A new report from CB Insights found that about 10 million service and warehouse jobs are at high risk of displacement within the next five to 10 years in the U.S. alone, including 3.8 million cleaner and janitorial jobs.
The report based the relative risk of automation on factors including tasks involved, current commercial deployment of technology, patent activity, investment activity, technological challenges and regulations.
Advances in robotics — where artificial intelligence software meets hardware — are taking automation beyond heavy industrial and manufacturing processes. This trend is already affecting sectors like physical security and cleaning services. For example, start-ups are developing commercial cleaning robots, and many early-stage startups in the U.S. like CleanRobotics, RanMarine, Adlatus Robotics and Avidbots have cropped up in the last two years. A late-stage company, Xenex Robots, develops UV disinfectant robots to reduce the rate of hospital-acquired infections in more than 400 healthcare facilities.
Canadian statistics mirror U.S. findings. Last year, a Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) study found that nearly 42 per cent of the Canadian labour force is at a high risk of being affected by automation in the next decade or two. Expert methodologies combined with Canadian data found that janitors, caretakers and building supervisors earning less than $40,000 per year have a 66 per cent chance of being replaced. Facility operations and maintenance managers earning more than $60,000 face an 81 per cent risk. The number rises again with cleaning supervisors who are facing a 94 per cent risk of losing their jobs.
New technology will likely drive restructuring, but it will either replace certain jobs or complement them.
Some industry experts and start-up founders have been optimistic about the new jobs that will be created. BII+E found that occupations with the lowest risk of being affected by automation, which are correlated with higher earnings and education, are projected to produce nearly 712,000 net new jobs between 2014 and 2024.
But what the jobs of the future will look like remains to be seen. Automation in the JanSan industry is morphing every year, with new solutions coming to market. Many companies in the Canadian cleaning industry haven’t been early adopters, but they are starting to rethink how technology is making them more efficient and giving them a competitive edge when bidding for corporate businesses.
The companies that are thinking this way are rising to the top, according to CEO and founder of Cleaning Marketer Lisa Macqueen. She is also co-owner of Australian-based Cleancorp, a multi-million dollar global cleaning enterprise. Here, she discusses what the keys strengths of automation are, what facility service providers are missing out on if they don’t embrace it and what automation won’t ever be able to replace.
What are some key strengths that automation brings to the cleaning industry?
One area seeing fantastic results is on-site management systems, which are giving cleaning companies much more transparency; automation is allowing them to make better decisions around the facilities they manage, such as what tasks are delivered and when. They also allow cleaners to look at an app and see what work needs to be done on a particular floor. That kind of automation has started to make a big difference in service delivery.
Also, the cleaning staff is being cared for more. We know when they arrive and when they leave. If anything happens and they don’t log out, it can trigger an immediate alert. For example, if you had a cleaner working solo and they had a medical emergency – there is always the chance they may not be able to get the help they need in time. What this technology does is allows for supervisors and management to be alerted when someone has stayed too long on a site or hasn’t logged out, which provides a very clear way of managing the health and safety of employees and team members. By doing this, and showing our people that we care about them on every level within our business, it helps to build a much stronger culture within the organization, and helps to retain staff for much longer. Why? Because they feel valued.
Where do you think automation will be in ten years?
A report from Oxford University states nearly half of U.S jobs could be performed by machines within 20 years. High on this list are industries with a lot of turnover and less college-educated workers. There’s around a 65 per cent chance that janitorial workers will be replaced by computers and automation. Can that really happen? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can replace such a labour intensive job such as cleaning. The reality is you still need people. A lot of janitorial may be replaced, but as that happens, it’s not going to happen all at once. Even right now, floor scrubbing machines are becoming smaller so that equipment can reach smaller spaces, but the training for how to operate those machines requires people — now they are the ones driving the machines or programming them on site. I don’t think we will see a traumatic change, but efficiencies will be created, companies will save money and what they’ll do is use that money to redistribute the hours the janitors would have completed on more demanding, detail-oriented tasks that only a person can do.
Who is embracing automation the most, facilities or service providers?
First of all, it really depends on the facility. When you have this kind of equipment, you need to be able to house it somewhere. If the facility does have the available space, I’d say it will be facility-driven because for every facility manager in a large space, cleaning takes up a huge chuck of their overall budget. They will always be looking for ways to reduce the bottom line. At the same time, cleaning businesses are also looking to reduce costs. Both sides have a shared mission.
How can smaller facilities incorporate automation into their budgets?
Small facilities still have massive costs for cleaning. Those with time and management software on site find it helps them because they want to make sure they are getting value for their outlay. If cleaning is taking place over a short period of time, they may want to see if they can get more done. In other words, the days of service providers flying through a site in record time are over. Business and building owners and managers need to see a greater return on their investment for cleaning service, and those companies that can provide that transparency are winning customers because of it.
How can we protect jobs and also embrace technology?
Contract cleaning is a huge part of facility management. Having skilled staff on site is something that can’t be replaced. There is so much that automation cannot do in a building. Perhaps, janitors may become more upskilled so they can spend more time doing work that is less repetitive and more detail-focused. Janitors are the face of the cleaning business that has the contract – if the face of the business is just a robot, then it’s really easy for a customer to just replace you if they get a better offer.
We can’t forget the important role they play when interacting with customers face to face on a daily basis. That’s a really big job that they probably don’t get kudos for. People buy from people, and a piece of equipment will never be able to replace that human interaction. The people in your workforce are your biggest asset.
What are facility service providers missing out on if they don’t embrace automation?
Cleaning businesses have to start automating their workflow, sales and marketing, and their social media strategies to compete in the 21st century. The old ways just won’t cut it anymore, and any cleaning business owners (CBOs) who think that way will be left behind. And look, why wouldn’t you want to make changes that will simplify and speed up your own operation. One area many cleaning business owners overlook is how they can manage daily tasks in their offices; for example, issuing a new contract to a customer. I’ve worked with clients who have taken up to an hour to complete the process of issuing just one contract, but with automation, the exact same contract can be issued, with e-signing capabilities, in literally a couple of minutes. You’re not only saving time, but think about the staffing costs this improvement could save a business – it’s huge.
Can you expand on social media automation?
Many cleaning business owners are hesitant to take the step into using social media for their businesses, for one of two reasons. Either they don’t know what to do, and how to make it work for them, or they’re afraid of the amount of time it will take out of their already busy schedule. Here’s the thing though. What many CBOs may not know is you can also use automation for these processes. Tools like Dux-Soup for LinkedIn, Hootesuite, Buffer or Meet Edgar help you to ensure your social media goes out, without your even having to think about – meaning you and your business stay in front of your ideal prospects and clients, even if you’re away on vacation or having a really busy week. It’s awesome, and totally worth the very small monthly outlay to use these tools.
Lisa Macqueen is the co-founder of Cleancorp has more than 20 years of experience working in the cleaning industry. Her business, Cleaning Marketer (www.cleaningmarketer.com), coaches cleaning business owners on how to attract more prospects, make more sales and keep customers longer, using modern ideas and strategies specifically developed for the cleaning industry. She is a sought-after speaker, consultant and mentor in the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand. You can contact her on Facebook at Cleaning Marketer, Twitter @cleaningmktr or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance