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Getting the message right

31 October 2013

Andrew Hulbert, associate director at Bilfinger HSG Facility Management, is on quest to get more young, driven and educated people in to the FM sector.


After presenting my ‘journey’ alongside Gareth Tancred and Marilyn Standley at the Rising FMs BIFM 20th Anniversary event, I was approached by Kingston University to deliver a lecture to some of their building surveying and real estate management students.

The brief was to deliver a lecture titled ‘Facilities Management: The Professional Service Provider’, focusing on what FM actually is, how it can aid building surveyors/real estate professionals and work in partnership with service providers.


Too high, yet too low
The previous week the students had been given a lecture on FM that was predominantly based on the RICS FM Guidance Note (2009). I read through the slides and found myself disturbed by the view of facilities management being taught to these future clients of the FM industry.

FM was simultaneously being pitched too high (“FM optimises people, process, asset and the work environment”) and too low (“FM is essentially a backroom function to ensure businesses can operate”). Furthermore, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, there was a complete absence of any mention of people and their importance.

When I read those two words, “backroom function”, my heart sank. I began to think to myself, if building surveying/real estate courses are being taught this version of FM across the UK, then the client/contractor relationship is not going to improve in the next 50 years. All the efforts the industry is making to get FM recognised as an important and strategic concern to organisations is being undone by the educational system.

But it was not all bad. There was reference to FM’s importance in terms of sustainability, legislation and optimising spend, but the key “people deliver” message was missing.

I’m glad I’d read this information as it helped to shape the lecture I was due to write. My focus was about what FM is in reality, not from a textbook. This means the people on the ground, delivering the service, adding value to the lives of millions every day. My slides covered the various service lines within FM and the depth of activity that sits beneath the headlines of TFM, M&E, cleaning and security. It covered the various service providers in our industry, what they focus on, what they say in their marketing, how they tender for work, what the organisational chart may look like, the challenges they face in delivering to clients. The slides went on to cover the challenges

in the industry, from our workforce profile (the age timebomb, the low-wage sector), to mergers and acquisitions strategy and professionalisation and training levels.

My overall key message was that operational FM is of strategic concern to your business, you must take it seriously, give it adequate resources and consider service providers as strategic partners to your future organisations. Writing this lecture made me re-appreciate just how hard it is to define FM as a professional within the industry, let alone trying to teach it to people outside of it.


Good feedback
Delivering the lecture itself was inspirational: having an engaged audience, wanting and willing to learn, actually listening to what you are saying, taking part in the activities they are set and challenging your ideas. I would highly recommend it to any FM professional that is given such an opportunity.

My lecture, at two-and-a-half hours, included the activity “real FM scenarios – what would you do?” and ended on a genuinely interesting debate around sustainability, in terms of: is it real, is it our problem, and can we solve it?

The feedback from the lecturer and the students was unexpectedly positive. I was approached by a few of them afterwards and the general message was that they did not realise how vast the FM industry was and were not aware of the importance it plays in their future careers. A couple even said they would consider a career in FM now that they had a greater understanding of it.


Our challenge
While it was a challenging and worthwhile experience, it did leave me with two stark warnings. Firstly, to professionalise the industry properly we need FM in the lecture hall. I found myself in front of students who’d all taken the positive step to study their subject and were aiming for careers within that industry. We do not have this within FM and it shows just how far behind we are in terms of education.

But more concerning is the view of FM being taught to our future clients. FM needs to be pitched at the right level for people outside of the immediate industry to understand what we do and the benefits of working with a strategic outsourced partner. These future professionals need to understand the role that FM can play within their organisation and for the prosperity of their own businesses. I only saw one lecture, on one course, in one university and was disappointed by how our industry was being portrayed; who knows what message is being delivered across the rest of the UK and what the future impact of this will be.