Three Cheers for Careers in the Cleaning Industry

Last month I was delighted when two of our senior managers – Operations Director, Paul Rogan and Contract Manager for the National Gallery, Kevan Stewart – each achieved the milestone of 30 years with DOC Cleaning.

These guys are loyal and valued members of the DOC family and it made me stop to think: ‘How many managers in our industry will be clocking up 30 years’ service in 10- or 20-years’ time?’

I am optimistic and pessimistic in equal measure about this. On the one hand, recruitment amongst our traditional labour supply is already under pressure as a result of immigration controls, making it harder to attract people to join at a junior level. We’ll understand this better when we see the full extent to which workplaces have reopened after the change in guidelines last month and how this affects the demand for cleaning. Nonetheless, it is hard to see how our sector is not going to go the same way as hospitality, with a shortage of younger applicants for jobs.

On the other hand, there are the very positive efforts being made by the BCC and the new APPG to raise the profile of cleaning and, in doing so, make it a more attractive profession. Included in this are the aim to ‘create a recognised and universal training accreditation for cleaning and hygiene within the UK’ and the drive to develop an apprenticeship for front line staff that is acceptable to the Institute for Apprenticeships. I just hope that with the latter, the vast array of industry-specific training already available from BICSc and the private providers will be redeemable by contractors against the Apprenticeship Levy.

There is also a third area where I know the BCC is pushing hard, and which will reap huge benefits in terms of making front-line cleaning an attractive occupation – the award of key worker status. At the start of the pandemic, cleaning staff who were working in support of formally recognised key workers at locations such as hospitals, social care and transport infrastructure, were deemed to have key worker status themselves and were therefore entitled to benefits such as their children being able to attend schools during lockdown. As far as I am aware, however, this did not extend to the provision of preferential access to social housing, a longstanding benefit offered by many housing associations to the ‘official’ public sector keyworkers. This is partly because such schemes are no longer part of the central government’s Key Worker Housing Programme, but are now at the discretion of individual public sector employers and housing associations. Yet what a fantastic opportunity this would be to add to the attractiveness of cleaning as an occupation – the ability to access discounted housing, meaning that front line cleaning staff could live in, or closer to, the communities they served, which was the original purpose of the Key Worker Housing Programme.

Without doubt there is an awful lot of detail to be sorted out before such an ambition can be realised, and there are many other benefits associated with key worker status that would also make cleaning a more attractive profession. However, it is great to read that the BCC is on the case and lobbying for key worker status, not just for front line cleaners, but for other staff who are at the forefront of the fight to maintain health and safety for the public, including personal hygiene providers, delivery drivers, maintenance engineers, and waste disposal teams. Well done to the BCC for making this a top priority.

Published in August issue of Tomorrow’s FM.