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“You’d only get monkeys by throwing peanuts. Don’t expect a lion or elephant”

It all started during a conversation with a facility head of a leading manufacturing company. “Why do facility management companies make tall promises of providing ‘professional services’ at premium rates and end up giving us local workers, who hardly have any skills? We are hiring top FM companies for our property but are being serviced by those who are just being trained in basic skills at our site for the first time.”

The above statement definitely stirred up emotions, with FM companies countering, criticising, correcting and clarifying what is true and what is not true, and finally on what should be, during an informal discussion over WhatsApp on this topic. Read on…

While talks are on for ‘skills, skilling and upskilling’ of workforces, their demand has percolated down from gold-collared professionals to the white-, yellow-, pink-, blue- and even the heavy blue-collar workers in the service space.

Specifically, those instilled in the heavy blue-collar category, the ‘semi-skilled’ workers who are expected to be well-dressed in uniforms, have the best of the etiquettes, perform every task that is demanded of them (including those mundane tasks beyond their job description), never complain, work beyond duty hours with no overtime… And yes, any deviation from the expected, always involves a ‘penalty’. This is particularly true when it comes to engaging untrained workers.

Why is hiring locals such an issue?

Getting locals to take on job tasks at a new facility “is hardly the case. Local semi-skilled workers are not available to service a site on day one of the contract. We end up training our folks and placing them at sites; unless there is a client who insists on starting services ‘immediately’, which leads to hiring locals to begin services.”

And why not?

“Hiring staff locally boosts local employment as per state government notifications and in some cases, is also beneficial for the client as the local staff adapts very well to the local socio-cultural environment. It is easier for the staff to commute to the workplace/site, thus reducing the chances of downtime or absence.

“Furthermore, they are readily available and at ‘lower costs’. The only differentiator is the ability to upskill the local workforce through rigorous training & development. Professional FM companies try to maintain a 50:50 ratio between local and trained workforces to create a balance.”

In fact, service delivery is always done using local resources.

“What matters is the knowledge and program management by the service provider using the same resources, bringing in subject matter experts to implement the solutions, identify/rectify wastages or errors and in turn improve productivity and reduce cost of services.

“Further, the value proposition on the challenges faced by the client is in engaging with the right service/solutions company. Otherwise, most large companies will end up selling labour, material and machinery in the name of services.”

Jamadaars or Housekeepers?

Well, whether you hire a local or get a trained worker, why ask for a ‘housekeeper’ when you treat them as ‘jamadaars’? (For the benefit of the readers, these two categories are paid differently under the Minimum Wages Act).

“Workers are deployed at minimum wages to give them all the government benefits. There is a drastic difference between what minimum wages offer and what they should actually be paid. While the government is working to set the equations right, why can’t the client (principal employer) step in to pay them what they should rightfully receive?

“Clients want professionally dressed workers and are paying for just two uniforms per year!” Indian weather is definitely not friendly to multiple use uniforms. It stinks! Uniforms are just a small part of the bigger problem but it can be a starting point to get professional.

Ironically, the worker mopping the floor and the worker using a ₹15 lakh cleaning machine are both ‘janitors’ drawing almost the same salary!

Client has to pay for it

If the client wants skilled workers, there is a cost attached to it.

“A client cannot have the best-in-class services at the lowest prices. The background of the staff is going to be the same with every service provider, but what makes the difference is the sustained training which equips the staff to deliver quality services. Thus, the choice of a service provider should be based on a strong and robust training program which enables the staff to skill themselves.”

Not possible at minimum wage

“While hiring a service provider, bigger clients talk of empathy, ESG, staff welfare… but end up paying minimum wages! Workers are lucky if they get a bonus, paid leaves or gratuity from the client end. Further, government schemes such as PMPRY were declared not to be passed on to the service provider and have it reduced from the contract costs.”

On the hind side, “FM is a labour-intensive industry and many times, certain service providers save costs by hiring unskilled staff and pay them the basic wages. Also, many service providers take advantage of government notifications.

However, engaging with big service providers that run in-house training modules to ensures quality service delivery, conducts proper pre-mobilisation sessions, ensures effective deployment as per client specifications, maintains a pool of skilled workers and strategically deploys trained workers to suit clients’ expectations and service standards, bringing about the difference.

Ultimately, ‘you’d only get monkeys by throwing peanuts. Don’t expect a lion or elephant’.

In conclusion, the discerning client does need to know and accept that by engaging with organised big service providers, they’d at least be compliant and make sincere attempts at training, retraining and attaining benchmark standards.

So long as the job is considered unskilled and the focus is on outsourcing cost, rather than accountability, the market will be governed by minimum wages. And that, no service provider can afford to hire non-local workers as there are extra costs attached, such as providing accommodation, food, etc.

The business, thanks to the big organised service providers, has progressed to using automation and other newer technologies. The market has to recognise FM services as an essential contributor rather than unavoidable cost, because automation, furthering skills, etc., would attract talent to the cleaning industry.

This again comes at a cost!

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