What would it take to attract young workers to the cleaning industry?


SINGAPORE: Student Jayden Mani, 23, says he made up to about S $ 8,000 a month as a full-time food delivery boy after completing his national service last year.

But that meant working 16 hours a week without benefits, job security or contributions to the Central Provident Fund. He had an accident and was put to rest for two weeks with no income, he recalls.

Now a nursing student, he still delivers food on a part-time basis. The work allows him flexibility to continue his education, but he believes that is not a long-term option. He chose nursing because he believes it will be a meaningful career, he said.

When asked if he would consider joining the cleaning industry, he sounded skeptical, stating, “The stereotype is that if you are a cleaner you have no future.

READ: Cleaners’ wages will rise from 2023 amid COVID-19 labor shortage

Earlier this month, the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC) set new salary levels and skill requirements for workers in the cleaning industry, with higher salary increases planned for the next six years in the Progressive Salary Model (PWM) framework.

This review of PWM salary levels came as calls to value and appreciate essential workers, such as cleaners, grew louder during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also comes against a backdrop of labor shortages, as border restrictions have limited the influx of low-paid foreign workers.

TCC Chairman and NTUC Deputy Director General Zainal Sapari then said, “We want to attract a younger workforce to this industry. We want this to be a possible career that they can envision, for example. in relation to the economy of concerts. “

Elaborating on this call to join the industry, Zainal said temporary jobs offer little in terms of upgrading skills for better career development.

“These workers would be better off in the long run rather than staying full time as delivery men or private drivers,” he said in an interview with CNA Digital on Wednesday (June 16).

“In fact, for cleaning, workers who want to train to become a general-purpose cleaner could be earning as much as a new ITE graduate by 2023.”

REDUCING THE INCOME GAP

The entry-level base salary for a cleaner is now S $ 1,236. With the recommended PWM increments, it is expected to hit a range of S $ 1,570 to S $ 2,210 in July 2023.

With faster salary increases over the next six years, it will hit a range of S $ 2,420 to S $ 3,210 by 2028.

A number of delivery people CNA spoke to set a base salary for “surviving” at S $ 2,500 to S $ 3,000. In particular, those with families said it was a minimum income required to meet needs.

Asked about it, Zainal said his father, a cleaner and his mother, a hospital worker, had raised five children.

“My answer would be that they are planning to have a dual income household. Most importantly, keep a job that offers income and job security, ”he said.

“You can still work in the odd-job economy to supplement your income. My dad worked as a security guard after finishing his job as a housekeeper to get extra income. “

Singapore’s social support system, such as the Workfare Income Supplement and financial assistance programs, can help supplement family income, he added. But ultimately, the goal is to close the gap.

READ: There is ‘always a risk’: How cleaning companies in Singapore are keeping their workers safe amid COVID-19 pandemic

“We must continue to find ways to close the income gap and ensure that their average wage growth continues to exceed the average wage of workers in order to strengthen our social pact,” Zainal said.

The desired outcome is that workers in the 20th income percentile earn two-thirds of the median income, while for now their wages are at half of the median income, he added.

Singapore’s median salary was S $ 4,534 in 2020, and median income growth was 2.6% per year from 2015 to 2020.

NOT ONLY ON SALARY

However, compensation is only part of the puzzle. With jobs like cleaning, hard work, long hours, and the stigma associated with it can also deter people from committing to it.

But some see hope as the pandemic appears to have led to a new appreciation of essential workers.

Calling cleaning a “sunrise industry,” Singapore Environmental Management Association (EMAS) chairman Tony Chooi said demand for cleaning and disinfection services would continue to rise in the country. the new normal.

READ: IN FOCUS: How Fewer Migrant Workers Mean Challenges Beyond the Construction Sector

He believes there are ways to enhance the image of the industry and improve its professionalism. Young people should see that there are opportunities and a career path for them, he said.

“There are two sides to most jobs and although cleaning is not the most glamorous industry, its nature and scope has changed over the years with exciting developments, for example in robotics and technology. “, did he declare.

It’s a “stable but progressive career,” he added: “While we may agree that the concert economy offers more flexibility and better working conditions, there is also no stability of work and career path. “

“SERIOUS SHORTAGE OF CLEANERS”

He admits that the negative perception of the industry is harder to change and will take time. But it’s about time the industry couldn’t afford it as there has been an approximately 11% decrease in the workforce hired by licensed cleaning companies since 2016.

Attrition is due to retirements, departures of workers from the industry and a reduction in the quota of foreign workers, as well as a lack of new entrants. The average age of cleaning staff is 60, according to EMAS.

Meanwhile, the demand for cleaning services has increased.

“If we don’t attract the younger workforce, there will be a serious shortage of cleaners,” Chooi said. “Going forward, the industry is pushing for performance-based contracts and the adoption of technology plays a key role in its success. It is also easier for younger people to acquire skills related to technology.

By rethinking jobs, improving professionalism and increasing wages, Zainal believes essential workers will be seen as specialists in their fields, not “low-paid workers”.

“I wish there was a magic wand (that) would instantly change the perception of society, but the reality is that we have to do something different, and cumulatively, I think it will happen,” Mr. Zainal.

“I believe that in the time to come, with changing perceptions and recognition of the importance of work in essential service industries, workers will be more proud of their work when they are truly valued by society.

“I would consider the changes we are making to the cleaning industry and other essential service industries as well as the start of a new standard for essential service workers who keep Singapore safe, clean and environmentally friendly. “


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