Easter is approaching, which will see many households give their housekeepers time off to spend the four-day holiday with their families.
It is usually during these long breaks that employers discover the true value of the housekeepers they’ve employed.
Over the years, the methods we use to hire domestic workers has changed from consulting a trusted relative living upcountry, to finding a housekeeper trained by professionals.
Trizzer Kimani runs a labour outsourcing agency, Nani Employee Leasing, which essentially employs workers on behalf of individuals or companies. It helps employers source for a range of workers from housekeepers and cleaners to gardeners and managers. The business also offers long-term cleaning services.
Trizzer formed her company in 2008 and takes us through her experience in the industry.
What made you decide to go into employee leasing?
I used to work for an NGO and we did many projects in rural communities. When I was ready to resign, I wanted to find a gap in the market that my skillset could fit.
I realised that many of my friends and colleagues were consistently struggling to find good housekeepers. At the same time, the people I worked with in the grassroots were constantly asking me to help them find jobs. I put the two together and used my savings to come up with a service where I placed housekeepers in urban homes.
What criteria did you use when hiring them?
In the beginning, it was mostly good character and a willingness to work. The response was overwhelming. At any one time, I had at least 60 people looking to be placed in homes.
However, the turnover was also very high because we realised that most of these people, though willing to work, found it very difficult to fit in an urban setting. They didn’t meet our clients’ requirements.
What were some of these requirements?
Education and exposure. In the past, washing was done by hand and cooking could be done over a jiko. But with technology, we now have washing machines, microwaves, dishwashers, etc. An employer wants someone educated enough to understand how to use these gadgets.
Additionally, in most households both the man and woman work, which means they get home late. They need someone who can manage the house in their absence. The food needs to be good food, the children need help with their homework, and we even have clients who train their housekeepers to drive so that they can pick the children up from school.
Essentially, it’s no longer accurate to call them housekeepers; what they really should be called is house managers. That’s the term we use.
How do you meet this need for your clients?
Initially we opted to train workers to bring them up to speed, but then we found that we would train someone for a month only for them to quit our agency and get employment from other sources.
Once they were trained, they became very marketable.
We had to reduce our training time to approximately seven days, which meant we had to employ people who already knew their way around technology.
What’s the average age of a house manager today?
At Nani, we don’t employ anyone under the age of 21. We have found that even when we do, no one wants to hire them. The majority of employers want people between the ages of 25 and 40. At this age, people are more stable and usually have a bigger goal to work for, like taking care of children, siblings or their parents.
What’s the ratio of men to women?
We have 250 workers, with 90 per cent being women, 10 per cent being men. It’s mainly due to the security factor. People find it easier to trust leaving their children in the care of a woman over the care of a man.
We do, however, have some single mothers raising sons who have opted for male house managers to give their children a constant male figure.
What do you think about the general perception of domestic work?
I think it’s steadily changing, but we still have a long way to go. Imagine these are people you leave your children with, they cook for you, they enter your bedrooms, they clean your bathrooms. These are very intimate things.
How can this person not be a pillar of society, yet that’s what they are? And as more and more of us are caught up in work and business, they’re playing an increasingly important role in our lives. Society needs to reflect that.
How does Nani make money?
We broke even in our first year. We take a percentage of the salary paid to the house managers that we help to place in homes.
We lease out our workers at a minimum of Sh15,000 a month.
Some, of course, can get more depending on their qualifications. Drivers, for instance, can get up to Sh25,000 per month or more.
We have also diversified our services, so we place professional cleaning crews on long-term contracts with corporate clients. We also offer employment services on behalf of small to medium businesses, in which case we handle requirements like taxes, NSSF, NHIF and so on.
Do you think agencies like Nani are the future as far as employment leasing is concerned?
I would encourage it, yes. In the case of a house manager, for instance, there is accountability beyond your home.
For starters, we vet the house managers. Secondly, when there is a dispute, we act as a go-between.
Another added advantage is that should a worker leave; we supply a temporary worker until we can get a full-time replacement.
For SMEs, the biggest headache when it comes to compliance is hardly ever a lack of interest; it’s a lack of know-how. Having someone handle your employee logistics, like tax deductions, can be a huge relief for a budding company.