Starting a new life through cleaning

27th of November 2023 Article by Christian Bouzols
Starting a new life through cleaning

Christian Bouzols in France brings news from a cleaning training centre in Le Mans.

Maiky and Kunthea are two cleaners who have learned their trade at the Espace Propreté training centre at Le Mans in western France - opened in 2022. Most of the students are migrants from overseas.

A typical classroom with 10 adults eager to learn about professional cleaning. A vast teaching area with three different types of cleaning surfaces.

Maiky, 29, completed the two-year course, obtaining a first level certification diploma. Father of three toddlers, Maiky is very proud of this achievement. His eyes shine as he talks about the future in a trade to which he has now gained access.

“Cleaning and maintenance work, that’s definitely something I like.

“Before that, I’d had quite a few jobs, working in restaurants, selling, and other things. But I liked none of them. One summer, I cleaned apartments for Le Mans Métropole Habitat, a letting organisation, and I liked it. With the passage of time and adequate training, I realised the work had some complexity - and that motivated me.”

The ability to follow instructions, the mastery of technical terms... Today, Maiky is back at the centre for further training. He wants to become team leader in a future cleaning company, he explains. Right now, he’s driving from customer to customer on his electric scooter.

He’s currently making €1,380 net per month for a 35-hour week. These are the wages cleaners get when they start out. For his co-worker Kunthea, that’s far from enough. “To eat, to be dressed, to pay housing costs, petrol.... those wages are just not good enough.”

This mother of four arrived seven years ago from Cambodia. She also followed the training course and obtained her TFP diploma. That was last June. The year before, she had obtained her driving licence. These are the two diplomas of her life, and she’s most proud of them.

Her motivation is another of her assets. This year, at the beginning of the new term, she was recruited as a cleaner in the city’s schools, working 31 hours a week. “I would rather have been a hairdresser, but at my age that’s too late. I like cleaning homes, being of use, helping out with my colleagues. I’m good at adapting.”

The ability to work and keep a job, a good quality of professional life - that’s what drives the 132 people who have found work after their training at Espace Propreté. They all made their way from the training centre to the client.

“It’s true that you can clean without being trained,” admits Gaylord Picouleau, head of professional development. “But we strongly encourage training because it’s a means to acquire the fundamentals of cleaning. You need to learn the technicalities of machines, to dose detergents, to deal with various surfaces, to have a reasonable command of the French language in order to differentiate between products, and also to relate with the client.

In about a year Kunthea, who currently cleans at different schools to cover absent staff, will know if she will be officially made a permanent member of the school cleaning workforce, something she would certainly like. Meanwhile, she’ll continue to drive from school to school in her own car, cleaning from 6.30 to 9.30 am and from 4 to 7 pm. But these working hours don’t allow her to take her children to school herself.

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