Who Owns Whom

A clean slate for contract cleaning

As things stand in South Africa, one cannot reflect on an industry and not ponder on how that particular sector can assist in boosting the economy and reduce the high unemployment rates the country is grappling with. We will attempt to look at opportunities available in The Cleaning Industry in South Africa which according to the 2022 WOW report on the sector employs about 100 000 people.

To take advantage of the available opportunities, one needs to accept the reality that a key underlying issue and the root of unemployment is not only a lack of jobs; but the inadequately educated youth. The unemployment rate for youth without matric was, according to the Statistics South Africa report of 2022, “more than twice that of youth with tertiary qualifications”.

Whilst the cleaning industry presents opportunities for entry into the workplace for young people with lower levels of education, there are opportunities for them to take advantage of programmes available for skills development, particularly in the software development and local manufacturing of chemicals used in the Contract Cleaning industry. These opportunities are often ignored and not fully explored. There is room for companies in this industry to create awareness about these opportunities and for encouraging the youth to explore more creative ways when searching for work.

That tells us that the country is not building the skills required for the 4th Industrial Revolution – an issue that keeps coming up when education experts deliberate on the solutions for addressing the challenges South Africa is facing to create meaningful and sustainable work.

Staying with the 4th Industrial Revolution, there is not one industry that is not either digitising its processes or using technology to modernise services to remain competitive amongst pioneers by responding to the latest trends and market changes as a result increase profitability.

Developing platforms and internet businesses for this sector is one opportunity that could be explored by young people to assist an industry that was growing at about 10% per annum pre-Covid-19 pandemic and has since then, shrunk due to companies vacating their offices for an extended period, and due to the new policy of working from home. Most of these companies are still not and might never be, back to pre-Covid-19 normal in terms of office occupation.

Companies in this sector are not only exploring innovative methods to remain competitive but are now procuring environment-friendly alternatives, utilising state-of-the-art equipment and using new apps to communicate and coordinate customer needs and requirements. Other advances include quieter machines with better filtration systems that are cost-effective to achieve optimum cleaning results.

In South Africa, there was always a reluctance to automate processes under the guise of job preservation, but that can no longer hold as the world is moving fast on the digitisation trajectory. It is best not to fear change as evidenced by the successes achieved by companies which are leading by embracing new methods and industry trends.

So, how do young people participate meaningfully without the requisite skills? This is where initiatives like the Expanded Public Works Programme can bring relief. Instead of training the old-fashioned way of running a business or cleaning, the programme should be empowering them with technology skills that respond to new trends in the industry.

With technological advancements, companies are now leveraging the strengths of other players in the sector who have more experience and expertise in areas they have no capacity for by pulling resources through the use of software platforms. This enables them to offer a more comprehensive service that includes facilities management, security, general labour recruitment, event management, landscaping, indoor plant maintenance, laundry services and energy management. Diversification helps increase revenue and profit and reduce risk if the segment experiences tough conditions.

This is where the partnership comes into play with smaller players or actual labourers to be roped in as and when their service is required. That way companies remain competitive and profitable and in turn stabilise the sector.

We have an idea that all these initiatives have been hampered by the bureaucracy, and factionalism in the ruling party as well as the corruption uncovered by the Zondo Commission.  Economists have also long identified a number of channels through which corruption may affect economic growth. According to a Transparency International report titled The Impact of Corruption on Growth and Inequality -among other things, corruption distorts incentives and market forces, leading to misallocation of resources. The report goes on to state that corruption diverts talent and resources, including human resources, towards “lucrative” rent-seeking activities, such as defence, rather than productive activities.

The reality facing the youth of South Africa today is they need to stand up and seek opportunities in areas that do not require government intervention and technology can be a catalyst for such initiatives.

The technology giants such as Google and Microsoft have availed their platforms for budding entrepreneurs to code applications that can unlock business opportunities. The Contract Cleaning Industry is ripe for such developments.

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