Bob Vincent, executive chairman of LCC Support Services Ltd reminisces on 25 years practice and asks why doesn’t the Government promote cleaning careers?
I started my business for daily office cleaning it was a job nobody really wanted to do and no client really wanted to pay decent money for it. Like today it was a competitive marketplace but at that time the cleaner was considered by many to be an inferior species. Work had to be carried out at night because the office staff didn’t want to see or acknowledge cleaners. Communications between client and cleaner were by messages left with the security man or a written note. Today, fortunately, nothing is further from this scenario.
Cleaning is a profession with professional standards and levels of service; professional training face to face or by distance learning; professional awards for top quality work (Golden Service Awards which we have won several times); professional training organisations like BICSc and RoSPA; and professional clients who are up to speed on most of these aspects of the industry.
My career started like most 15 or 16 year olds who left school and went to work wherever they could – usually retail or building sites. University was for the privileged. Those with an eye to the future took up apprenticeships and other forms of ‘on the job’ learning but there was nothing available for cleaners. It’s strange how it has taken two decades to go through the whole university thing and revert to good old fashioned learning at work with day release or distance learning. You don’t need a degree for cleaning and FM services – you need a customer friendly, understanding and a ‘can do’ attitude; plus the desire to succeed and deliver above expectations.
Our profession has got to grips with other changes like the increased immigrant workforce and it is in a position to employ anyone with the right to work here and has the right attitude and willingness to learn. Chemical companies prepare instructions and data sheets in a range of languages so there is no excuse for incorrect dilution or usage. The opportunities in the UK for enthusiastic FM and cleaning personnel are tremendous and the sky is the limit.
Cleaning is now a profession where people can succeed, usually to quite high levels within an organisation as management and board directors are understanding the effects that quality cleaning and FM has on its business, staff and customers.
The industry welcomes all school leavers and anyone else interested who is not afraid of hard work and has an enquiring mind; people that have the ‘service attitude’ and willingness to learn. It is a pity that the Government does not promote this sector of business because in recent years, as our demand for higher hygiene standards increase, the number of cleaners and FM staff required has grown. Today the UK cleaning profession alone employs over a million people – add to that those in the many other FM sector businesses!
Each year my Company, one of the UK’s largest independent cleaning and support services businesses, continuously searches for enthusiastic young people to join the profession. Nobody has to sign up for a lifetime as a cleaner. Once you can clean to a specified standard it is time to ask for more training to reach the next level. You can soon become a team leader, a floor manager, a site controller and in a few years maybe an area manager responsible for multiple sites and site managers.
The opportunities are there waiting to be grabbed. An area manager’s role with a company car and mobile phone cannot be bad for a 26 year old and it’s not based on a minimum wage. At LCC we give a ‘living wage’ and more the higher you reach.
Incentivised staff deliver the goods
Everybody welcomes a pat on the back and occasional ‘thank you’. We all like incentives and rewards for a job well done, or in our business a national ‘Employee of the Month/Year’ Programme, regional awards and specialist task awards. We like to promote safety at work and get involved in the RoSPA Awards because they highlight the importance of health and safety which is everyone’s responsibility. Safety includes safe driving to, from and for work. That is a win/win situation for employer, client and employee. Clients love to have a winning team on their site and often they top up the prize with a gift. Cleaners are often invited to client celebrations as part of their teams. This is the way forward that makes staff feel welcome and don’t change jobs.
Our Awards are usually retail or travel vouchers. Sometimes an Award winner is recommended for promotion or an upgrade too. We have found that there is nothing better than an incentive to motivate employees at all levels especially those who are lone workers at night (something we want to stop – Clients please note!).
All service industries are based on delivering the promised level of work and a little bit more. Going the extra mile has a major impact on customers and that’s why clients now WANT cleaners around during the day so they can communicate with them and to give clear one-to-one briefs. It provides the opportunity to get to know the person responsible for keeping their workplace clean. It ensures that when a problem arises – overflowing recycling bins, flooded washroom floor, litter in reception etc. – it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently and not delayed for the night shift cleaners to remedy.
There are a few people I know who have worked from cleaner level to senior management. Some of the MDs of cleaning companies have worked through the ranks. How can management understand the issues that affect cleaning tasks if they have no ‘hands on’ experience?
Cleaning is an excellent career and contractors are always looking for the right calibre of personnel. After trying other more glamorous professions both my son and daughter have joined the profession. Anyone can get into the industry at a very early age and with correct training, make it to the top. If I can do it so can anyone else! It’s down to hard work and attitude and you either have these attributes or not.
The facilities management and cleaning industry is now the UK’s largest employer – bigger than all government departments combined. So what’s stopping you or your children joining such a great and growing profession with job satisfaction and opportunities for life?