policies to the new reality of ageing. Establishing work opportunities for older workers with continued efforts in livelong learning as well as increasing the attractiveness of the cleaning industry in order to keep workers in the industry will be the keys to respond the future challenges.
The constant trend to outsourcing and facilities management will also have a big impact on future developments. Contractors will have to stay flexible and recognise new business opportunities. The industry will have to continue to raise its image to be attractive for workers and to be even better recognised as an industry that creates jobs and offers solutions for many different services.