Technology & Training – Let’s Not Waste The Opportunity

Last month, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the editor of this magazine, Neil Nixon, for a webinar. One of the many items we discussed was how the link between technology and training will play a critical role in shaping our industry’s future.

If there was ever an industry suited to online training, it is cleaning, possibly the most labour-intensive industry on the planet. In the past, a number of factors – the sheer number of staff, the higher-than-average staff turnover, staff dispersed across hundreds of different locations, not to mention unsociable hours – had all effectively turned company-wide, hands-on training into an unaffordable luxury. Yes, contractors of sufficient size could afford a training officer to manage in-house delivery. Yes, they could potentially become a BICSc Training Hub with their own managers as accredited assessors. Yet even these solutions could not guarantee that all front-line staff would receive the necessary skills training they needed. Staff would miss out not only on the training itself, but on the sense of engagement and belonging that training engenders.

So it was with open arms that the industry welcomed the recent arrival of online skills training for frontline staff in what can only be described as a revolutionary change. BICSc, the industry’s official training body, has now developed a full set of online, video-based training modules, whilst innovative companies such as UhUb have led the commercial providers charge in this area. The timing was perfect. Like any digital media, online training boasts the invaluable benefit of being updatable quickly when requirements, rules or methods change – all of which have applied to our industry in great measure over the last 12 months.

To be clear, it does not mean to say that face-to-face training is no longer required. The online training of skilled tasks should always be followed by in-person assessment and, as I understand it, BICSc online training cannot be signed off and accreditation given without formal assessment under the auspices of the BICSc scheme. With commercial packages, of course, it is up to contractors to ensure that the necessary follow-up assessment is completed. One thing is certain, however, the momentum established by online training means that the days of spending hours in classrooms are surely gone, for frontline staff at least.

All of which brings me back to the subject of apprenticeships. I have argued in the past that the Apprenticeship Levy does not deliver value for money to cleaning contractors. Firstly, no cleaning-specific apprenticeship for frontline staff has yet been accepted by the Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA). Secondly, the wide range of good training that has been developed from within the industry cannot be used to draw down on Levy payments, as neither the organisations delivering it, nor cleaning contractors themselves, are ROATO registered (Register of Apprentice Training Organisations). And thirdly, the requirement that 20% of an apprentice’s time must be spent in off-the-job training activities, which cannot happen outside paid working hours, is impractical, meaning your apprentice is effectively unavailable for work one day a week.

The good news is that the BCC and its trailblazers, supported by the APPG, are already working on a new apprenticeship, which we all hope will be accepted quickly by the IFA. All I ask is that when it comes to developing content for the courses, the focus for a cleaning apprenticeship remains firmly online, we let technology take the strain, and that the wheel does not need to be reinvented.

Published in June issue of Tomorrow’s FM.