For me, the number one priority for our industry this year is to build on the fantastic progress made in 2021 with the establishment of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on cleaning. The APPG, supported by the BCC will, I hope, continue its strong support for the Trailblazers, a group of major company sponsors, supported by industry groups, who are seeking approval from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) for its proposed industry-wide Professional Cleaning and Hygiene Operative apprenticeship. The Trailblazers are due to submit their proposal to the IfATE early this year and I for one will be taking a great interest in the outcome. The supporting bodies include the Association of Healthcare Cleaning Professionals, British Institute of Cleaning Science, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, Cleaning and Support Services Association, National Carpet Cleaners Association, WAMITAB, the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners, and the Business Services Association. If this formidable group does not carry the weight to help the Trailblazers persuade the IfATE, I cannot imagine what other combination would.
As one of their number said recently, it is deeply unfair that cleaning industry businesses have to pay an Apprenticeship Levy, without the option of investing those funds in appropriate apprenticeship schemes covering their core business activities. We need an industry-wide apprenticeship to ensure our staff have the skills they need and to help create a full career path for the industry.
One reason why we really do need such progress is the worrying shrinkage of the labour market for both frontline and managerial staff. I cannot be the only one noticing how applications for vacancies are dropping in the face of competition from other industries such as logistics and hospitality, where plenty of roles exist that candidates may currently consider to be more glamorous than cleaning and, in many cases, better paid. Short of cleaning being awarded key worker status, with the potential for attracting foreign labour that such status brings, this challenge looks like being a recurring feature of 2022.
Back on the positive side, I am eagerly waiting to see how the way we clean office buildings changes as 2022 takes shape. I say this because we are yet to see the office market settle down properly after COVID-19, with many client companies yet to establish new routines for staff attendance. An article in the media before Christmas suggested that, based on the experience of public transport and catering outlets in London, Mondays have become deathly quiet, and Thursday is the new Friday. Is this good for cleaning or bad? I am not sure, but the variable use of office space will certainly accelerate the introduction of smart, technology driven cleaning procedures based on desk, room, and washroom usage. It is up to us, as contractors, to step forward and show that we have the solutions to manage this, especially if clients start taking the view that they do not need as much cleaning on certain days and ask what we are going to do about it.
Of course, clients re-evaluating their budgets has always been with us and my final aspiration for 2022 is something I alluded to last year. We must not, as an industry, allow cut-throat cost cutting to creep back in at the precise point where we need to be looking to pay the real living wage as standard. As a result, I exhort all my competitors to hold fast on to our industry’s newly earned reputation for providing an indispensable service by pricing contracts to reflect the fabulous value we provide.
Happy New Year!