More workplace and facilities managers have entered the profession directly from university and school in the last five years. Bradford Keen reports on how this is affecting the profession.
07 May 2019 | Bradford Keen
From learning to working
Survey results show an increase in the number of workplace and facilities management professionals starting their careers directly from university, college or school. How is this affecting the profession?
Toyin Aderiye: While this is great, given the possibility of migration from other professions and sectors one of the key factors to FM getting recognised more widely is its acceptance as a trained profession, which requires an educational foundation. The recognition of professional qualifications has driven up FM quality, as it is becoming standard to see qualifications requested on job posts alongside the experience required for the role. To ensure relevance, some FM professionals seek lower-level qualifications and then realise they find some benefit in the study. This pushes them to go further, earning a bachelor's or even postgraduate degree in FM.
Sarah Hart: It is imperative that we foster a learning culture so young people can learn from the professionals and their vast experience within the industry, but also that we 'seasoned professionals' can learn from them and harness their enthusiasm to move forward together within the industry.
There may be 'old-school' professionals stuck in 'we have always done it this way' mode, but this is not the way forward for young people or those with years of experience in the profession. Youth, enthusiasm and new ways of working need to be embraced so workplace and facilities management is viewed as an evolving and exciting industry.
Tar Tumber: While there has been a distinct increase in FM-related degree courses/qualifications available in recent years, recruiting students with no real 'hands-on' experience can have an impact on the profession.
Studying for a degree will generally equip students with transferable skills that are very useful in FM. However, without any experience of applying these in 'real world, real impact' scenarios, these skills have limited effect when the student first goes into the workplace. Being able to solve problems, make decisions, communicate and show commercial awareness in a study project is very different from applying those same skills in real time, where the result of poor application can mean financial and reputational losses.
I would also say there are key skills that can't be learned in a classroom. Common sense, motivation and inner 'drive' come from the individual themselves; focusing only on learned skills when recruiting means that the profession could miss out on truly motivated recruits.
I want to differentiate between education and hands-on training here - where courses offer placements (as in typical sandwich courses at university where the third year is spent working) these can provide valuable practical experience, which not only helps the individual to really understand what the job entails, but also allows classroom skills to be applied in a practical setting.
Peter Forshaw: One key difference we see is a change in the 'public image' of facilities management. The influx of younger professionals seems to have modernised the more 'traditional' view, bringing FMs out of the back office and into the open. This seems to have improved the perception of FM as a career path for younger professionals, which can only be a good thing.
This shift towards a younger demographic in FM has gone hand in hand with the ever-increasing part that technology plays. Senior professionals have to work hard to upskill and develop their knowledge to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving sector.
Peter MacDonald: We recruit about 40 graduates a year and we've got more than 300 apprentices now; 120 are young apprentices and, since the Apprentice Levy, 180 are current employees.
Graduates are expensive. You run a high risk of paying a significant amount of money to them and they leave. Graduate attrition in the first three years is quite high, so we balance our financial ability to absorb and train graduates with the risk of training them and them leaving.
We want people to have a good degree - preferably technical - but critical differentiators include personal characteristics such as being able to work in teams and showing commitment.
Holly Spencer: I entered the profession straight from university, where I earned a master's degree in FM. It was theory-based, but it has been easy to apply learning to the industry. We're gaining a fresh set of eyes in the industry. Knowledge is power and you'll never beat the passion of someone who is new to something combined with being fresh from learning.
Qualifications versus on-the-job learning
Sarah Hart: On-the-job training is essential. At whatever level a person enters the industry, there has to be a full understanding of what we offer, to whom, why and when. Therefore, shift rotation, shadowing, mentoring, coaching, buddying and a stepped progression plan are essential. It is crucial not only for the individual entering the profession, but also for their line manager to see how they develop and grow into their role. Joining the industry in this way is so beneficial to the individuals involved as they have an affirmative experience that supports the commercial interest of the business.
Peter Forshaw: The improvement and increased availability of qualifications is obviously a huge leg up for new climbers on the FM ladder, however, we feel that there are many facets to FM that cannot be taught academically. Persuading stakeholders, dealing with tenant disputes, diplomatic problem-solving, and adaptability - these are not things that can be revised from a textbook. Apprenticeships go a long way to bridging this gap between academic and real-life education, with this route providing the background knowledge as well as helping to develop the personal qualities needed to succeed in FM.
The impact of university-based fm qualifications on the profession
Toyin Aderiye: It has been instrumental in shaping and formalising who an FM is and the responsibilities they have. What set FM apart from other roles was its nebulous nature. That is hardly the case today, in part due to education that formalises expectations around the profession.
Holly Spencer: I was given the opportunity to work as an FM on PFI schools as soon as I finished university, which I don't think I would have had if not for my degree in FM. For others with FM-specific qualifications, they will likely receive more opportunities to work their way up from middle management and to flourish in their career.
Peter MacDonald: In the past 10 years, I've noticed an improvement in the quality of graduates [who] now are far more sophisticated in terms of their ability to work in teams and collaborate - and that mirrors a change in the culture of businesses. People graduating with technical degrees have better analytical and problem-solving skills, and a better understanding of the disruptive environment we're living in.
The value of graduate apprenticeship schemes
Sarah Hart: Apprenticeship schemes and graduate apprenticeship schemes are not currently being advocated and indeed advertised in a fitting way to serve our industry. To be proactive and to 'sell' our industry, we need to capture high schoolers in years eight and nine so that they can develop awareness and a long-term interest in our industry. There is work to do!
Tar Tumber: An advantage of this approach is that the apprentice can develop softer skills through their working relationships with employees and colleagues - useful qualities in the workplace. Although degree apprenticeships were only launched in 2015, they are popular in certain industries, with new programmes announced regularly.
The university versus apprenticeship route
Toyin Aderiye: If an apprenticeship is considered alongside a regular university degree it will often emerge a winner because of the opportunities it provides for the apprentice. Yes, the economic factor is important, as you do not pay any fees while you are an apprentice, but this goes beyond that. You also have the advantage of earning as you learn and finishing a degree in a few years with work experience and no debt. It is a win-win for most. However, it will require more by way of engagement with both your sponsor organisation and the university to complete the apprenticeship, which some may choose to opt out of.
Sarah Hart: There are many reasons why young people choose to pursue an academic route through university or an academic-with-hands-on experience through an apprenticeship. With the introduction of tuition fees, it would appear apprenticeships are becoming a viable alternative to the university route for socio-economic reasons. As an industry, we need to support all avenues into the workplace.
Tar Tumber: A number of factors need to be considered by an individual deciding between a university degree and an apprenticeship. Cost will be a significant consideration. An apprenticeship means an immediate income (of at least the applicable rate of national minimum wage), with the cost of the apprenticeship covered by the government and employer.
Other factors include:
- Location - degree courses are more widely available; degree apprenticeships will be limited only to universities working with apprenticeship providers and therefore locations will be restricted.
- Subject areas - there are FM-specific degree courses available covering the wide remit of FM; there are apprenticeship schemes available covering some areas of FM, but not all. Again, this is restrictive.
- Course structure - degree courses tend to be more flexible in terms of core subjects that have to be studied and elective modules. Apprenticeships are generally more structured in how they operate.
Holly Spencer: Having a degree does not always reward you with better pay; it may offer better circumstances at work, but cannot offer job security either. Other factors include chances of getting a promotion, being able to work your way up through the industry and within your profession, and also job satisfaction. If you go to university for three years to study a topic you are probably more likely to enjoy a career in that particular subject.
The relevance of an fm-specialised degree
Toyin Aderiye: That depends on the role the employer would like to fill. Employers that require FM professionals are more likely to select a candidate with FM-specific qualifications over one with a generic qualification if their profiles are similar. On the other hand, the FM qualification type may enable the professional to work seamlessly in other roles; for example, the MBA in FM teaches core business modules, supported by core FM modules, making such a professional well-rounded in both FM and business strategy knowledge.
Sarah Hart: In our experience, at the time of writing, there are very few people employed on the basis that they have a dedicated FM university degree. Many factors when recruiting come into play. The most important thing as a recruiter is that the individual shows enthusiasm, a willingness to work and learn, and a sense of pride in themselves and the industry. The employees that make a difference have that 'thing' you cannot quantify but it is so potent, you know it when you see it!
Peter Forshaw: Degree-level qualifications are becoming more sought after at the senior end of the spectrum. This demand for formal degree-level qualifications may impact some FMs more than others. For those at the senior end of the market, the thought of going back to university to learn something they have been doing for 25 years may seem redundant. However, it is becoming a desirable criterion and, in some cases, a prerequisite for more senior positions.
Peter MacDonald: We're far more interested in getting the best graduates that perform against our criteria; that could be someone with an FM degree and it is a very relevant degree to have, but we are open-minded to someone with an engineering, maths, physics or environmental science degree with the right soft skills.
Holly Spencer: This is still changing and always will. I know that if I were up against someone with 15-plus years of experience in an FM background, especially PFI, then they'd more likely be employed over me. What will give you that extra mile are a work ethic, passion to succeed, and motivation to be the best and provide the best service.
An African perspective
David Khasebe is founder of FM consultancy firm DKMC, based in South Africa
I find two philosophies in FM: the traditional and the 'transformist'. The former is everywhere, 'supports' organisations, is based on the role of 'facility manager' and has struggled for recognition for decades. The latter is a new variety and 'transforms' organisations, is not based on a role but organisational function, and is so embedded within an organisation it does not need recognition.
Over the years, new entrants have brought 'FM delivery' bias, based on engineering/construction/project studies and their own research. This has been helpful at times by freeing senior professionals to focus on the biggest challenge of the profession; the elusive convergence of organisational strategy and facilities.
The refocus does not happen often enough, though, limiting positive impact. My wish is attracting entrants who want to change the profession and fewer of the followers. For this, we need divergent voices and fewer echo chambers.
FM-specific university qualifications have helped the profession quite a bit. For starters, it demonstrates FM as a serious discipline worthy of study at tertiary level. As indicated earlier, though, my issue is the delivery and functional nature of the curriculum. We are developing new entrants to be great at functional aspects such as maintenance, space management, and construction project management and less at converging organisational strategy and facilities.
FMs with formal qualifications can help the function become embedded and accepted at highest organisational levels. They will also be confident to navigate the organisation functionally and strategically. Put differently, the curriculum must present FM less as pink or blue-collar work and more as white, if not gold-collar work. FM value is created through integration and convergence with strategy, but this is not the current curriculum.
Nevertheless, employers prefer an FM with formal FM qualifications when one is found. Although any built environment qualification is preferred, as FM-specific degrees are still rare. Over time, the requirement will be FM degrees, but curriculum development is the big issue that needs to be solved.