The cleaning services industry presents opportunities for unemployed youth

As the class of 2019 matriculants wrap up their high school years, some will proceed to higher education institutions, while others will not make it. There are matriculants from as far back as five years ago who are still sitting at home; they could not proceed into higher learning institutions for a number of reasons […]

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As the class of 2019 matriculants wrap up their high school years, some will proceed to higher education institutions, while others will not make it. There are matriculants from as far back as five years ago who are still sitting at home; they could not proceed into higher learning institutions for a number of reasons – social and economic. The country’s unemployment rate continues to increase, with unemployment currently at 29.1% and the burden of unemployment mostly concentrated among the youth aged 15–34 years, accounting for 63,4% of the total number of unemployed persons according to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).

“There is a need to explore opportunities in which to absorb these young people into the work environment. The cleaning industry is one of the country’s highest employers – and presents opportunities of entry into the workplace for young people,” says Cathy Viriri, Servest National Operations Director, Cleaning Division.

“Greater efforts must be made to get young people more involved in this space, because all they need is a steppingstone – thereafter they can work towards upskilling to get into their ideal jobs,” says Viriri.

The Contract Cleaning Industry shows that there are over 1 500 contract cleaning companies across South Africa, employing more than 100 000 people.

“One of the biggest challenges that the country faces is that young people perceive cleaning as a low level job and ‘uncool’, but what they need to be looking at is the prospect of what they could become within these roles, instead of where they start. If we can achieve that mindset shift more could be done in bringing down the high unemployment rate among young people,” says Viriri.

She explains that the minimum entry requirement to become a Cleaner is a Matric certificate – thereafter most reputable companies provide on-the-job training in line with industry practices to enable entrants to perform their duties and understand the Standard Operating Procedures; they receive  various site-specific training and where  applicable,  as well as  Health and Safety training.

“The average age of a cleaning colleague at Servest is around 38 years, and we need to get more young people into these roles and create an understanding of the diverse opportunities available in the sector,” says Viriri.

She notes that the cleaning industry is a developing industry expected to impact the country’s economy, as cleaning functions provide a wide range of activities that include both automation and human aid.

“There are opportunities for growth as well in this space, including specialisation, especially in  specialised industry sectors where cleaners can upskill to become a specialist cleaner like in mining, healthcare,  and manufacturing. While working, they can explore growth, continuous learning and upskilling opportunities.

“There are also opportunities for on-the-job training and exposure to other business functions such as Finance & Administration, supervisory roles,  Quality Control, and so on. We need to move beyond the perceptions around jobs such as cleaning, security services – the sort of jobs that young people perceive as low level jobs – and create awareness and highlight the opportunities that exist within these jobs.”

Speaking about innovations and technology taking over some of the more laborious jobs in the future, Viriri said, “As the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) unfolds, we are seeing tremendous technological advancements to perform laborious roles faster and more effectively. However, South Africa remains very labour intensive, and while these innovations are coming, the idea is to get young people involved and upskill them to prepare them for future tech functions. Some of these machines will not require that someone has a technical degree, for example, to work that machine, but require that they are trained on the full function of the machine to operate it.  We have some young people sitting at home jobless, with their matric qualifications, and we need to get them integrated into the 4IR workspace of the future through relevant training from high school.”

She continues, “As deep concerns remain around the high unemployment among youth, employers must work together with the government to resolve some of the challenges that the country continues to grapple with. They must continue in driving training and developing young people for the work environment, and establish opportunities for informal and formal training around the use of technology,” concludes Viriri.

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