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We must shape our industry’s future, says BFG’s Bentley12th of March 2015
“The profile of the cleaning and FM industry must be raised significantly in the eyes of the general public, and in order for that to happen we need some dynamic figureheads and ambassadors.”
That’s the view of Sarah Bentley, chief executive of the UK-based Building Futures Group (BFG).
“We must pull together all stakeholders in order to drive the business forward and really look towards how we shape our future,” she adds.
The BFG is a relatively new name in the world of building services – it’s a trade association formed in April 2014 following the merger of the Facilities Management Association (FMA), Asset Skills and the Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA). In January of this year the CSSA announced its members have resolved to end the merger process and it will no longer be part of BFG.
Bentley is keen to emphasise the CSSA decision will not impact on its work in representing and raising the profile of both cleaning and FM. “Cleaning is an integral part of FM and I believe the industry still needs to recognise that. It’s not separate,” she says.
“The key issue we face is the image and perception it has as a low-skilled, low-paid job with no prospects. But we are positive about the industry we are serving because it’s a growing industry, regardless of what may be going on in the economy.”
Low skill levels
Bentley is keen to point out the BFG does not try to avoid the fact that cleaning is often a job requiring low levels of skill. “However what we really are trying to tackle is the perception that it’s dead-end. And the whole story of cleaning is that people do not value it.”
For her the themes of dignity and respect of employees are key ones that must be addressed. “There are just so many people we have to target in order to make any progress,” she continues. “People who come into contact with cleaning, people who employ cleaners, people who work as cleaners. The one thing they do have in common, however, is they are all members of the general public.
“That’s why we must talk to the general public about the value of cleaners, particularly in terms of what they add to our lives in terms of health, wellbeing, etc. The industry itself understands that but the world outside simply doesn’t yet. They don’t respect cleaners and they don’t value them.
“We are not claiming all cleaning operatives are what could be termed ‘professionals’ but they are specialists and it’s an occupation that requires training. Our initiatives are also about the cleaners’ own journeys in their minds, how they perceive themselves. This is where it’s key to make them part of the workforce in the building where they work.
“There is both a moral and a business case to be put forward,” Bentley argues.
The improvement of skills and paying a living wage to cleaners go hand in hand, she believes. “There is always a skills element involved. If we’re not providing the skills needed by our employees we are failing – challenging ideas, communication, progressing the industry as a whole – it all comes down to skills.”
Of course attracting staff and retaining them has always been challenging for the cleaning sector and that could become even more so now the worst of the economic difficulties have passed and unemployment rates are down. “We must provide a compelling environment in which to work compared to other similarly-viewed industries. And we must convince young people that we offer good employment, a career path,” says Bentley.
Attract young people
One example of BFG’s activities in this area is the Secret Jobs campaign which was designed to attract young people to cleaning jobs by linking in with organisations not traditionally associated with the cleaning industry. A total of 3.5 million people were targeted through radio, newspapers, social media activity, etc.
The association has also established links with local job centres, and offers specific guidance to their advisers on promoting careers in building services. “The fact our sector always needs staff solves many of their problems in finding people jobs,” Bentley explains. “There is always a large FM provider in the local area looking for staff.
“Our objective is to help companies recruit staff and we ask them how we can supply people with a minimum standard of competence to make them useful on day one of their employment. How can we save SMEs costs by providing productive people? This goes far beyond simply matching people to employers.”
And the very valuable roles the cleaning and FM industry plays in society and commerce in general must not be forgotten. “Ultimately our industry offers many people the chance to move out of poverty and be more socially mobile – or it could be their first job opportunity after moving to a new country,” Bentley concludes. “That makes us very important, and our views worth listening to.”