According to the World Federation of Building Service Contractors (WFBSC), which has published its first comprehensive worldwide cleaning industry report, better technology can potentially provide services at lower cost without compromising the level of service. Whilst the report does not provide any specifics to the Middle East, the outtake is equally relevant and helps illustrate the size and importance of the cleaning market, as well as the shared issues for the sectors. I thought I would therefore take this opportunity to look at the report in greater detail, outlining and quoting its findings and drawing a more specific comparison against our own region:
The economic downturn has had a number of impacts on the industry – it has slowed growth across a number of nations, and even led the industry to contract in some countries (such as France). It has also driven down profit margins for many businesses and placed an emphasis on efficiency. In turn, clients appear to be placing an increasing emphasis on which service provider can offer them the lowest price.
In regards to the Middle East, naturally the recession has had an affect but as quickly as it hit, countries across the GCC are rebounding back equally as fast. And during that time the cheaper suppliers, who provide a service based upon shortcuts have been unable to compete. This has left the established and more integrated contractors who provide a service that can meet the expectations of tenants who have international standards; such is the demographical make up of countries like UAE.
Compliance can be an issue for the cleaning industry when it comes to legislation and regulation, particularly in nations where sub-contracting occurs. The existence of a black market has also been highlighted in certain countries (such as Norway for example). In the GCC there is no such black market because business registration, whether it’s via a free zone or onshore via a local partner, ensures that it is impossible to operate without a license unless the client is also operating illegally!
The role of sustainability in the cleaning industry has perhaps not developed in its fullest sense, however – further guidance around this issue has been requested in certain nations for example and clients are not yet always willing to accept a more sustainable solution if it is more expensive than the alternative. That said, there is evidence that sustainability is beginning to play a role in procurement processes, with a more sustainable offer potentially
helping businesses to differentiate themselves from their competition. This is certainly the case in the Middle East, amongst local and international companies who increasingly understandthe business case for a CSR strategy that incorporates everything from travel to cleaning. The recent Clean ME conference was testament to this, because it featured so high on the agenda.
There are a number of workforce characteristics which are relatively distinct within the cleaning industry – women typically outnumber men, there are few barriers to entry and, as a result, it is often the case that a significant proportion of staff do not hold any qualifications. The same could be said in the Middle East, except it is the men who hold the majority of positions. High staff turnover appears to be a common challenge for employers internationally. This is typically driven by issues such as low rates of pay, a lack of progression opportunities, and the nature of the work. Employers may turn to migrant workers to deal with the issues that this creates however these workers often bring their own specific skills needs.
The uptake of training in the cleaning industry is often not particularly high. This can be a consequence of the fact that many businesses are now operating within very tight budgets. High staff turnover rates and the proportion of employees that work part-time may also restrict investment in this area. Training that is offered may be informal (taking place on the job for example).
In summation, as we assess our own region it is imperative to understand what is happening elsewhere because the issues in Asia, Europe or N. America could be easily imported into the Middle East. At the same time the solutions, technological or otherwise, are already being implemented. So we must continue to broaden our horizons and look for the next innovations and avoid the next issue. By doing so, the Middle East will build a reputation for adhering to international standards and in the best cases, shaping them!