The cleaning industry is facing a recruitment crisis – we need to think less Mike Myers, and more Idris Elba.

Sex appeal will take you a long way. And if you couple some of the hot stuff with a dash of talent, your chances of making it – at least in the entertainment industry – will double. But when it comes to a whole industry, how do we make ourselves more appealing?
Obviously, the suit and tie brigade will argue that there’s no need to change, but those of us on the sharp end of recruitment are seeing the shape of things to come. The fact is, young people are not attracted by our image. And many businesses in the sector are not helping.

The situation was brought home to me recently when Cleanology recruited for a key management role. We interviewed a number of excellent candidates and, while they liked our sustainability, diversity and wellbeing initiatives, I was taken aback to hear five of our applicants say, ‘I like the company, but the industry isn’t sexy enough.’

cleaning industry needs to work on its ‘sex appeal’​

Industry figures back this up. According to the British Cleaning Council’s 2020 research, the cleaning, waste management, landscaping and facilities management sectors are set to generate 93,000 new jobs by 2024. However, 29 per cent of vacancies were hard to fill. Cleaning and facilities businesses know that our industry offers great opportunities for progression and competitive pay, so how do we improve our image?

The first canary in the mine is diversity. We live in a diverse society, yet this is not reflected in business. According to the McGregor-Smith Review (2017), one in eight of the working-age population are from an ethnic minority background, yet these individuals make up only six per cent of top management positions.

The Parker Review (2016) found that just 85 of the 1,050 director positions in the FTSE 100 are held by directors of colour. Similarly, only 29 per cent of FTSE 100 directorships, and 27 per cent of FTSE 250 directorships are held by women.1 At Cleanology, we are proud to buck the trend, with a board of seven that includes three women and three BAME directors, but it only takes a visit to one of our industry events to see that the cleaning and facilities sector is lagging behind the even wider business when it comes to diversity. In a sector like cleaning, which employs so many BAME and female staff at ground roots, it’s really time we upped our game. 

It’s not just about-faces in the right places, it’s also about embracing more modern attitudes.

Banks, law firms and brokers have all adopted more casual, modern dress, and young people expect a more relaxed approach. This doesn’t mean a fall in professional standards, but a more up to date way of doing business. If we want to attract top-grade young people – with all their enthusiasm and imagination – then complaining that people have left their ties at home will only drive them away.

All this isn’t to say we’re getting everything wrong.

Cleaning and facilities management is a great place to be if you are a graduate looking for higher than average pay and great progression opportunities. We have had cleaners and supervisors, with little spoken English, progress to become managers and directors. There’s nothing ‘unsexy’ about that! Whereas in the fashion industry, with all its perceived glamour, unless you’re like Naomi Campbell, many roles are based on low pay, long, unsociable hours and menial tasks.