Martin Read looks at what's driving today's young FM professionals to take the plunge.
07 May 2019 | Martin Read
It's in the data: IWFM Pay & Prospects survey participants say that challenging or interesting work was critical to their choice of employer. Close to half of respondents said this, and it's a growing cohort (40 per cent in 2016; 41 per cent in 2017; 47 per cent this year). Clearly there is a growing hunger felt by many to seize the initiative and add fresh experience to their CVs.
Related results show that, money and location aside, the quest for challenging work is the main reason for FMs seeking out new roles. This year we also see more FMs reporting never having been promoted within their organisations, with just 14 per cent reporting a recent promotion compared with 21 per cent in the 2017 survey. It's an environment likely to see frustrated FMs take matters into their own hands for both financial and experiential gain.
What, though, of the new generation of workplace managers? Many young FMs do appear to be more holistically minded. Rather than focus solely on being best in a single role, today's young FMs tell us that what's important to them is adapting their own natural and learned core skill sets to their organisation's bigger picture. There's a well-worn argument that younger practitioners typically prioritise breadth of experience over remuneration before the dynamic shifts and financial imperatives take hold. But this feels different: young FMs are increasingly keen on matching their personal aspirations and ideological interests with those of their employers for entirely mutual gain; it's very much seen as a two-way street between the employer and the employed.
"FM is a sector where you can progress your personal goals and personal alignment with an organisation by moving on every couple of years," argues Andrew Hulbert, who set up and is now MD of SME FM service supplier Pareto FM. "I think we're unique in that respect."
So, as the figures show a huge enthusiasm for FMs challenging themselves to take on new types of work, how much of this is to do with limits to rates of pay, and how much the nature of the FMs themselves?
"I'd say it's a little bit of both," argues Simon Francis, recently appointed as principal lead, estates and masterplanning at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
"From conversations I've had with contacts at FM recruitment agencies, it's clear that it's an applicant's market at the moment. There are a lot of attractive FM roles out there and less competition with the impact of Brexit already hitting the labour market.
"But I also believe that there does appear to be a restless nature amongst FMs. The nature of our roles means we get used to dynamic and exciting working."
Francis himself has averaged five years per role, his personal focus is bringing on longer-term strategic planning, particularly in his new position with ZSL. "But I know a lot of industry colleagues move roles at a much faster pace, perhaps following the excitement of new challenges around."
"I've always been someone who looks for new opportunities and so I think I've found a bit of a home in this sector, where you never know what is going to happen from one day to the next."
It's in the nature of her work, first for ISS and now CBRE, that the chance to take on fresh challenges has come about. Exposure to "a wide mixture of people and backgrounds", and the increasingly sophisticated demands of clients, have improved opportunities to move from one role to another, gaining experience along the way.
"I'm not sure whether people in our field are innately 'change-cravers', but it's certainly true of me. I also think many of us realise how much opportunity comes with constant change. And let's face it, we love the excitement."
Rezki Karar - account manager - Defence & Government Services with Sodexo.
"There's no doubt that the facilities management role is a diverse one serving a diverse environment, and I think that's why facilities managers are inclined to challenge themselves.
"FM roles are always subject to continuous innovation and development; we're under pressure to reduce cost and add value to the core business, so an aptitude to 'self-challenge' is a must. The FM sector is a very competitive environment and FMs have no choice but to be curious in terms of a fresh approach to their work.
"I know that a natural curiosity and open mindset helps me expand my perspective, translating each client's strategy and business needs into positive change. That's what keeps me inspired."
Managing director - Pareto Facilities Management
"What makes workplace and facilities management so beautiful is that we work across entire portfolios and there are so many opportunities to explore something different.
"But there is definitely a generational component at play. Baby boomers and Generation X represent 50 per cent of all workers, but those born after 1984 represent 40 per cent, and their attitude as to how long they'll be in a job is very different.
The variety of workplace also offers new opportunities for FMs to challenge themselves.
"Some of the working environments these days are stunning - and if you're not at one, maybe you're saying, 'I need to be in that kind of company'.
"Also it's the organisation they're working for - its culture and spirit. If you're an FM with a firm achieving 200 per cent growth per year, you might think - 'I want to go on that journey'. And perhaps your initial team of five will turn to 30 in quick order."
Pleun van Deurssen
EMEA Regional facilities manager, JLL (and chair, IWFM Rising FMs)
"I believe that most people of our generation want to challenge themselves. My dad has been with the same company for the last 30 years, as have most of his peers. By contrast, we are very much trained to ask 'what's next? What else is out there?'
"I'm 26 and it's true, I think, that our generation can get restless easily. But it's more about an inbuilt inquisitiveness, and I'm sure that plays a big part. As a millennial myself I think we have such a big advantage. We have so much knowledge at our disposal; but because of that, we feel we constantly need to be learning, to become the best at what we do. Our generation is very much 'we need to be the best'."
Taking the plunge
To be clear, this is as much to do with young FMs challenging themselves within their existing organisations as it is them seeking out new employers. Conrad Dinsmore, a former IWFM newcomer of the year, is coming up on a year in his role as additional works, buildings innovation manager with ISS. Before this, he spent a year as a global programme delivery analyst with the same firm. He speaks of the restlessness he sees of many FMs in his age group.
"When you get into a role, you'll perhaps do it for a year or year-and-a-half," says Dinsmore, "at which point you might say 'OK, I really enjoyed that particular part of the role, but to learn more in that particular area involves moving to another position - so I'll jump over to that'."
Of his generation he says: "We'll take that leap, and if it doesn't work we'll just leap back. We're a lot more open to change; we don't have the fear factor."
This willingness to move between contracts or specialist roles has perhaps been more the mark of ambitious young supply-side FMs, but it is not restricted to the service sector. Paul Urmston is area workplace manager, property services at RBS. An economics graduate, he fully expected the RBS graduate scheme's various placements around the bank to lead him into some form of core financial service role. Instead, it was his time in workplace services that resonated most.
"There was an expectation amongst the graduates that to be successful you had to gain a role in a more traditional corporate banking environment, facing off to various high-profile clients," Urmston explains.
"But I never fully bought into this approach. I found that the FM environment, without sounding too clichéd, was so varied. And it also became apparent that that you could get a role with a lot more responsibility and opportunity to effect change than within the traditional banking route. This is was what made it attractive."
It meant early responsibility and a willingness to move around the country. Having started in Birmingham, Urmston soon moved to Manchester and is now in the City of London, where he manages a portfolio of buildings through four FMs and 23 subcontractors.
I ask if he has since identified the component of his character that in hindsight can be seen to so positively fit his now-chosen profession?
"It was my ability to adapt to various circumstances and stakeholders," believes Urmston. "Whether engaging with engineers or managing expectations of anything up to board-level bank staff, I've been able to change my approach to communicate effectively within the many different dynamics of FM."
Hitting the reset button
Andrew Hulbert is a shining example of how hard work and determination can get you both a career and your own business. From his perspective as both young FM and employer, he points to another factor at play: a desire to avoid a sense of burnout.
"An increasing number of clients now better understand how their workplace affects productivity, and that's driving quality," he explains.
"But as the workplace changes, so the expectation of what FM can do for a business is growing. Be it around energy, ISO accreditations, health and safety standards, data security - so much more is coming under the remit of FM."
What this can mean is more movement as FMs challenge themselves to take what they've learned into another role. "They say, 'right, I've got as much as I can from this experience and environment - now I want to put it into practice elsewhere'.
"The thing is, FM can be hard," continues Hulbert. "FMs take a huge amount of stress and responsibility onto their shoulders. You don't necessarily receive the affirming feedback from customers that those in other professions do and you work with stresses other people don't understand. There's only so long you can do that before you think about taking on a fresh challenge."
So, plenty of factors causing people to consider how their nascent career in the sector is developing.
"Some think if you jump from job to job it implies you'll never settle," says Dinsmore. "But not me. In fact, that's the exciting part. People often ask 'what's your end goal?' but for me it keeps changing."
In this regard there's a link between the generations. "In the conversations I've had with our senior leadership, none of them actually chose FM as a career," says Dinsmore. "But what they did do, at one point, is to look at someone doing what is now seen as an FM activity and say to themselves 'you know what? I think I can do that, and do it better'."
It is an important point. FM has always provided the perfect home for those often referred to as 'self-starters'. What's happening is that the latest generation is comingat an earlier age, bringing a perspective the sector has not had before.
Risk and reward
Many of those we interviewed spoke of others they knew of a similar outlook to themselves; but that doesn't mean an industry teeming with FMs all seeking to challenge themselves. In fact, there simply aren't enough, argues Simon Francis, "particularly in leadership positions or in key roles in our industry bodies. There is a merry-go-round of talent with only a few new names breaking through".
"FM is an exciting, fast-paced profession. It's time we welcomed the disruption that technology and a modern approach to work brings. FMs do love to challenge themselves and are generally evolutionary by nature, so this should be an opportunity welcomed with open arms."
Are workplace and facilities professionals 'wired' differently, with an innate risk-taking mentality?
Perhaps yes, says Francis, because it is as much part of an FM's day-to-day decision-making as their personal professional development considerations. Whether for health and safety compliance, security, sustainability, capital investment or contract risks, "we are good, as a profession, at assessing risks and identifying control measures".
This means people who take what might look like bold decisions are "comfortable in the knowledge that we have assessed likely outcomes and impacts. The need to assess risks is simply hardwired into us".
Finally, what advice is there for those managing this new breed of challenge-hungry managers? Service providers and senior FM departmental directors can often accommodate their employees' demands for widening horizons; the key is to work with them to keep them engaged, argues JLL's Pleun van Deurssen, chair of IWFM's rising FMs group.
"I was at Incentive FM for five of my six-and-a-half years in FM, and that's because they invested in and listened to me. They were very engaged in my development and performance, and as a result I was able to challenge myself constantly. They facilitated my progression in the company."
Again, it's a partnership approach to career development - the employer and employed, matching their two visions; it's clearly a dynamic that the sector will be working with in the years ahead.
Behind the scenes
Our many thanks to the four young FMs who took a bucket of water to their heads to illustrate this piece. The campaign that inspired us supported a charity involved in motor neurone disease. We'll be making a contribution, as well as to the IWFM chairman's charities, the Alzheimer's Society and Shelter. Play your part by going to facilitatemagazine.com where a slow motion 'moment of impact' video with our soaked subjects can be viewed for a small donation.