Industry Leaders Forum: Bruce Whiteley, Daniels Associates

Bruce Whiteley, Operations Director, Daniels Associates

How did Daniels Associates fare in 2021? What were the highlights and what were some of the challenges?

The lockdowns as a result of COVID-19 have presented a challenging environment for us and many other companies in the cleaning space.

As an education and training company that has been focused on supporting facility managers and cleaning contractors for many years, we have in the past operated mostly on the back of government funding for qualifications such as a Certificate III in Cleaning Operations and a Certificate IV in Cleaning Management.

The pandemic has put pressure on that traditional business model, so over the past two years we’ve been reinventing the way we do business.

We are more agile and focussed on delivering ‘on-demand training’. With an eye to the future, we’re gathering momentum to move away from the old model into an online fee-for-service model.

Is there an achievement that you’re particularly proud of from the past 12 months?

There has been a gap in the industry for a cost-effective and easy-to-use system to onboard new staff and manage current employees.

As part of our transformation, we have been developing recruitment software and updating our learning management systems, including integrations and application programming interfaces (APIs), that will allow us to develop innovative solutions in the HR, onboarding, and online training space.

We have two fulltime IT developers on board who are integrating software to streamline our learning management systems, recruitment support and other offerings such as police checks for workers.

This will help cleaning companies tick all their compliance boxes. The key for us is to deliver technology that helps companies with their pre-employment and onboarding processes so that their workers have basically completed most of their training before they start work.

The software development is going well, and the imperative now is to set a price point that works for the cleaning industry. We’re aiming to release our software at the ISSA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo in March.

What will be the major focus for Daniels Associates in 2022?

The truth is that English is a second language for most cleaners in Australia and many struggle with IT and have very limited access to computers, especially in the workforce. So, our priority is to continue to develop education and onboarding systems that work simply and which can be accessed via a mobile phone.

That’s the electronic track we’re going down. We can send workers a link to education and information sources, they can access it on their phone and away they go.

This approach cuts down on paperwork and makes it much easier for cleaning companies to coordinate their training. For example, we have some clients who may have trainees spread across WA, SA and the NT.

Conventional ways of handling such training are a nightmare, but with our new systems the trainees will be able to open their smart phone, click on a link, and access information with a level of simplicity that would not have been possible in the past.

If you can send a text message, you can complete our training programs on your smart phone. Technology and efficiencies are the key.

What challenges do you anticipate for the industry in 2022?

HR and succession planning have gone out the door. The cleaning industry is facing staff shortages because the bulk of the labour force isn’t coming from Australian citizens and residents.

It’s coming from overseas students and immigrants who are on visas, and COVID-19 has disrupted that model. Therefore, we need to come up with new ways to educate and train new workers.

The other big issue is when government facilities and property owners start to tighten their purse strings again. When COVID-19 first broke out, cleaners were getting a lot of extra money because of the need for higher hygiene standards and greater frequency of cleaning.

During the more recent outbreaks, however, clients have been saying they can’t pay anything extra for cleaning, even though they want all the high-touch surfaces cleaned regularly.

I worry that, in 2022, clients may start asking cleaning companies to cut costs – and margins will be very tight in such an environment. And how will cleaners cut costs?

Well, they will reduce their costs where they can, including through the purchase of supplies, reduced overheads and training. Fortunately, our new software will support a streamlined recruitment and onboarding process for many companies.

What advice do you have for fellow leaders in the cleaning industry?

There is no doubt that the way we do business has permanently changed. The old way of doing things no longer yield the results we seek.

COVID-19 has shown us that we still need to pay special attention to workforce planning as part of our strategic growth.

The cleaning industry in Australia has a labour problem because there is a certain percentage of Australians who have removed themselves from the labour market for various reasons and will not work in certain jobs.

The only option at the moment is to open the national borders to more overseas students and immigrants, but they’re not going to completely fill the gap in the local labour supply.

We need a different way and I’ve long hoped that more cleaning companies would overhaul their employment practices and employ people properly and permanently, rather than relying too heavily on subcontractors.

Maybe there is now a great opportunity for cleaning companies to work with their clients and provide more sustainable labour practices.

We need to start thinking outside the box and look at different ways of doing things. For example, maybe it’s time to discuss more day cleaning with property owners and managers.

The equipment technology in battery-operated equipment is now readily available to support such practices. I think there are great opportunities in this space brought on by the labour shortages.

his article first appeared in the January/February issue of INCLEAN magazine. 

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