Choosing between in-house and outsourced service provider can put FMs on significantly different career trajectories. What should inform this decision-making process - and how do such choices affect employability?
Tony Jay is deputy director, business operations, at Wales Millennium Centre, having moved to an in-house role from a service provider when the contract finished. His experience has been that the in-house position offers a greater variety of day-to-day experiences, including the opportunity to get more involved in areas outside of FM.
"When we moved over under TUPE," says Jay, "we had the traditional model of cleaning and security, hard and soft services, and that was about it. But now we're responsible for the health and safety and environment of the site and the estates; customer care delivery (front-of-house), the stage door, and the projects and asset management - as well as the original remit."
Jay has concluded that more opportunities come the way of somebody developing in-house, although he admits that this knowledge is not necessarily as deep as it would be in a service provider, where people might specialise in a particular area. And service providers do indeed stress that they provide both breadth and depth.
Duncan Short, HR director at G4S Facilities Management, explains: "Cleaning might sound simple, but in our business we have had people conduct very specialised cleaning around the Ebola scare in the NHS - not something you would ordinarily get in an in-house post. And at the other end of the spectrum you have pharmaceutical companies or large corporate HQs where the requirements will be quite different. You get that wide breadth of experience across different contracts."
And being tied to a particular sector in-house can in fact be quite restrictive, believes CJ Green, group HR director at Servest. "In-house FMs get to live and breathe their sector, day in, day out, and with that dedication comes a high level of expertise," she accepts. "But the challenge with an in-house role is that there's a ceiling in terms of where you can go. By contrast, working for a service provider gives people access to a vast amount of areas. They can get a taste of catering, security and building management, and how these service lines work in practice across various sectors. The fact that these sort of roles tend to be broader than job functions within in-house departments can help people on the service provider side develop a more diverse skill set."
Service providers are also more likely to invest in training and development for staff because FM is their core business, says Carl Johnson, director of talent and learning at Interserve.
"When you join a business like ours and your role is in FM, you are our number one priority," he says. "You're the centre of our world, so developing that team is a priority. If you're in-house that's not necessarily the case."
There are also different skills required to work in the two environments, which may help to shape people's preference for one or the other. Short points out that contract management skills are essential to both positions but also emphasises the need for a more commercial mindset in a service provider environment.
"When I was in-house and someone wanted something, I could do it because there wasn't the same cost constraint. But when you're delivering a service to a set of KPIs and trying to make a profit, giving away activities is a big no-no, but you still have to keep the client happy. It's a very different skill set and some people struggle with that."
There are also differences in in-house positions between the public and private sectors.
"If you like the cut and thrust of quick decision-making and that real commerciality, that's the private sector," says Bill Hancox, director of facilities at Edge Hill University. "If you come into the public sector it's a bit slower, and perhaps a bit more people-focused and touchy-feely. It can be difficult for a lot of people to adjust from one to the other." But Hancox also points out that the public sector is becoming more commercial.
These two fundamentally different career choices offer the potential to develop careers at different rates.
"Where an in-house provider has some advantage is that there might be fewer people within their field," says Short, "so I can see some progression that could happen fairly quickly. If you can demonstrate you're doing a good job you can progress up the ladder quite quickly but it would be quite narrow and you'd hit a ceiling relatively quickly, whereas within a service provider there are more opportunities to progress."
But working in-house also offers the potential to move into other areas outside of FM, says Jay. "We give individuals more opportunities to totally jump skills from FM to something like telesales whereas if you're in a traditional service provider you might go into contract management or commercial."
He gives the example of an agency cleaner who went on to take a degree and join the HR team.
There are benefits to both having a wide range of experience and deep sector knowledge, says Johnson, adding that some clients like to see people with experience of particular sectors brought in to help shake things up a bit.
Ultimately, it's a combination of skills, experience and attitude that will help people progress.
"When we're looking to promote people we're looking for capability, willingness to be mobile and to take on more responsibility," says Johnson. "Just having a broad portfolio wouldn't necessarily put you in prime position for a job."