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Newcomer of the year - Finalist - kirsty Johnston 

Four women made up the finalists for the Newcomer of the Year award this year. Here, we catch up with this new generation of FMs to find out more about the people set to take the profession forward in the next 10 years.

Kirsty Johnson, Mitie
Kirsty Johnston, Mitie Technical Facilities Management

24 November 2016

What challenges do you think remain for women coming in to a historically male-dominated profession? 

KJ: I think the biggest challenge is to break the stereotype of male-dominated professions. I do not think that we should associate a typical gender with any industry. Working in a largely male environment used to have a number of different challenges; for example, it was difficult for women to establish themselves in the industry as an engineer or manager. I believe that this is becoming less of an issue and from my own experience I have found that men have embraced their female counterparts and their career progression goals. I owe a lot of my knowledge and experience to men that I have worked with in our industry. Yes we need to increase the female presence in FM and engineering; however we cannot take away the fact that these areas of business seem to be more appealing to males and that is the cycle we need to break, we need to show young women the opportunities and experience they could acquire from working in FM.


Looking back, is there anything you wish you knew about being an FM before becoming one?

Thankfully when I was of school age I had an insight into FM as my father works in the industry, which gave me a better understanding of the career I chose to pursue. However, I would have liked to have understood the different routes I could have taken to achieve a technical qualification as this may have inspired me to accomplish this goal at a younger age; affording me more time to further continue my education.


What has been your biggest career challenge to date – and how did you overcome it?

My biggest career challenge to date was trying to balance my studying and coursework for my HNC in building services engineering and my job role at the time. I started working on a recent contract win for the business and I enrolled in college just as we had commenced the transition period of the contract. As I had day release for college each week, I needed to ensure that I kept on top of my workload, as well as managing my study. Throughout this time I had to sacrifice social events or a full night’s sleep in order to ensure my deadlines were met. I can say however that all of that hard work paid off, as I achieved an overall distinction for my qualification on completion of the two year course.


The judges praised your passion and understanding of developing solutions to improve and impact service delivery. Would you say there is a particular thought process you follow in your role to ensure your initiatives are planned, implemented and the results monitored?

The thought process I apply is to firstly obtain a good understanding of the current ways of working, who is involved and what systems are used on a contract. This then enables me to analyse the processes and impacts on stakeholders when I think of different solutions that could be applied to overcome challenges or provide efficiencies.


Once I have ascertained feasible solutions or steps to achieve the anticipated outcome or saving, I present this to stakeholders to obtain approval. From then I am able to apply realistic timelines and action owners that can help achieve the end goal. I will manage the overall plan and ensure that we remain on course; whilst ensuring that we identify any risks or blockers that could impact either the deadline or the end result.


I need to gain the ‘buy in’ from the colleagues and/or clients I am working with, as no plan will be effective if people do not believe the change or outcome can be achieved. This also draws on my influencing skills as I often need to utilise resource or knowledge from colleagues that are not under my direct line management; which can be difficult if the ‘buy in’ aspect has not been secured first.


The results of these plans and changes are tracked in different ways dependent on the project subject. For example, performance improvement for reactive and planned maintenance delivery would be monitored via the SLAs on a regular basis throughout the agreed period to ensure that we are on track to achieve our Key Performance Indicator targets.


The judges also said that you are a “true ambassador for women in hard FM services”. Do you feel significant progress has been made in bringing more women into the hard services side of FM in particular?

I think that over the years we have seen progress and an increasing female presence in the industry, but unfortunately it is not significant enough. The engineering industry is only made up of 9 per cent of females according to statistics from Women in STEM earlier this year. This shows a dramatic disparity between an even workforce and there is a need to increase this percentage split.


Do you believe your end-user client is an ‘intelligent’ one? In your experience, is understanding of FM’s value to the wider organisation changing? 

I work with a number of different end-user clients as part of our business unit; all of which have different requirements for reporting, output and systems. Clients are becoming more intelligent as technology progresses and our clients understand the investment that can be made into their buildings to provide a more comfortable working environment for their occupants and the potential savings that could be made from investing in their FM delivery and assets. For this reason, I believe that FM companies need to keep on trend in order to meet the expectation of both current and prospective clients.


Which individual would you name as the most important to you in your career thus far, and why? 

There are a number of different people that have had a positive influence on my career including mentors, colleagues, regional directors and managing directors. They have made a personal impact on me by setting me challenges, pushing me to achieve my goals, change my way of thinking or given me inspiration.


How would you like to see the FM sector to change during your lifetime?

The first area for change I would like to see in FM is an increase of female engineers and managers within our industry. There is a distinct gap between male and female engineers and it is recognised within the UK that we need more female representation on company boards.

Secondly, I would like to see our industry progress even further with our technology and intelligence to provide bespoke planned maintenance service delivery to our clients based on asset condition, history and criticality, whilst ensuring that industry compliance regulations and codes of practice are adhered to. This will allow us to focus our resources in specific areas, whilst bringing an increase in productivity and savings for our clients on direct labour. I think that we need to start moving away from the standard PPM frequency approach that many companies supply as part of a service delivery package; not all assets on all buildings require the same attention and client needs may differ according to the nature of their business and we need to adapt to this.


How would you sell FM to other young people considering it as a profession?

I'd give them an insight into my experience and how I developed in the company with my employer, whilst gaining a technical qualification along the way. It is a great industry to work in and there are a variety of opportunities and careers to pursue in our sector. I think that this could be reinforced by opening up industry-related qualifications at A Level to allow young people to increase their learning of the industry before they enter work and hopefully prepare them for their careers.


What is your next personal professional development priority? What training is going to be important for you?

My next personal professional development priority would be to continue my education and gain a qualification in business or FM, either through an MBA or BIFM Level 7 qualifications. I have a passion for learning and would to develop my knowledge and skills even further to aid my management skills and career progression.


What’s your next career step?

My next career step would be to become a director. Although I do understand that this will take time and a number of different steps to achieve, it has always been my career goal.           

Emma Potter