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FM: Working abroad - Jacqui Burt

Jacqui Burt, senior facilities manager, Johannesburg, South Africa (now back in the UK)

I spent two months in Johannesburg on a secondment. When I arrived, I was asked if I would like to stay longer and open up the Vodacom (majority owned by Vodafone) head office account. I ended up staying for 13 years.

Differences in the way FM works?

There didn’t seem to be the glass ceiling that there was for women in this country. It was far more rounded – there were as many women as men in senior roles, and from all walks of life. It was an open, friendly, helpful, no blame culture.

I did find that it was a much smaller FM industry and not so regimented – consequently I moved around a number of organisations during my time there.

What I’ve also found returning to the UK is a difficulty in trying to explain to recruiters that you are a complete PFM – that comes down to the differences in the job descriptions. Due to the nature of the FM sector in South Africa, I have the skill set, but without the job title.

Any obstacles?

I went out on an invitation letter, so I didn’t do an awful lot in preparation. This meant that I went in on a work visa, which could be extended for six months. The company then organised my work permit. I was put up in an apartment hotel to begin with, and provided with a car. I was being paid in the UK on secondment and allowance when I was first there. Once I accepted the permanent role after six months, that changed; I then had the opportunity for my own accommodation. 

Any advice for FMs looking to work abroad?

If you would like to go, do it. Don’t cut your ties with the UK and property, as you may not be on as high a salary in comparison with the UK. One of the challenges in South Africa in particular is the labour relations; you have to know the law inside out and backwards in regards to managing your staff. 

Emma Potter