You’ve heard it said thousands of times – usually with a weary half-smile – as managers see a member of their staff make a frustrating mistake. However, what was just a well-worn saying is gradually becoming the brutal reality for many UK businesses, in particular those requiring a high number of manual workers, such as the cleaning industry.
Through the 21st century, much of the UK’s requirement for entry level employment has been fulfilled by EU nationals wanting short to medium term employment in an accessible job while they settle down in the UK. This has suited many cleaning contractors well, with a ready supply of labour often prepared to work irregular hours for low-end wages. However, in the year following the Brexit vote, (Yes sorry. I’m going to talk about Brexit. I know we’re all sick of hearing about it.) net migration to the uk fell by a massive 106,000. This comes at a time when the labour market is already getting significantly more competitive, with unemployment at only 4.0%, its lowest since 1975.
All this means businesses are finding it more and more difficult to get hold of employees in lower-paid, less skilled roles. So cleaning jobs, often involving only a few hours’ work in early mornings or evenings and a costly journey on public transport to get to and from the site, are becoming less attractive to employees looking for full-time roles and better earnings. For many managers, ‘you can’t get the staff’ is fast becoming the brutal reality. Many I speak to are starting to have to turn down work, reducing growth and profitability, because they simply won’t be able to find enough operatives.
So what can cleaning companies do to find a way around this problem? Is the answer in better efficiency, reducing the number of staff needed? Or making the job a more attractive and fulfilling option? Or training staff to work quicker, justifying a higher hourly rate? We've researched some of the best ways to get around recruitment challenges in today's employment market.
It may not seem groundbreaking, but getting the most out of the staff hours that are available to you is a massive part of coping with labour shortages. One of the best ways to do this, and it also helps with staff retention as employees feel more fulfilled in their role, is to invest in training them in how to complete their tasks better and faster. The team at UhUb can help you with their simple and inexpensive training system for the cleaning industry if you’re looking for easy ways to improve.
And for your larger contracts, training your teams to use work flow systems can bring a huge improvement in efficiency too. They aren’t difficult to implement, and many of our clients say they have found it releases a lot of operative time. Each member needs less equipment, spends less time switching between tasks and the team gets the job done faster. And because you’ll be using fewer of each piece of equipment, it justifies investing in better products that can improve the quality of the job you do, making you a more attractive company to your clients.
As entry-level labour gets harder and more expensive to find, the economic considerations around buying more expensive equipment to save them time change too. Investing in products that will save a large proportion of your employees’ time is a lot more attractive when you’re having to pay more to get hold of them. Here’s a couple of tools we would recommend to shave the man-hours off:
PacVac Superpro 700 – a backpack vacuum cleaner that’s lighter and more effective than the competition. Independent research found it cleaned 676 square metres per hour compared to the tub vacuum’s 232, and when we tried it out ourselves it did our office space more than twice as fast as a henry. It really does save time.
iVo Rovawash – an innovative cylindrical floor scrubber that is light and manoeuvrable yet provides a deep clean every day, keeping floors constantly clean to a higher standard than mopping, without the time investment deep cleaning usually takes.
An enterprise resource planning system tailored to the specific needs of a cleaning business can improve the efficiency of your business and make a big difference in helping you get more from your people. There’s a lot of options out there, and different ones are likely to work for you depending on what you want from it. There’s the established systems with a very wide range of functions, like TemplaCMS or CleanLink but there’s also simple, easy to set up app-based options like Make Life Easy. If you aren’t using one of these systems yet, finding the right one for you is very likely to improve the efficiency of your teams. Implementing management systems is an intimidating project to set out on, but working with the right people to get it in place will ease the transition.
Long-term, it will be necessary to improve the attractiveness of manual cleaning jobs to potential employees to avoid wages spiralling upwards, staff turnover rising and employment becoming a bigger cost than it needs to be. To do this, employers will have to find ways to improve satisfaction in an entry-level job. Making employees feel that there is more career potential in the cleaning industry is a significant step towards improving the attractiveness of the job, particularly by empowering them to do more complex, rewarding tasks, and offering them a chance at promotion or to improve their careers.
Also, as scientific management theorists have pointed out, pride in your work is a large part of how much you value your job and therefore how attractive it is to new entrants. To make operatives really feel this, try incentivising quality of work rather than number of hours spent, and paying per job rather than an hourly rate. It’s been found to lead to work getting done quicker, and better, than flat hourly pay does.
And as labour shortages are only likely to increase after March 29th, managers may have to start looking in areas they previously wouldn’t have to fulfil their staff requirements. Tobias Batkin, Founder of Bespoke Cleaning Ltd, wrote in an interesting article a few months ago about the opportunity the manual cleaning industry has to get ahead of other industries using people that are often overlooked for employment.
People with a criminal record are instantly rejected by 6/10 employers, regardless of the offence in question, which often may not actually make them unsuitable for employment. And as stable employment has been proven to reduce reoffender rates by a third, it’s a good opportunity for a business to improve its corporate social responsibility image – helping to improve the quality of local communities.
Also, those with mental disabilities are often ignored by employers. Only 6% of those with learning difficulties who can work, do work. Simple manual tasks like cleaning are often perfect for them, giving them a chance at a more independent and enjoyable life. Once again, cleaning businesses have a chance to improve the reputation of the entire industry while improving local communities and lives too.
Most of you are probably feeling the strain already. I often hear people discussing how much the wages they are having to pay are rising dramatically simply to get enough people on the job. But hopefully, using a few of these strategies you’ll be able to relieve that and won’t find struggles to get operational staff holding you back from chances to grow and take on new contracts.