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How to train an environmental ninja

Good training is key to staff retention at this critical time for recruitment. Janice Raycroft educates us on the various training options available.

Looking for champions in our world of housekeeping and hospitality? You’ll find a host of people ‘flying the flag’ within the training sector of professional bodies and those directly involved in boosting the skills and qualifications of staff, whether that ’s newlyappointed room attendants or those already well on the path to senior management.

When not taking a ‘hands-on’ approach leading training sessions, they might be found challenging government – critical post-Brexit as we find solutions to the people and skills gaps – organising awards ceremonies for successful apprentices, or even turning up on TV and radio shows to highlight the importance of training. Take, for example, Delia Cannings, MD of Environmental Excellence Training and Development Ltd.

Cannings and her team are rightly proud of their state-of-the-art training suite in Birmingham, but it’s the achievements of the people they train which take centre stage. “Time and again you will hear people say, ‘I’m just a cleaner’, but I point out that that they are actually an ‘Environmental Ninja’ whose role involves maths, ergonomics, chemistry, microbiology and much more. They are problem solvers who help to keep other people well and happy,” Cannings declares. Her own route into our sector began as a teenager, going with her mother to clean hotel bedrooms for pocket money and then the ‘eyeopener’ as a specialist hospital cleaner.

“I realised that not only did I enjoy cleaning but that there was a truly scientific side to it all. The hospital ‘bug’ I caught was that cleaning really contributed to the health and wealth of the nation, but was greatly undervalued,” she recalls.

A two year City & Guilds course in Cleaning Science led to the tutors suggesting Cannings turn her enthusiasm into teaching. “That became the passion because I realised there were so many ‘unsung heroes’ in our industry,” Cannings reveals. As she climbed the career ladder to a senior role with a private hospital, the urge to set up her own training school was eventually undeniable. She still gets a kick from seeing people turning their lives around having come into cleaning from a bad start (perhaps family problems or petty offending), developing their own confidence and self-worth while contributing to society’s wellbeing. Similarly, new outlooks in ‘old hands’ is also a delight: “I’ve just been working with groups of experienced contract managers.

To hear ‘We’ve been doing this job for years, you’ve just made it interesting’ is so rewarding. It’s also good to see more young people – and men – coming into our industry and viewing it as a career, not just a job.” Training also provides a network to pull on for advice long after courses end, and at Environmental Excellence Training and Development Ltd they are also proud of their huge library of cleaning manuals and advice written over many years by renowned experts.

The one piece of advice Cannings would give any organisation or individual seeking training is that with the myriad of potential qualifications and funding opportunities they take time to check the credentials of providers: “Look for credibility, experience over the years and that the provider is externally regulated.”

For independent hotel consultant Liz Smith-Mills, good training is a key to staff retention at a critical time for recruitment. “What goes around, comes around. Yes, some well-trained staff you’ve invested in will make a career move, while others will stay because it not only suits them to do so, but you have invested in them. Our industry is something of a circuit and someone who left you after joining as a trainee may well return in five years at executive level, so high quality training benefits all. It’s the key to everything. You can have the most fabulous hotel, but it’s the people who work there that make it come alive.”

Modern training methods search as e-learning and videos, including those in different languages are helping to transform the educational market, she says, but must be aligned with the right processes and monitoring to ensure busy staff get the most benefit from it. Right now she’s greatly enthused by initiatives such as those being developed by Aspire Recruitment, a ‘not for profit’ recruitment business within The Growth Company, which is working on a programme to train room attendants in Manchester where 35 new hotel openings are planned in the next three years. Smith-Mills also champions mentoring, for both the confidence it brings as well as sharing of ideas, and this is also close to the heart of Alistair Sandall, head of professional development at The Institute of Hospitality.

“We have members in 100 countries around the world with a huge range of experience to share,” said Sandall. “Housekeepers may become experts in their field, but through mentoring and our management training programme they can develop in areas such as appraisals and best practice in handling all kinds of staffing issues.”

NTG Training in Chester will have a big focus on digital skills, motivating and upskilling staff this year. They are also one of the first apprenticeship training providers in the UK to provide Textile Care Operative Level Two training including dry and wet laundry skills – a specialist 13 month course for laundry operatives working within care homes, hotels and hospitals.

As the industry prepares for whatever legislation the new government brings in post-Brexit, it’s interesting that UKHospitality, representing some 700 businesses, has issued its own ‘manifesto’, Menu For Change, demonstrating how vital the sector is within the UK. Good training, and support from government, is stressed throughout.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, has a Menu for Change and wants the industry to shout about the career progression opportunities on offer

Chief executive Kate Nicholls says: “Hospitality is the third largest private sector employer in the country. Not only are our team members important, they are absolutely at the heart of everything we excel at. Happy motivated and challenged employees are crucial if venues want to thrive. “The sector provides opportunities at every skill level in every region of the UK. We need to make sure that we communicate the opportunities we provide, and the kind of career progression available to young people at the beginning of their careers more often and be our own biggest cheerleader.”

When it comes to cheerleading, Adele Oxberry, founder of Umbrella Training, has seen her business support the recruitment, development and progression of thousands of apprentices and existing hospitality sector staff since its launch in 2012, with everything from English for speakers of other languages to management courses.

She says: “As a progressive business, we understand the needs of the hospitality sector. This means both apprentices and employers are offered dedicated and bespoke programmes which are specifically focussed on the industry and its ever-changing needs.

Through a collaborative and tailored development approach, we offer meaningful programmes to organisations and apprentices across the sector. Each course is designed specifically with impactful outcomes in mind. All programmes ensure that all parties grow and succeed.”

A sister organisation, Elite Hospitality Assessment Professionals (EHAP) provides talented hospitality and management professionals qualified as Apprenticeship End Point Assessors. Then there are Purple Umbrella Awards, celebrating the achievements of apprentices.

Jo Simovic, newly promoted chief
operating officer at Umbrella
Training, is a fine example of
climbing the career ladder through
learning and ambition

But if you want a great example of career progression it is that Umbrella appointed Jo Simovic to the post of chief operating officer in January. Simovic came to the UK from Serbia in 2004 to study marketing and management and discovered that people development was her real vocation.

She worked with ‘Training for Change’ and ‘The Learning Academy’, designing management and customer service development programmes along the way for top hotels, also completing an MSc in Organisational Psychology. And she’s still gathering skills, having joined Umbrella two years ago. They will support her during a PhD at Birkbeck College exploring the value of apprenticeship degrees in comparison to academic degrees.

There’s always something to learn… whether you start as a room attendant ‘returner to work’ or are someone like Simovic climbing to the highest professional trees.


It is no secret that training and staff satisfaction are beneficial to any business. However, the hospitality industry in particular has a profound issue with staff retention. In fact, recent figures show the sector has an employee turnover rate of 30 per cent – the poorest of any industry in Britain.

For hospitality, the problem lies primarily with retaining housekeeping staff. With the amount of time and training invested in employees throughout their careers, retention of well-trained staff is paramount.

My recruitment and retention strategy covers three areas:

Hire for attitude, not skill

Liz Smith-Mills is an Expert Advisory Council member for P&G Professional. With over 35 years’ experience in four and five-star properties in all hotel departments, Liz specialises in housekeeping, training, mystery guest inspections and assisting with new openings.

Consider a potential employee for their enthusiasm and attitude to the work. It is important to remember that whilst staff can be trained to perform their duties to the level that you and your customers expect, tenacity is a star attribute that cannot be taught.

Be creative

Training should be a memorable and engaging experience. Stage a ‘Housekeeping Olympics’ with creative games, such as bed making races. I use a ‘rogue room’, set up with cleaning errors that staff are encouraged to find and fix. Management must also equip staff with the best tools and coach trainees on how to use them.

I recommend introducing the P&G Professional range during the ‘rogue room’ activity; as the setting encourages trainees to get hands on with professional grade cleaning products from the outset. These trusted brand names that most staff are familiar with, such as Flash, are not only safe for all-day use, but training becomes easier as the products are intuitive and simple to use.

Conduct regular appraisals

During these sessions, encourage your employees to share their ideas and career goals. Create an action plan and document their goals, strengths, and opportunity areas, which can help them not only feel supported in their development, but act as a written reference guide for future sessions. This can help grow an employee’s loyalty to the business as they have clear sight of their trajectory within the company.

Following these steps will ensure that staff are equipped with the skills for a long-term career in hospitality, but with the satisfaction to remain with your business.

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