By Guy Pakenham, Managing Director at Cordant Cleaning
In recent years the cleaning industry has struggled to recruit homegrown workers and has come to rely heavily on European recruits. Now, with Brexit a reality, there is much speculation about the impact this will have on our sector. The negotiations have begun and whilst there are encouraging talks of a “UK settled status” for EU citizens who have been living legally in the UK for at least five years, there is, as yet, very little detail about anything else.
Whatever is decided it is likely to result in a much smaller and perhaps more expensive recruitment pool for a sector that has, in recent years, relied heavily on a predominantly Eastern European workforce. With an increase in pay to attract and retain candidates likely to be unpalatable to most clients, the cleaning industry is facing some tough challenges. Here are some suggestions:
Flexibility is key
One of the areas we should consider is how to attract newcomers who have not previously considered working in the industry. Flexible working could hold the key to this, making it a viable choice for those juggling child care or other family responsibilities. As an industry we have often offered part time work but now we need to be even smarter in how we do it – specifically designing shift patterns that will appeal.
We may also have to consider working with people who would not previously have been considered due to them having a criminal record. This will often depend upon the policies and appetites of our clients. We would need to screen these individuals very carefully but there are organisations such as Blue Sky that specialise in helping to place ex-offenders in work that are able to help. I am personally in favour of employing people who deserve a second chance in life and my experience is these individuals are determined to make the most of the opportunity to work. Blue Sky has had considerable success and claims to have reduced re-offending by up to 23 per cent (Ministry of Justice Data Lab) – something that is good for society as a whole.
According to the DWP over seven million people (17.5 per cent) of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition yet they are rarely seen in our sector as the assumption (on both sides) is that they will be unable to cope with the physical aspects of the job. Yet there is no doubt that the skills and talent that lie in this group of individuals would be of significant benefit to our industry and should be considered. The government’s Disability Employer’s scheme offers invaluable guidance and advice in this area and invites us to “celebrate diversity” and “widen the pool of talent you recruit from and discover skills and talents you can’t do without”. I tend to agree and believe that this could result not only in high quality staff who are skilled, loyal and hardworking, but also help positively change attitudes, behaviours and cultures throughout the sector.
We should also be looking to attract candidates from both the low and high age ranges. The sector needs to get firmly on board with the Apprenticeship Scheme as many organisations are merely paying lip service to it, whilst also looking to make itself appealing to young people as a career choice. This will mean communicating to them in their language on their social media platforms and maybe working closely with schools and colleges.
In addition, many people have retired early and could be attracted back into the workplace with the right hours and support. By actively recruiting older candidates we will benefit from their experience, not necessarily in cleaning, but certainly in life.
Retention is the best option
Of course, the most obvious thing for us to do is to try and ensure we retain as many of our existing staff as possible. This might mean offering to help them to navigate through the inevitable administrative Brexit challenges and even offering to pay any fees. Ultimately this will be less expensive than having to recruit, but we have to be realistic as this may not be enough to make them stay.
In conclusion, our industry does not have time to waste waiting for whether we have a hard or soft Brexit or even working out what that actually means in reality. We have to accept that the only way we are going to be able to beat the Brexit challenges is to start planning now. This is likely to involve innovative recruitment plans and a significant rebrand to make cleaning more attractive to a broader demographic. As a result, we are likely to have a more diverse workforce which I believe will ultimately benefit us all.