In the last six or seven years, cleaning has finally broken through to become an industry that can call itself technologically enabled. In the past we often heard the criticism that cleaning was too basic an industry to embrace technology. Clients then used this to argue that cleaning had remained in the dark ages – effectively a commodity, with low levels of professionalism in both frontline staff and management.
Now look at us: floors are being scrubbed by robotic machines; assets are tracked via the Internet of Things; and, most importantly, management software has worked its way into every aspect of our businesses. This includes end-to-end contract management packages like TemplaCMS, through time and attendance, quality auditing and e-trading, to innovations like UhUb, the new app-based staff training and engagement system.
The welcome effect of this is that contractors are now able to control overheads, deliver improved client service and provide regular performance data, which in turn is causing clients to view contractors more professionally.
The specific challenge with software technology, however, is that for it to be effective, it must be implemented correctly, whether that means managers using web-based timesheets, or frontline staff using an app. And of course, that means training – not just generic training, but training specific to the software itself.
In our industry there is currently a strong focus on external training delivered through apprenticeships as being the way forward. Yet the industry is struggling to bend formal apprenticeships to our specific requirements. It has already proved difficult to get a Level 2 Cleaning Apprenticeship for operatives accepted by the Institute for Apprentices – an issue which will hopefully not affect the CSSA’s forward-looking proposals for a Level 4 Management Apprenticeship.
Even the latter, however, may not include training in any of the software packages specific to cleaning that have become such valuable tools of our trade. So how do you reconcile the fact that whilst contractors are spending increasing amounts of time training staff to use software, the cost associated with this training may never become reclaimable through government funding schemes designed specifically to encourage training?
From my contractor’s perspective, I now see three different types of training delivery on the market. The first is generic training for staff, supervisors, and management, i.e., not specific to cleaning industry skills, behaviours, or technology. Apprenticeships currently fall into this category.
The second is training targeted at companies using technology-based products to deliver a cleaning service, such as bespoke management software. And finally, the third is software that actually delivers the training through the users themselves – thereby avoiding the need for external trainers altogether. UhUb is an example of this.
Right now, however, neither the second nor third qualify for any kind of government funded training support, i.e., through the Apprenticeship Levy. Why? Because they are not delivered by training providers registered with ROATO (Register of Apprenticeship Training Organisations). Rather, they are in the form of software licences, or in the provision of implementation and refresher training by the technology suppliers themselves, all at a cost to contractors. In other words, we have become a technology enabled industry, but with no funding to support its use.
The fact is we are blessed in the cleaning industry with software developers who have come up with some fabulous solutions to help contractors manage what are actually very complex businesses, often with thousands of staff delivering a service remotely across hundreds of locations. My challenge to the powers that be, our suppliers and the training organisations is: let us find a way to harness these companies’ support, and make sure clients have reason to further respect our efforts in using software to deliver the professional service they demand.