The dissertation of a student of facilities management at Sheffield Hallam University reveals that the profile of a ‘typical FM’ remains largely unchanged since 1999: a 45-year-old man who fell into the profession.
Dr Toyin Aderiye, principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and director of the MBA programme, revealed the dissertation findings during the recent IWFM webinar, ‘Navigating turbulent times: Skills in the post-Covid world: evolution or revolution?’
Positively, Aderiye noted that there has been an increased profile for women working in FM but change has been and continues to be slow.
Part of the problem, said the lecturer, lies in the absence of a defined career path in FM. When asking young children what they want to be, they might offer a “wide range” of choices but never an FM.
“If you’re able to show a detailed career path from primary and secondary school through to further education and higher education, I think it’d be a lot easier,” Aderiye argued.
Fellow webinar participant Dave Green, a member of the IWFM International Special Interest Group, quipped: “I don’t think we’ll ever get to the stage where a six-year-old will want to be an FM professional.”
Don't push for a soundbite definition of FM
Green added that a major reason for the FM’s inability to entice new entrants to the profession is that it lacks a simple definition. “I don’t mean that as a criticism; I actually see it as very positive.” The industry and profession are so vast and varied that “it means different things to different people; people come into it for different reasons – be it choice or chance”.
Trying to reduce the definition of what FM is to a “sound bite to attract someone” would “woefully devalue” what it has to offer, Green added. A better course of action would be “identifying who we want to come into the industry, and then being able to personalise and tailor the communication that is attractive to that group or community”.
Take the subject of soft skills, Green said, which are increasingly important in FM but better known in hospitality, leisure and retail. Target those interested in improving customer service by showcasing how this is FM’s primary focus. We should be “educating the people who give career advice”.
The question of how to raise the profession’s profile is not new, yet circumstances have changed with FM being recognised as key workers during the pandemic. The opportunity is here for FM to seize.
Danielle Northam, deputy director, government property profession at the Cabinet Office, said the pandemic has revealed that response to crises requires “collaborative” and “multifunction efforts” to make the workplace safe, effective, and supportive. FM or the property function has been at the heart of this by acting with “agility” to “bring in the right people at the right time so that, ultimately, the end user, the end customer is getting the best, most effective experience because any sort of delay or lost interaction has an effect on the individual and productivity”.
Aderiye said the pandemic has “pretty much thrown everything up in the air” and there’s a chance to “change the story in a way that benefits everyone”. This calls for critical rather than incremental changes.
Speak the language of business
An opportunity yes, but a challenge nevertheless, particularly as life and the working world is changing so quickly. IWFM CEO Linda Hausmanis recalled that 17 weeks ago, she walked into the institute's HQ and told everyone to pack up their laptops and head home. They haven’t been back to the office yet. Planning for the next five years, for instance, and what that means for professional training and development requires a significant shift in thinking.
However, Hausmanis said we need workplace and facilities managers to “speak the language of business” particularly as buildings of the future will be able to maintain themselves to a large degree and more employees will likely work from home. “FMs need to be business-minded.” They need to be adept at managing potential conflicts and navigating different corporate cultures such as their own employer’s and that of the client.
When webinar host Peter Brogan, head of research and insight at the IWFM, asked the participants what they would request should they have the chance to speak with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, David Carr, CEO of Bouygues Energies & Services Solutions, said: “Invest money very quickly in digital connectivity.”
Carr argued that increased connectivity would help to level the playing field and increase access to valuable L&D resources. “If we can actually improve the connectivity that will be quite a big boost to the wider economy, but it will be a big boost in our ability to actually make learning easier.”
The full webinar can be seen here.
*Correction: This article originally and erroneously reported the profile of the "typical FM" still being a white man in his 40s. The dissertation made no reference to race.