‘Nannies are doing an amazing job, they deserve to be celebrated’
Elizabeth Ajetunmobi is a human resource consultant, educator, family life practitioner, life coach, author and CEO of Aymie Staffing Solutions, a staffing and placement agency based in Lagos. An alumnus of University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Park Royal and Lagos Finishing School, her training and experience spans several fields including Education, Family Life, Child Abuse and Human Resources. Recently celebrating outstanding nannies at the annual Nanny Recognition Week, she spoke on the motivation behind this, putting structures in place and why it is essential for working mothers to get help.
What was the inspiration behind starting your business?
I worked as a classroom teacher for close to 10 years and when I was working there, I had cause to interact with a lot of domestic staff, nannies, drivers and so on. When you see some of them, you will be happy because the child is obviously being well taken care of and you will see others and wonder why the child was left alone with the caregiver. This used to bother me a lot and I started wondering what I could do about this. The parents are at work and if the caregivers don’t know better, how can they take care of the children left in their care? I saw a gap here and this got me thinking on the need to give orientation and training to domestic staff to enable them work effectively and take care of children left in their care and also to put the correct structures in place.
You celebrated nannies at the Nanny Recognition Week; this is quite uncommon in this industry, what was the purpose?
This week is celebrated all over the world and falls between September 22-28 and the reason for celebrating nannies isn’t far- fetched. Nannies are doing an amazing job, they are rendering essential services and everyone needs a nanny or help with childcare. Shouldn’t we appreciate them and let them know they’re doing a fantastic job and celebrate them? We just want to thank them for everything they do as they are truly amazing people.
Venturing into this business must not have come cheap; how did you get the funds to start out?
It wasn’t cheap and I started with personal funds. We all know running a business in Nigeria isn’t easy and comes with a lot of challenges but we thank God that we are making headway despite all odds.
Entrepreneurs usually list staffing as a major challenge and you’re in a field where you are heavily involved with providing staffing; how are you solving this?
I must confess, when I first started, I used to wonder if I was doing the right thing. However, my passion and desire to foster change prevented me from giving up and I’m thankful for that. Dealing with humans isn’t easy because they are dynamic. Our dealings with people over the years have given us a huge advantage so we are able to predict people’s next moves. There is almost nothing new to us and we follow our laid-down standards and procedures and this helps us when dealing with humans generally. We usually tell our clients that the same way they write job descriptions for the corporate world, you should write it for your domestic staff. Employers don’t write it and if the staff doesn’t remind you or knows what to do, you get home and begin to shout. As simple as this may sound, writing down what they should do daily would help the both of you work well together.
When you say structures, what do you mean exactly?
When someone comes into your home, the person is new and doesn’t know how you do things, so writing things out really help. They know what to do at each time of the day before you get back. Structures simply mean things you put in place that help your staff do their work easier. If you want them to do things your way, it’s better you state it clearly. Also, my book, The Domestic Staff Guide To Effective Work helps you achieve this easily.
You’re a published author as you said, what inspired you to write a book?
The book is for employers and employees because we realised that for things to change, we have to do things differently. If you have noticed, most people just employ any random person and feel they’re doing them a favour by giving them food and allowing them live in their homes. We need to change this mindset. The staff is rendering a service and you have to respect them, you’re not doing them a favour. With this book, the employers list out what needs to be done, policies on giving children medication, receiving visitors and so on. It also lists advice for employers on things like childproofing, putting structures in place and so on.
This business requires a high level of trust, how do you gain client’s trust and sustain it?
It’s been amazing so far and one of the things that have helped us is that we don’t compromise on any of our policies. There have been times that, before sending a house-help over to a client, something was discovered during medical testing, we wouldn’t hide that information from the client. We have HMO plans with some hospitals and when we discover that a staff has a medical issue, the staff goes to the hospital and gets treated on us because even if they don’t get hired by that client, we don’t want them to go into the community and infect others. Our clients know we don’t compromise. When we go to verify someone or their guarantors and we aren’t sure we can vouch for them, we don’t continue with the person. We use biometric testing on all our staff.
When a person comes to us, we do an initial assessment/interview and we learn where you are from. They fill a form and submit a C.V and provide their guarantor’s contact and their last employer’s contact details as well and we verify all these. We then run an interview session and send the videos to the clients from where they decide if they want the person to come for a physical interview. If the client is satisfied, we then proceed with deeper checks and medicals and if all is well, the client states when they should resume. While they are at the job, we run periodic checks and hold monthly re-training exercises where they learn new skills.
There have been several horror stories of domestic staff harming their employers or the children, do you think this affects the level of trust reposed in you?
Yes and that is why we don’t compromise on our processes. Humans lie a lot and that is why we strive to verify everything they tell us. When we go to their communities, people have to be able to identify that you have been living there for X number of years, know your parents and your guarantors as well. We also take their BVN numbers and do biometric capturing just to be sure of whom they really are. Yes, we hear such stories but I’m confident it cannot happen here because of the structures we have put in place.
Have you had any bad experience with a staff or client?
We’ve never had any negative experience so far from our domestic staff. We also try to manage our clients as well because we have realised that it’s not only the staff that need re-orientation. Some clients feel because they are wealthy, they cannot be corrected. Some have tried to hit their staff and we told them it was totally unacceptable. It is stated in the contract they signed and if they refuse to listen, we remove the domestic staff. When you are hitting the person and the person hits you back or stabs you, what do you then do? Also, we also plead with them not to owe salaries. If someone has worked for you, please pay them. We’ve never had any case of sexual abuse and I think this is largely due to the structures we’ve put in place.
If you weren’t doing this, what would have been doing?
Running a school. I believe children are the future and if they’re raised in a loving environment and taught properly, the world would be a better place. If children were raised well, we wouldn’t be hearing some of the things we hear and this is still something I might still do.
You wear many hats, how do you make them all work and remain grounded?
I’m not a super woman, I ask for help when I need it and I have a domestic staff. I don’t think working mothers can do without a domestic staff; it’s essential you get help. Women need help doing things and I advise you get it.
What would you say are the major challenges in running this business?
Changing mindset is a major issue especially as most people don’t put proper structures in place. We also want to change the mindset of the domestic staff, who feel they are “ordinary helps.” I always let them know this is untrue as they are rendering service and value and deserved to be paid. I tell them no job is more or less important than the other. Also, we need government’s assistance in regulating this industry. Just as doctors need licenses to practice, domestic staff should have licenses and when they do wrong, their licenses would be seized. I want the government to pay more attention to this industry.
Looking back, do you wish to have done anything differently?
I’m totally satisfied with the progress we have made. This is the first time we are celebrating nannies in such a huge way and everyone is so happy. There are no regrets for me.
What last words do you want to leave with women that have been inspired by you?
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak. Put structures in place for your staff and your children to make them responsible. If you leave everything for your help, you’re not helping your kids in any way. Most times, parents leave domestic work for girls but that shouldn’t be so; this is why men are the way they are today. Put structures in place for them right from when they’re young, you’ll be helping them and yourself. As parents, we are responsible for how the society is turning out and we need to begin to take this more seriously.