Whether it's a move from in-house to outsourced provider, or to a position based outside of the UK, facilities managers considering such potentially career-defining moves must prepare for the leap they're taking. Kevin Stanley reports.
18 May 2015 | By Kevin Stanley
The grass - it's always greener on the other side. Or is it?
The issues that FMs need to weigh up when making potentially life-changing decisions about their careers are influenced by myriad factors. Client or supply side? Public or private sector? Working abroad? All present opportunities and challenges.
At some stage in their career, most FMs will consider at least the prospect of working abroad. FM's status as an immature profession in various territories makes it attractive to UK FMs conscious of this country's perceived pre-eminence in the field. But while many opportunities exist for those able to demonstrate a specific form of knowledge or experience, the days of going abroad and automatically boosting your pay earning are gone.
"These days, a lot of companies have a strong nationalisation agenda," says Neil Everitt, business development manager at BIFM. "They want their own nationals in FM roles. UK FMs will need to demonstrate they have the required skills to fill specific gaps."
And a country's attitude towards its own nationals is just one issue, says Everitt. While the broad parameters of the job itself may be familiar, much won't be.
"FMs at different stages of their lives should carefully consider their own personal circumstances before they move abroad," says Everitt.
"If they are single, it might be easier for them to develop a network and get established quickly in their new surroundings. But if they have a family, they'll have other things to consider. Housing and education, for example, could be more difficult to arrange. The days when a company would pay for its employees to be re-homed with their family, and for their children to be privately educated, are gone. FMs working abroad now are expected to be self-sufficient."
Those employed with outsourced service providers or directly with organisations that have international divisions will typically have more scope to move abroad with that same company, their network of existing support mechanisms making relocation easier.
Another factor is the UK market's status as a market leader in innovation and best practice. This country's FM brand is strong, and FMs may be able to use this as leverage when looking for a role, particularly in those international markets that are growing quickly. Demand for FM is linked to volume of spend on construction and infrastructure.
"The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are always of interest to UK expatriates," continues Everitt. "Their smaller populations, and their lack of skills to fill senior management roles, make them attractive."
In some cases, lower living costs are also attractive. But with lower average salaries, many will baulk at the idea of taking a perceived pay cut.
"The UK FM industry is more developed than Europe and the Middle East," says Nikki Dallas of recruitment consultancy Talent FM. "We are looked to as the benchmark of best practice, so UK FMs have a lot to offer abroad.
"In the late 2000s, before the last recession, there was a mass exodus of FMs from the UK to the Middle East. The UAE is still a good place to be, certainly at the higher levels of management, but fluency in Arabic is becoming increasingly important."
Dallas confirms the growing importance of experience.
"FMs able to offer up to five years of experience would certainly be attractive to employers. Those with that level of experience would certainly have something to offer, but it's most often those with greater experience - 10 years-plus - who are most sought after."
The Middle East and South East Asia offer exciting possibilities, but response from recruitment professionals to our enquiries suggest that the pioneering days for FM in these countries are coming to an end.
The UK and US still represent the pre-eminent markets for the application of FM. Ultimately, an FM's choice of country in which to practise will be influenced as much by more prosaic factors such as language, affiliation with the UK education system and availability of work visas as the professional issue of finding a suitable role.
"It's best to create a shortlist of places that offer plenty of opportunities, then narrow these choices down to a specific country and a specific role," suggests Everitt.
"However, keep in mind that a country that might make a great holiday destination may not make a good place to work."
Across Europe, lack of the appropriate language skills can severely limit an FM's options. Nikki Dallas explains that in Germany, where the FM sector is less developed, there are fewer FMs and, accordingly, more demand for experienced managers. This means good opportunities for British FMs seeking a fresh challenge - but, warns Dallas, "it's essential that you speak the native language. Salaries in Germany are higher than those here, and fluency in German could earn you up to around 20 per cent more."
FMs should also consider the transferability of their broader skill set. Customer service, team management, financial, leadership, communication and problem-solving skills are highly useful anywhere, and as Martin Davies, training manager at BIFM says, "almost all FM skills are transferable from one country to the other as the principles of this profession remain largely the same [wherever you are]."
While local market research is always necessary, the central elements of property and facilities management remain universal. And while legislation differs from country to country, it's as likely to be local customs and cultures as much as the practising of FM that provide the trickier obstacles.
Unless moving to take on an international role with your current employer, the critical decision of what sort of organisation suits you also needs addressing. Duncan Carter, director at Macallam Executive Recruitment, says that differences in employment 'type' are worth considering when assessing international FM roles and the firms offering them. The big CRE firms will offer FM roles, but, says Carter, corporate real estate consultancy and facilities management are very different disciplines, with CRE consultancy-led and fee-based, and driven by cyclical changes both locally and globally. By contrast, says Carter, "FM is about service delivery. FM's long-term contracts make it more resilient to economic recession."
"Having said that, there's been a trend for CRE firms to venture into FM delivery - for example, Norland being acquired by CBRE - and for some FM companies to go the other way. The lines are getting blurred. The types of people are different, but there is a convergence of the businesses.
"As to which is more attractive, there is still the white-collar 'surveyor' type versus the blue-collar delivery specialisms at play. Both are different skill sets."
"When FMs consider moving abroad they should look at and consider roles that complement their experience and achievements to date, and that also give them an opportunity to develop their potential, says Coleen Cloherty, a director at Build Recruitment.
"Moving abroad as an FM will expose them to new and different environments and bring new ways of working. From a career perspective that can only be a good thing."
Client or supply side?
The other hard choice to make for an FM is between an in-house role or one with an outsourced service provider. The differences between the two are well documented.
"In-house FMs often say that they feel more part of the fabric of an organisation and that they are better able to understand the needs of the business. They will typically stay longer with the company than FMs who work for a outsourced provider, but often have to wait longer to get promoted or enhanced pay and conditions. Service providers often pay very well, but can also be very demanding in terms of hours on the job or high on level of responsibility. Service providers will reward high performers very quickly, but each opportunity should be viewed on its individual merits," says Cloherty.
There are clear benefits to both client or supply-side roles. The key defining factor may come down to personality. FMs should take the time to investigate their chosen organisation and the role it offers to see if there are good opportunities for learning, development, and progression. But in terms of variety, it could be on the supply side that the most potential for quicker career development, particularly in terms of overall level of responsibility, exists.
"Outsourced providers may offer more opportunities for progression and promotion across accounts and inter-contract," says Dallas.
"Generally, there is a more prescribed career path in the outsourced model. In an in-house role you might be one of just a few, with your career development trajectory less obvious and possibly tied to someone higher up than you resigning. "Of course, you could move to another in-house role to progress," says Dallas, "but in terms of ambition I believe outsourced providers can offer better progression."