Trained to clean in the Netherlands

25th of November 2011
Trained to clean in the Netherlands

Recently started secondary schools in cleaning are slowly becoming successful, explains Dutch reporter Anton Duisterwinkel.

Children often have a clear idea of what they want to do for a living: fire fighter, school teacher or vet, for instance. For teenagers, life is much less clear-cut and they often have a hard time selecting one of the many trades for which they can be trained at secondary school. In The Netherlands, these traditionally included trades such as painter, car mechanic, hairdresser and nurse, but not floor maintenance or window cleaner.

Until a few years ago, there were no schools offering courses on cleaning, in particular not at the lowest educational levels. At high school, ‘facility management’ is given, but this does not prepare the pupil for a hands-on job in cleaning.

A few years ago, this situation changed. Savantis, a knowledge centre that is responsible for setting up courses in 18 trades, such as painter, carpenter and graphic designer, was asked by the ministry of education  to do this also for ‘cleaning’ and ‘window cleaning’. Limited funding being available, it was decided to start at just six secondary schools.

Students can follow two routes to becoming a trained cleaner. In the first route, they work four days a week at a cleaning company and go to school on the fifth day. Students are paid for their work and are coached on the job by the cleaning company that hires them. This is already a successful route, as it allows students to start their education without previous training and pays them a small salary.

For cleaning companies, it is an efficient way of finding new, motivated staff.
The second route is a formal and full time education at secondary school. Although this also includes apprenticeships at large cleaning companies, in total one-third of the education, it is less popular with students – and even with secondary schools. But with help of Savantis and cleaning companies, several schools have recently yielded dozens of trained cleaners.

Four training levels

In both cases, four levels of training exist. Level 1 is called ‘cleaning assistant’, and is a general training where topics like work attitude get a lot of attention. Level 2 brings the students to the level of ‘educated cleaner’, specialising in either general cleaning/floor maintenance; window and façade cleaning; cleaning after disasters or cleaning in the food industry.

Level 3 goes deeper into the theory of these specialisms and prepares for managing small groups of cleaning staff and level 4 trains student to become ‘object manager’, who is responsible for the staff cleaning a large building (or ‘object’). Students that finish this level should be able to proceed at high school towards facility management, but no experience exists on that level.

The first few dozen students have now finished level 2 and most of them have found a job – and that is what it is all about. Given that the sector employs about 200,000 staff of which 20 per cent leave the trade each year, these well educated youngsters receive a warm welcome.


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