It’s dirty work but…

How
can companies recruit and retain staff for the sort of jobs no-one else wants?
We look at some of the solutions that firms have come up with

Every
now and then, a company or organisation needs to employ a very special person.
They may not be highly qualified, have remarkable skills or a great deal of
experience, but they have a certain approach and attitude which marks them out
from the crowd. They are, in short, someone who will do the job that no-one
else will.

In
some areas of employment, however, this is an everyday requirement. The service
industry has a whole host of jobs with a less than attractive image ñ an image
which more often than not is completely justified by the reality. Cleaning pest
infestations, dealing with sewage or hygiene waste, even working with death is
part of the daily routine for many people. How can these people be employed
effectively in a way which means they will perform well and remain within the
organisation, contributing their skills over the long term?

In
many cases the answer is that people employed in this kind of work are not
properly managed ñ and in some cases they are not managed at all. They work in
small firms, or even one man bands, motivated by their own enterprise or simply
because they are working alongside family and friends.

In
larger organisations the potential to implement strategic approaches to people
management does exist. Financial remuneration is only part of the equation
here, and it must be said not a significant one. Workers in these roles rarely
enjoy high levels of pay and competition within the sector keeps those levels
firmly in check.

It
can be difficult to create meaningful incentive schemes or to illustrate
possible career development for those at the very bottom of the ladder. Yet
some employers offer good HR practices which recruit, retain and motivate their
employees in spite of the working environment. The jobs and methods follow:

Funeral
directors and embalmers

The
funeral director’s work usually begins with a phone call notifying them of the
deceased and can extend past the cremation or burial service as they offer
continuing support to mourners. On call 24 hours a day, they are responsible
for arranging all parts of the funeral service including transport, cremation
and burial as well as aspects of the remembrance service. According to Delma
Yorath, funeral services controller for United Northwest Co-operative, funeral
directors frequently have to make suggestions for aspects of the service which
the mourners themselves may not consider.

"There
is a slow move away from the traditional funeral towards something that is more
personal ñ particularly in the choice of music," explains Yorath. For this
a funeral director receives, on average, between £200 and £250 per week.

Aspects
of the work do require some technical expertise. Legally, embalming does not
require a qualification but United Northwest Co-operative offers full training
ñ which takes over two years. More general training is provided for employees
across the business, in part to integrate the business aspect of the
organisation alongside day-to-day work.

But
certain events can never be covered by a training scheme. Children’s funerals
can be particularly distressing, more so if the funeral director has children.
Since the directors are part of the local community they serve they can find it
difficult to maintain the distance required for dealing with these cases. For
this reason, directors are given the option of passing responsibility for
distressing services to a colleague if they require.

"We
are looking for people with a broad base of skills," says Yorath,
"They are clerical people but need to have an empathetic nature. They need
to be very organised and disciplined to make sure all the deadlines connected
with the service are met." However, according to Yorath, finding these
employees is not a great problem. "Many of our people regard working in
this area as a vocation rather than a job," she explains. That said, the
organisation has done well at breaking down the traditional view of who can be
a funeral director. It has successfully advertised opportunities to younger
people and currently between 30 to 35 per cent of its 600 staff are female.

"Generally
we can gauge whether employees will stay with us after they have been working
for us for a while," says Yorath. "If they stay with us for 12 months
we have usually got them for life."

Refuse
collection

Rob
Edmondson is operations controller, south of England, for Service Team. Among
its contracts, the company is responsible for delivering refuse collection and
street cleansing services in areas ranging from Camden in London

to
Redruth in Cornwall. According to Edmondson, refuse workers are employed in a
variety of specific positions ñ as street cleaners, drivers, loaders and in
specialist areas such as sorting and recycling.

Concentrating
on the street cleansing and refuse collection services, he admits the work is
limited in scope and is certainly not for everyone. "They are out in all
weathers, working eight hours a day and it is not glamourous," he says.
With drivers receiving around £350 a week, loaders and street cleansers between
£225 and £300 a week it is difficult to see how pay can provide a great
incentive.

But
Service Team has created an incentive structure by offering vocational
qualifications.

Edmondson
says while most employees are brought in at refuse collection level, they are
encouraged to train in other aspects of service delivery such as driving light
and heavy goods vehicles ñ qualifications which increase their earning
potential. In Camden, the company has successfully put four employees through
NVQ at Levels 1 and 2 in refuse operations and waste management.

The
company took responsibility for refuse services in Hackney at a time when the
standard of street cleaning in the area was very low. It has succeeded in
turning around this operation while retaining the previous refuse staff.
"One of the key things was to put in a strong and coordinated management
team," explains Edmondson. "It was able to change the way work was
allocated to people and to look at the methodology. It has produced a step
change in the standard of cleaning."

Service
Team has seen turnover rise from £60m to £150m in the past year and it has been
acquired by Cleanaway Europe. Its success stems in part from its ability to
give employees a sense of pride in their work. Individual street operatives,
for example, are given specific and regular areas to clean, furthering their
sense of responsibility and impact they can have.

In
Norfolk the company has even taken on a team of female bin collectors who are
clearly proud of their role within the community. Lastly, as part of being an
IIP organisation, every Service Team employee has the chance to discuss their
role in the company with their manager twice a year.

Pest
control and hygiene

Pest
control and hygiene services must be one of the least attractive of all
occupations. On the pest control side, operatives are unable to predict how bad
the working conditions will be. Whatever the infestation, cockroaches, rats,
birds or fleas, workers are usually called upon to clean and remove the problem
rather than taking on the more attractive task of preventing infestation in the
first place.

In
hygiene services, operatives are employed on tasks such as exchanging feminine
hygiene containers on site, or emptying these containers and dealing with the
contents. In general there is little chance of variety in this work with
drivers being dedicated only to collection and exchange and other technicians
dedicated to emptying the containers

and
processing the waste. An unattractive job can be made no better by staff  finding themselves looked down upon or even
mistreated by clients on site.

According
to one spokesman from the industry, the work is typified by low wages ñ
employees receive around £9,000 to £11,000 per year ñ high staff turnover and,
in the area of waste removal, little in the way of incentives or training.
"There is an argument that if salaries were increased then people would
put up with this type of work for longer, but the problem is really the culture
that goes with the industry," says the spokesman.

However,
in the area of pest control, Rentokil-Initial has succeeded in bucking this
trend. According to Rentokil-Initial spokesman, Jeff Roberts, it has few
problems in recruiting or retaining employees, "Staff morale and
motivation is high," he says ñ a direct result of the company’s commitment
to providing high levels of training. He also cites the benefit of working for
a global business. With its size ñ about 1,000 workers in the UK and 95,000
working in more than 40 countries across the world ñ employees can always be
given new challenges and real career development.

Sewage
treatment

Sewage
workers carry out a mix of technical and physical work on sewage treatment
sites. On the one hand they are responsible for the adjustment of chemical
dosing equipment as well as checking the monitoring equipment which governs the
water treatment process. At the same time, maintenance work can involve less
savoury hands-on work such as un-blocking liquid sewage filters. Alison Harker,
HR professional in performance and resources at Anglian Water, explains that
while most outside applicants are appointed as process workers at around £13,000,
the company does offer flexibility in starting salaries to reflect an
individual’s skill and experience.

"We
offer a pay range according to what they bring to us, so they can earn anything
from £13,828 to £18,217," she explains. While she admits it is difficult
to attract employees through print advertising, an important element of this
first move is to highlight the full benefits of the employment package such as
a pension plan, private health care and relocation expenses. Harker says the
company is not currently experiencing problems in resourcing staff although,
like many other sectors of industry, it is suffering from a shortage in
qualified electrical technicians.

During
interview Anglian Water gives applicants a tour of the working environment which
ensures they know exactly what the work entails and what they can expect.
"You don’t want someone arriving on day one and realising they can’t stand
it," says Harker, "and they’re usually pleasantly surprised by what
it is really like. It’s a matter of managing their expectations at every
stage."

Annual
pay is linked to analysis of performance as assessed by the employee’s manager.
With a broad-band approach, a pay score is created depending on overall
performance, the competencies demonstrated by the employee throughout the year,
their skills and results.

Asbestos
sampling

The
Casella Signs & Environment consultancy has between 80 and 90 consultants
nationwide who monitor levels of asbestos and advise on its safe removal. While
it may not deal directly with extraction, the job can lead to work in hazardous
environments, not simply through possible exposure to asbestos, but also in
connection with the sites where it is found ñ confined spaces, rooftops and
demolition sites. Pressure can come from other areas of the work such as
dealing with construction industry contractors responsible for dealing with the
material.

Casella
is one of the biggest providers of training connected with asbestos in the
country. Its business director for training, Bill Sanderson, says recruiting
consultants can be difficult. "We look for people with a fairly good
academic background in environment or science, but this kind of work is
perceived as unpleasant and dangerous," he explains. At the same time,
staff must have great integrity, be practical and robust, and able to pursue
the right action no matter what the circumstances. With entry level salaries at
about £10,000, the position is often treated as a stepping stone to other
environmental work, perhaps in the area of contaminated land ñ and is thus part
of a clear career path which can result in management salaries of
£25,000-30,000.

While
employees have opted into the profession, and no doubt feel a sense of vocation
in their work, Sanderson admits motivating staff can be a problem, especially
as some consultants may feel they have "done" asbestos after a few
years of working in this area. To that extent, Casella is fortunate in that its
size means it can offer employees the chance to move around different areas of
environmental work according to their preferences.

Debt
collectors

Debt
collectors work in organisations that range from a company’s finance control
system to a local council’s council tax collection department. There are also a
number of independent, dedicated debt collection companies and even factoring
organisations which deal with bad debts on behalf of companies and individuals.

Simon
Gordon runs the Central Detective Agency which offers a range of personal and
company-based security services including debt collection. CDA employs a
handful of operatives who share responsibility for general detection work as
well as serving demands and providing on-site attendance in order to collect
debts.

Gordon
describes recruits as normally being "people with a legal background,
agreeable disposition, with common sense and very good communication
skills." While the legal knowledge side of the work is provided through
in-house training the practical aspect of serving and attending debtors can
only be learned through experience, usually beginning by working closely with a
trained operative in the early stages of the job.

Recruitment
is usually via personal knowledge or recommendation and with salaries at
usually between £25,000 and £30,000 ñ for someone working across a variety of
projects within an agency ñ the rewards can be attractive for the right person.
At the same time, Gordon notes a few other factors crucial to recruiting and
retaining employees into what may be considered unattractive posts, "Make
sure the working place is as safe as possible," he says, "and offer
bonuses and incentives."

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