Facilities Management: a force for change

Facilities management is one of the fastest growing professions in the UK. Attracting new people and developing clear career routes has been central to the work of the Building Futures Group. As the new trade body for Facilities Management, its job is to make sure employers can access up-to-date training and vocational qualifications at a time of constant change brought by new technology and environmental concerns.
    
Facilities managers are those behind-the-scenes people who look after our office buildings, shopping centres, universities, schools, hospitals and sports stadiums. They oversee the reception desk, catering, cleaning, security, heating, air conditioning and grounds maintenance, as well as numerous other areas. They ensure the environments in which we work, live and play operate smoothly and efficiently.
    
At the Building Futures Group one thing we encounter time and again is the number of facilities managers who find themselves in the job by accident. For a long time, Facilities Management has relied on attracting people from other sectors. There were few options for young people to enter as a career of choice. The Building Futures Group, the result of the merger between sector skills council Asset Skills and the Facilities Management Association, has spent its first year working with the industry to professionalise Facilities Management, raise awareness and open it up to new recruits.

Developing the FM workforce
The challenge for staff in facilities management is in being aware of new legislative and technological changes in order to do the job well. Whether they are starting out or responsible for managing several sites, they will be expected to understand a number of different subjects at the same time.
    
Traditionally Facilities Management has had an older age profile and it is now sitting on a succession planning nightmare. The number of experienced people leaving over the next decade will present a significant challenge that if goes unchecked will mean a significant loss of skills and experience to a relatively new industry. Having the right qualifications in place and promoting the profession as a career of choice are essential in order to address the issues of the ageing workforce.
     
We believe the low numbers of people with a specific qualification in facilities management is one of the barriers to raising its profile. Because it is a new profession, vocational qualifications have been more limited than in other equivalent sectors in terms of range, levels and pathways. Qualification options have started at higher levels - typically someone would be looking at a foundation degree or post graduate qualification.
    
Training to help raise the profile
There has been a need to develop new qualifications at entry levels and flexible, up-to-date and relevant training programmes for more experienced employees. This is even more pressing given the ever-shifting role of the facilities manager in light of environmental targets and new technology.
    
There are now structures in place that offer new entrants at all levels a route in to the sector and the chance to undertake qualifications to progress their career. Our predecessor, Asset Skills, developed apprenticeships in Facilities Management at intermediate, advanced and higher levels which offer employers the opportunity to recruit young people onto excellent training schemes or improve the skills of their existing workforce through the higher level programmes (4 and 5).
    
Through our training arm, Asset Skills Training, the Building Futures Group is also promoting a range of other FM training including the Building Futures Group Certificate in Facilities Management which can lead to entry onto the MBA. The certificate is a good all-round programme providing students with a theoretical understanding of facilities management and an opportunity to develop an appreciation of the principles and procedures used within the industry.
    
Like many sectors in the UK, Facilities Management faces a demographic time bomb. Established leaders over the next five to ten years will be retiring, the wealth of knowledge, leadership skills and deep perspective will be lost, all unless the workforce is provided with the appropriate education and skills. These skills must not only insure the Facilities Management industry from an ageing leadership crisis, but also enable today’s staff to deal with unprecedented developments within the workplace. But to understand our future we need to look at lessons from the past.

Embracing technology
In the 1960s, then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson announced in a speech that the UK was experiencing the ‘white heat’ of a scientific revolution. The development of the transistor and technological advancements led to the first computers being used by companies, they took up whole rooms the size of the typing pool in the same building.
    
Whilst technicians loaded reels of magnetic tape into these machines, and army of typists, administrators and clerical workers would beaver away helping to keep businesses and government functions running. Little would those workers realise that in a matter of twenty years their roles would no longer exist. Instead those workers would adopt different roles reflecting the changing nature the UK economy from industry to a predominantly tertiary services based economy.
    
Wilson’s commentary about technology marked a time of optimism and novelty, as the traditional hard industries declined the uptake of technology radically changed the nature of the workplace, and Facilities Management has had to not only keep up with this ever evolving workplace, but has also shaped it. To the uninitiated Facilities Management can often be seen as manual hard labour, and whilst there is a distinction to be made between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ Facilities Management, the truth is that yes, many tasks can be manual but they rely on a mental dexterity and intelligence to deliver complex services and functions which are so good we only notice them when they are not working.
    
Today’s Facilities workers now have to contend with remote working, mobile technology and the traditional office base is declining. Like the typing pool of the 1960s, it is likely the traditional nine to five working day will become a thing of the past. We are already seeing provision of flexible working for employees, our work and leisure times are blurring, smart phones enable continuous connection to the workplace 24/7.
    
Added to this is the emergence of Generation Y in the workplace, who do not necessarily see a delineation in ‘work time’ and ‘leisure time’, which adds additional pressures to those working in Facilities Management. Now services must deliver services to traditional office based services and also ensure that mobile and home workers are adequately supported.
    
It is more important than ever before for the sector to continue to not only maintain but also introduce innovative services for their clients. Only through ensuring that FM personnel are adequately trained and educated can the sector keep up with advances in the workplace and ensure that the services FM provides to keep the UK economy functioning and able to compete in a competitive global market.
    
Technological developments
Over the last decade technological developments have radically altered how we work. We sit on the cusp of a work place revolution or some believe we are actually experiencing a work place revolution. The advances in technology are fast and furious, and Moore’s Law still stands with processing power doubling every two years and since the development of the transistor we have seen exponential growth in the ability of processing and computing power. How and what does this all have to do with FM? Using Moore’s law as an analogy for technological advancement and recognising the changing nature of the workplace, those responsible for the procurement of Facilities Management do need to ensure that they don’t fall prey to cutting ever decreasing margins of Faciltiies Management providers.
    
Such a ‘race to the bottom’ helps no one. Facilities Management companies frankly need decent margins on their work to ensure that they have the resources to train and develop their staff in the latest technological advancements. Failure to do so will lead to a decline in innovation provision, services and environment. Such a decline benefits no one.

Necessary investment
Investment in Facilities Management services is inextricably linked to increased productivity. From the basics of clean buildings helping to reduce the transmission of diseases like flu and colds, to ensuring essential services run continuously in our hospitals, schools and businesses ensuring that workers are productive and can work efficiently.
    
With an increasingly competitive global economy and a flat-line in productivity since the global economic crisis in 2008, the role of Facilities Management must be better valued by those who procure its services and the sector must invest in skills, training and education for its employees. Failure in these areas is likely to lead to declining services, productivity and decrease in the competitive advantage the UK can muster in the world.

Further information
Tel: 020 7920 9632
info@thebuildingfuturesgroup.com

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