Clean as a whistle

  • SME
  • Saturday, 05 Sep 2020

Workforce troubles: The recent proposal to restrict the use of foreign workers would affect the cleaning services sector as the vast majority of its front-liners are foreigners.

THE choppy waters of the current circumstances may as well spell a new chapter for MCS Holdings Sdn Bhd; it has a greater resolve and a bigger ambition, aiming to grow from a cleaning services provider to a major facilities management player within the next five years.

“We provide services throughout the peninsula from Penang to Johor. We are established in cleaning services.

“We want to take the game to the next level. What we want to do now is expand to become a full-fledged integrated facilities management services company, ” says executive director Ravin Karunanidhi.

This means that the group would also provide mechanical and electrical building services, pest control, landscaping and complete hygiene solutions in addition to cleaning services.

New structure: Ravin urges for a total revamp of the current system to improve wagesNew structure: Ravin urges for a total revamp of the current system to improve wages

The Klang-headquartered group has some 1,000 workers, and counts a good number of leading multinational corporations (MNCs) and public listed companies as its clients. The clients are in sectors ranging from airlines to hypermarkets, higher educational institutions, hotels, insurance and automakers.

“We are already providing such services on a small scale. We plan to gradually take on bigger jobs, improve our cash flow, and in the next three to five years, compete with the bigger players in integrated facilities management services, ” says Ravin.

The group has three subsidiaries, namely Malaysian Cleansing Services, MCS Facilities and Eco Hygiene Systems (M), and has obtained ISO 9001: 2015 and 14001: 2015 certifications for quality and environmental management systems respectively.

MCS was founded more than four decades ago but Ravin’s family only became a part of its operations when his father, and its current chairman – 62-year-old Datuk M. Karunanidhi – joined the company in his youth.

“My father dropped out from college after realising that there was good income to be made from cleaning terrazzo and marble floors in houses, using a machine that he fixed while still in college. He saw the business opportunity and pursued it. Then he joined MCS and after some time, became a junior partner. In 1982, when the other shareholders left to pursue other business interests, he took over the company, ” shares the 34-year-old.

Ravin, who was a practising lawyer, joined MCS over five years ago.

He notes that while the cleaning services sector is not seen as “a sexy industry”, there are still good career opportunities to be had in the sector.

He points out that within the company, about 90% of the office employees are graduates and post-graduates, which shows that the organisation has a certain appeal to talents.

“We offer decent salaries and a career path. For our site supervisors, we try to recruit young diploma holders. MCS has an in-house training centre, with a course conducted by our experienced operations people.

“We want to have more young and well-educated front-line supervisory workers who are able to communicate well, sit in meetings, prepare monthly work reports, and so on, ” says Ravin.

According to Ravin, the company did not lay off its workers or asked them to take pay cuts, unlike many other companies whose business were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our biggest asset is the workers. Without them, we are nothing. So we ensure that the workers are paid decent wages and on time, and they are given good benefits, ” he says.

Ravin also points out that the group’s turnover is low.

“About 32% of our workforce are locals. For example, my operations manager and his assistant have been with us for 20 years. In this sector, there are many unscrupulous employers who take advantage of their poor workers. They don’t last long, ” he says.

Perseverance and work quality are also factors behind the group’s success and growth.

“This is a very competitive sector – for every 10 jobs you tender, be prepared to see a 50% or lower success rate. Also, your clients are your biggest ambassadors. They will always carry your flag when your work quality is good, ” says Ravin.

On the recent proposal by the government to restrict the use of foreign workers, Ravin acknowledges that this will affect the cleaning services sector as the vast majority of front-liners are foreigners.

However, he welcomes such a move, provided it is implemented correctly.

“Locals are not keen to do 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) jobs. We need a total revamp of the current system. For one, the wage structure must improve. So clients need to also change their mindsets, so that we, as the paymasters, can, in turn, dispense proper salaries, ” says Ravin.

He points out that in developed economies, it is not difficult to hire workers for cleaning services as they are decently remunerated.

To be fair, there are clients who are willing to pay more for local front-liners.

“One of our largest clients, an MNC, has taken this approach of going completely local. They have given us a timeline to gradually replace all the foreign workers with locals. Moving forward, I think this is the right direction, ” he says.

Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has changed the group’s business, Ravin says operating costs have gone up.

“This is for the greater good. We are protecting both our workers and clients. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is made mandatory for our workers. Wearing face masks and total wipedowns, constant sanitising and disinfecting are now the normal scope of work, ” he explains.

Also, the use of digital technology is much higher at the supervisory and managerial level.

“Meetings are now done via Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We have moved certain office contents to the cloud as some staff are working from home nowadays.

“We also engaged an IT company to build us a phone app so that we can communicate more easily with our front-line supervisors. Via the phone app, they can order stocks, do their checklists, do on-site auditing, inspections and communicate with our back office. Covid-19 has forced us to accept changes in our work operations.”

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