Today’s fast-based business culture demands professional service in the shortest possible time, indicating the need for staff to work smarter and harder. The facilities management and cleaning business is just the same, where productivity and efficiency of the staff is what matters within the time frame that is allotted to them. A tool that has time and again proven to increase efficiency and productivity of the staff is training. And to discuss the importance of this tool, FM today brought together FM and Clean professionals, who touched upon the challenges, best practices and standards of training in the industry.
Benjamin Wessendorf, Head of Cleaning
Services, Dussmann Middle East
While facilities continue to age, facilities technology advances continue to spread, and older workers continue to leave departments, often taking valuable institutional knowledge with them. The need for training has never been greater. Although, we are witnessing over the last few years that more and more robotic and automated systems are being introduced in the market, the group strongly believes that nothing can replace the human. Benjamin Wessendorf, Head of Cleaning Services, Dussmann Middle East, strongly believes that people training is more important since ever before. “As more complex systems are demanding attentions as well as basic knowledge to understand the complexity of the developing market needs and day-to-day challenges. Today, it’s not just about delivering manpower and assets but training and teaching continuously to make our employees aware of their importance in line with international standards so that we (service providers) can comply with the high expectations with regards to the services,” says Wessendorf.
Yvonne Harley, Manager for Training and
Certification, Al Fajr, SM Services
According to Yvonne Harley, Manager for Training and Certification, Al Fajr, SM Services, training is a very important factor, especially in the soft service sector. Training, she says, is beneficial to the people as they are getting to learn something and it also gives them an international certificate which makes them feel like they have achieved something.
The primary motivation for training is to increase productivity and we see that in more mature markets like Europe or Australia as they are all productivity-driven. Wessendorf says, “In the European market, everything is calculated based on productivity rates and I hope that the Middle Eastern market heads towards the same direction as it would be much simpler, efficient and transparent for customers to receive a measurable and high-quality services while receiving a more transparent and tailor made output oriented and streamlined solution. To achieve this goal training and awareness on all sides are the key factors to increase productivity, quality and sustainable solutions in the FM sector.”
Ian Harfield, CEO,
Cofely Besix Facility Management
While clients out here also measure manpower in terms of increased productivity and efficiency, Ian Harfield, CEO, Cofely Besix Facility Management, says that it does get hard to actually measure it. “Since the benchmarks are already quite low and the clients expect international standards, which puts a lot of pressure on the service providers to accelerate the standard to a higher level. And the only way to get there is through training. But then the key issue with training is that it’s not just a one-stop training programme, it takes time,” adds Harfield.
Alan Millan, Facilities Scientist
Alan Millan, Facilities Scientist, says that if one relates productivity to efficiency then the problem lies with the manager and not the cleaner. And it is the middle management layer that requires training. “The business leaders I speak to without exception feel that it is the middle management layer that is the cause of the lack of productivity. We don’t have a lot of people reporting to us directly, but the guys at the supervisor level have a lot of people to manage and supervise. The issue is who are we training? I don’t think there is anyone here who is not training their staff whether it is BICSc or other standards. But to improve productivity and efficiency in the management you have to hire the right people,” says Millan.
However, one wonders if training is driven by the customer or the suppliers? Many felt that it was in fact driven by the customer. “Because the reason BICSc got rolled out in the region so fast was because customers said ‘if you don’t have BICSc you are not bidding for my work’. That shows that the standards and training are driven by the customers, and if the customer understands the standards then he will also understand that he will have to pay a little more to get it,” he adds.
Harley feels that customers in the market are being educated and understand the fact that one has to pay a little more for good standards. “Training on the job and follow-up is important. For example, we do a lot of work for the airport. When we started Concourse A there were 400 people. They actually liaised with us regarding training. They came to our training room and worked alongside with us. It was a very good policy, where customers with major contracts to involve themselves in this. It is the only way forward in the cleaning industry,” says Harley. But she feels that to improve standards, regulations need to be set in place. “To improve the standards we need to first get basic regulations in place like minimum wage, accommodation etc. And we got to make the clients aware of that fact,” she adds.
GM, Al Shirawi Contracting Company
Apart from finding qualified and skilled professionals, a key challenge in training is communication. The English language is a major factor when it comes to training. Says Evie Boustantzi, GM, Al Shirawi Contracting Company, “With good communication comes confidence to face clients. The confidence was often missing, we have had cases, where cleaners were in high-end residential buildings and clients, would meet them and say hello and they would shy away. So we had to bring an in-house English teacher and train everyone in the language and now people actually smile and are keen to communicate. We get numerous appreciations on this improvement from our clients, who have noticed the change in our employees’ behaviour and overall effectiveness.”
Wessendorf too says that it is essential to train people on the job and make learning a part of their routine so that the correct process procedures become automatic and can be perfected. “One of the biggest challenges is the language. As we cannot expect from most of our cleaning operatives to speak or understand more than basics in another language beside from their mother tongue. Besides from training officers of different nationalities we use a lot of visual media such as short animations without spoken words to cover for example QHSE and technical related subjects,” he adds.
Lack of confidence is a big issue. And Harfield says that the lack in confidence has two effects, “They won’t end up interacting with the clients. And because of this they won’t have any feedback to provide their supervisor/manager about the things that are not working and they end up carrying on doing what they are told to do. But if they were a bit more confident they would then provide feedback and think of the ways they can do things better.” Another challenge lies in keeping the employee morale high. “In the past, after two or four years, we had people coming to us and telling us they had nothing to show back home, they felt they “had only been cleaning”. We do our best to ensure that there is growth here through the career ladder as they can slowly get to a point of managing teams,” says Boustantzi. She explains that progression is vital to them, by means of building expertise through regular training or progressing upwards. “In addition to that we make a lot of effort in motivating them through other intrinsic means such as “star of the month” per project, celebration of client appreciations and a clear performance review programme for all housekeeping employees. We also have an overall open-door policy, throughout the business,” adds Boustantzi.
Change of view is essential to overcome these challenges. Says Wessendorf, “In general we need to change the view of our key personnel if we want to increase the understanding of the craftsmanship cleaning which has basically a very scientific approach and to transfer this to our ground staff. Cleaning is possibly the most influencing part in the FM and we need to respect the hard work which is behind the cleanliness as well as the people which are working day to day to achieve the required results. There is a lot of space to improve the understanding and respect from the society in this region towards the cleaning operatives and the service itself.”
Syed Nisar, Facilities Operations Manager,
Power Group Integrated Facilities Management
Syed Nisar, Facilities Operations Manager, Power Group Integrated Facilities Management, too feels that by changing one’s approach and service can help in setting standards in both the industries. “When we talk about change in approach, for example, I was working for a US-based company in the Kingdom; they referred to the cleaners as housekeepers. By calling them cleaners, it diminishes their value. So that approach has to be changed,” explains Nisar.
While training is essential, what ends up getting lost in translation are specialised training. Without proper training in specialised service, says Nisar, cleaners may not pay attention to detail when they are cleaning a property. And this awareness, he feels needs to be highlighted at the training stage. “Efficiency in specialised cleaning comes when we involve FM in the design stage itself. For example, I had recently read a presentation where it was suggested that a door stopper be fitted at a high level instead of on the floor. It turns out that it saves a lot of time and money in terms of detail cleaning at floor level,” says Millan. While Harfield adds, “In certain systems in the European countries it is actually the duty of the designer to do an operational risk assessment of how certain things are looked after as part of his design. I guess it must be overlooked here. However, the only way you can do that here is if they are actually trained.”
While there is a huge challenge in recognition and motivation among the staff, it is important to have best practices in training to overcome this. Many feel welfare activities for employees are very important. “At the end of the day, it comes down to motivation. How do people stick to the company? We have people in the company who get better job offers, but they stay with us because they are comfortable with us. It is very hard to retain staff, especially in the soft services field. Again, with the right approach and encouragement employees will stay with you and it works out better towards the sustainability of the company as it makes sense to invest in people on a long term,” says Wessendorf.
Having the right set-up, like a practical training centre where you can show how to do things, use the right chemicals etc. is one of the best practices. Boustantzi says that one must follow promptness in training regularly on the job and finding gaps constantly because people don’t absorb knowledge easily. Which is why she feels that training must be given to people right from the top to bottom so that there is always someone senior available to mentor, monitor and re-train on the job.
“Recognition and motivation are management skills; everything about FM is to do with management. If you haven’t got management in place then you will lose money. I believe the workers want to do a good job and something as simple as a ‘thank you’ and ‘you have done a good job’, will get them energised,” says Millan. Recognition, according to Wessendorf, can change the whole project in a short time. “If there is a manager behind them looking and recognising what they are doing and not just waiting for the monthly audit until the KPIs come in gives better results. The connection from the project manager must be there to the cleaner and supervisor as well. It really motivates them and at the end of the day even the client wants to see a management which understands the business and is hands on,” he adds.
Importance of Certification
Attaining an international certificate at the end of the training session is not only important for the company but also the employee. Harley says that certification is important for the employee as it is internationally valid and they are getting something in return. “Since most of them don’t have a strong education backing, certificates like these are important for them. It does not only benefit the company but also the staff,” she adds. There have been an increasing number of companies in the Middle East who have been getting their cleaning services certified by the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc). “The true value of BICSc is that whether you are a BICSc Certified or not, you actually see elements of BICSc spreading because of staff migration. As they take elements of it with them as they go to other places to work. People have understood the importance of the many aspects of accreditation and that’s where the value lies,” explains Harfield.
The question is if there is anything else apart from BICSc? While there are others like a German, American and British one, but BICSc has been accepted widely by most the clients in the UAE. “The reason why BICSc was adopted here so quickly was because unlike the others they were the only ones who would actually send their person to UAE to train. It was more practical for someone to come to Dubai and do the training than sending the staff abroad for the training,” explains Harley.
While BICSc is adapted very well in the UAE, Wessendorf says that it’s a positive and at the same time, a limitation for other accreditations. “I have seen only a few tenders where the client does not demand BICSc. In many cases and in most of the tenders a BICSc accreditation of the company is set as a standard required to participate. When Dussmann first established the company to the Middle East 2005, BICSc was not known by everyone as it is today.
As a company, we are running since centuries our own international academy which exchanges knowledge and know – how worldwide between our subsidiaries while providing an international top standard to our clients without being BICS certified. Since BICS is mandatory in this region we decided to follow the requirements which turned out to be a very practical decision as the training concept is absolutely valuable if followed and easy to understand and to follow for our cleaning operatives,” he adds.
Millan suggests that this is where the FM Company and business leaders need to work together and establish a system that is accepted throughout, “because there is no guarantee that having the qualification or certification delivers. And some companies have a really good reputation for delivering but they don’t necessarily have BICSc behind them. But they are good.” At the end of the day, no matter how good one’s training is and how technically able the person is, if they don’t want to do the job they will never perform to their capacity. “There is a fine line between knowing and wanting to operate. It makes or breaks somebody’s productivity. It is not enough to deliver the training, people need to want to learn and to serve our customers “with a smile”. Then comes the business culture to enable it all – instilling the certification practices through that culture can work as a catalyst for habit building,” concludes Boustantzi.