How about a career in cleaning?

28th of October 2013
How about a career in cleaning?

How has the status of the cleaning industry, and the cleaner, improved, asks ECJ’s UK reporter.

Daughter comes home from school with great news. Her GCSE grades are good: B’s and C’s with even a sprinkling of A’s.

“The careers master recommends that I look at the cleaning industry. He  has fixed me with an interview with Super Colossal Global Cleaning (SCGC), next week. He says there are always jobs, no redundancy, there is training; promotion to supervisor is possible and maybe later into management.”

The parents are delighted, aren’t they? In a word: no. Why not? Antisocial hours (even doctors don’t do them these days), low pay, poor working conditions and perhaps more importantly low social standing. It could not be much lower.

Calling a cleaner a cleaning operative does not help much. In the eyes of the general public a cleaner remains the lowest of the low, similar to a member of the lowest caste. Efforts to get cleaning recognised as a major industry, never mind cleaners, have been made for more than 50 years.

But all is not lost. During the first  part of the 21st century, a seismic change occurred.

Accountants who had taken over in the boardrooms from the marketing men, who in turn had succeeded engineers, discovered outsourcing. They found there were companies who would take over those expensive non-profit parts of the business which ruined the bottom line and immersed management people in the complexities of staff contracts for cleaners, recruiting said cleaners, settling disputes and so forth. All for no reward in terms of profitable business.

Outsourcing is by no means a new idea - it has a long history dating back to wet nursing but it had not been adopted on the scale that now began to grow and perpetuate. Contract cleaning, already a substantial provider, was in the van of operations divorced from companies’ main and hopefully profitable business.

Cleaning firms found themselves asked to take on tasks outside of cleaning such as security or parking control. They proudly and in some cases unwisely styled themselves as ‘Facilities Management’ businesses without actually understanding the concept. Sadly many did not survive as FM providers.

This gradual change has now become a flood. FM companies now control the commanding heights selecting the services of contract cleaners and other providers of such items as parking machines and vertical transportation. Now these companies have become predators, consuming some of their lesser competitors or merging with other jungle beasts to form mega operations. Their professional bodies are combining with others.

At last the industry can be held to be ‘respectable’, even if cleaning is only part of the FM mix, it  can be viewed in a different light. We may now be able to sit at the top table with government as important major players.

Daughter (or son) comes home with a quiver full of GCSE’S. A career in FM? Degree possibilities? Delighted parents speak of their child with pride: ”He/she is something in FM.”

Has it happened yet? Not quite but  to those who have fought for so long to raise the status of the industry, particularly the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), whose avowed intention was exactly that more than 50 years ago we would say: there is hope on the horizon.


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