Bradford Keen speaks to specialists about the state of recruitment and what the IWFM's 2019 Market Outlook report says about training in the sector.
05 August 2019 | Bradford Keen
1 Current state of the market
The need for consistency
A common lament in this profession is that so few outside of it know what facilities managers do. Rather predictable, then, is the lack of consistency in job advertisements for FMs, suggesting that even those responsible for hiring in non-FM organisations are uncertain of expectations from the function.
If you were to compare 10 different companies' job adverts for a 'facilities manager', you'll most likely see a range of different skill sets demanded, says Chris Roberts, facilities manager at Computershare. "There needs to be a single source of what an FM job is and what the core competencies are, especially for people trying to hire in-house FM teams," he adds.
A consistent job spec would help to drive consistency and align training with organisational needs, says Roberts. "As an FM, it's quite hard to make sure you're getting the right training to potentially move away from your existing role."
The variety and vastness in a typical FM's job, and the differences between such roles, makes it hard to find the right person for the job, says Stephanie Welch, head of FM at Arup. It's unlikely that one professional will have all of the skills an organisation needs or believes it needs.
So, Welch explains, "seeing the positives in people coming through the door", assessing their attitude towards learning and matching their skills to what's needed, as well as working to expand their knowledge base are vital.
FMs are getting noticed
There is cause for optimism with workplace managers enjoying new levels of respect within their organisations. "FM is becoming a key part of a strategy for an organisation and is becoming more recognised in terms of the work they do to support the core business objectives," says Ashraf Patel, capital operations manager at Sainsbury's.
One of the reasons for this changed status is that FMs are finding solutions to fill performance gaps. Patel says an issue he's seen in retail is that firms often implement new technology but don't always understand what to do if something goes wrong or they move onto the next tech project without knowing to what extent the current implementation is working. FMs, says Patel, are proving their worth in retail by monitoring technological performance, establishing whether a tech product is delivering what it was supposed to and closing subsequent performance gaps.
Indeed, around 80 per cent of respondents in the Market Outlook report said technological changes have been positive in their organisations and present opportunities. Patel calls it "one of the most exciting times" to be an FM, monitoring technological solutions to simplify end-users' lives.
The Brexit effect
Discussion of the FM market inevitably leads to Brexit. Political uncertainty has restrained investments but Liz Kentish, managing director and co-founder of Kentish and Co, says the sector is in "quite good shape as the wider economic conditions remain strong". Her predictions for the future are also positive: considerable growth ahead.
The threat of Brexit has not yet brought about any changes for Mitie either, says Jo Davis, group HR director. "We're not seeing a shrinking labour pool, certainly in terms of the skilled areas. We're finding it's easy to attract good quality resources in professional FM roles."
But Davis explains that "demand exceeds supply" for frontline roles, such as cleaning and security. However, Mitie has made sure to tap into the contingent workforce candidate pool by implementing a "slick and quick" digital HR solution. Candidates expect instantaneous "push-a-button-get-a-job-type response" in which applying for a job is as simple as shopping on Amazon, she adds. Being able to deliver this has transformed the recruitment process into days rather than weeks.
What clients want
Across sectors, clients' demands for an enhanced end-user experience puts a focus on service that goes beyond "people simply carrying out the tasks associated with their job function" says Sue Davison, apprentice programme manager at Sodexo.
Specifically in education and defence, Davison talks of clients who want personnel "who are empathetic and trained to spot early signs of mental health issues that may impact on an individual's wellbeing". FM service personnel, therefore, assist the client organisation to support their teams.
Yet naturally, clients also want low cost - so they're up-skilling from within. Davis says that while previously a cleaner might have just cleaned, clients now want a cleaner to be able to change a lightbulb or notice when general maintenance needs to be done. The result is positive for clients - cheaper service delivered faster - but also for staff who have more diverse roles.
2 Skills focus
Upskilling and diversifying skill sets is essential for career longevity, with a focus on technology especially important, says Rachel Treece, engagement and quality manager, business support and improvement at Manchester Metropolitan University.
FM professionals at all levels are reliant on technology, "from operatives using PDAs to access 'live' maintenance and cleaning requests to managers using technology to conduct quality audits to get meaningful management information to inform future service provision and training requirements", she adds.
But people skills matter too, with FM teams growing more customer-focused and providing a 'one stop shop' approach to service delivery, taking ownership of issues and seeing them through to resolution rather than passing the customer to different teams.
In addition, says Kentish, clients expect contractors to be business-focused and strategic to "really grasp what the client is seeking to achieve" and be able to reverse engineer FM services to guarantee delivery.
"Being able to fully engage with stakeholders - clients and end users - to understand their needs and potential future needs, is vital." Kentish explains, "so having good diagnostic and communications skills will become increasingly important."
FMs should keenly observe trends. Kentish lists workplace mental health as a major driver in the months ahead and FMs will need to know how to create and curate spaces to support this. Indeed, Davison considers that FM personnel with high emotional intelligence will become increasingly necessary to service delivery.
Keep core competencies in mind
Roberts singles out wellbeing as a major trend, but advises newer FMs not to worry about wellbeing issues until they are in a position to affect strategy - usually when at middle or senior management level. Forget trends and focus on developing core competencies and soft skills - situational management leadership and performance management - for the first 10 years, he advises.
With wellbeing courses growing in popularity, Roberts cautions against losing sight of the core competencies such as ensuring that their their health and safety, legionella and fire awareness training is up to date.
Courses on softer people skills can be beneficial, and Welch says she has gained much from attending them - but the real learning comes from fellow students sharing experiences. Some industry veterans, she says, would criticise today's courses for their similarities with what was taught 10 years ago. Training providers should work harder, therefore, to emphasise the differences, Welch argues, adding that critics need to shift their mindset as people are discovering new ways to manage people and develop processes.
3 Training focus
Patel lauds the IWFM training but wants more courses covering such topics as customer service skills or finance up-skilling, tailored specifically to the FM market.
Roberts wants a more decentralised learning offering. "The majority of the training is London-based, so if you're outside of London then as well as paying for training you're having to pay for travel and accommodation too. It makes that argument of pushing people into training a lot harder for those outside of London."
Statutory compliance courses have been around for a while, but Welch notes the growing importance of health and safety training. "I certainly always look for IOSH as a minimum; but if people have particular skills we will look to train them if they are lacking in [other] particular areas,"
Putting it all into practice
One criticism of training is that there can be little space to apply the learnings when back on the job. To avoid this, Treece says it is important to define clear objectives: "What will the member of staff be able to do differently? How could it benefit the team?"
Roberts agrees. Don't just pick as course from a training manual. FMs should be able to answer how that training will be applied to their current role. A good way of achieving this, Patel says, is to discuss with a line manager how to select a course that will benefit the FM and organisation.
4 Hiring apprentices
The uptake of apprenticeships is higher amongst public sector clients and service providers, and lower amongst private sector clients.
Today, appointing an apprentice is mandatory in certain public sector contracts but not the case generally in the private sector. And the government's target for 2.3 per cent of new starts being apprentices in public sector organisations with more than 250 employees is driving uptake, says Davison.
"The private sector may have been sceptical of the [apprenticeship levy] reforms in the first year, which may have led to a hesitation to move into this space, and some viewing the levy as a tax," Davison adds. But two years in, businesses better understand the reforms and have increased utilisation of levy contributions.
"Degree and higher-level programmes are allowing organisations to convert what would have originally been commercial spend items into levy utilisation; this is then being used to develop higher talent and drive productivity," Davison adds.
But confusion and challenges persist, says Davison, such as a higher level of functional skills requirement set within the new standards, off-job skills development, perceived risk to businesses and the lack of standards available to meet some SME organisations' skills gaps.
"There are also issues around the lack of funds for organisations that do not meet the £3 million labour cost Levy contribution trigger, which is potentially inhibiting some private sector organisations and stop[ping] them dipping their toe[s] into the world of apprenticeships," Davison explains.
Investing in apprenticeships bodes well for new recruits as well as organisations looking to maximise the return on their payments into the apprenticeship levy. One example is Mitie, which is paying half a percent of its payroll into the fund. But investment in apprenticeships comes at a cost to other budgets, so short-term learning interventions are fewer. This is where online courses can really help, says Davis, just as long as people are equipped to access the digital offering.
Welch's team has hired an apprentice who starts this month but the process has been straightforward for her because of support from Arup's HR department, which helps to structure the programme and ensure that FM gets it right for the new recruit.
But Welch believes some smaller organisations may not be so fortunate. Without dedicated HR support finding the right courses for apprentices and structuring effective learning programmes "is probably a little bit nerve-wracking". Plus, she adds, a small company offers limited career progression to apprentices.