This year saw the introduction of new BIFM qualifications to replace the old Part I and Part II examinations. In an exclusive interview the BIFM’s professional standards and education director Valerie Everitt tells Cathy Hayward what the new arrangements means for employers and learners.
18 May 2010
There’s a wonderfully descriptive piece on the BIFM website to mark the launch, earlier this year, of the new BIFM Qualifications. It talks of how journeys are about setting your destination, mapping your route, wondering if you have taken a wrong turning and sometimes realising that you didn’t factor in the road works, the number of caravans and accidents causing long tailbacks along the way. But also about the satisfaction when you get to your target – and look back on what you’ve achieved.
After a four year journey towards the new qualifications landscape, BIFM professional standards and education director Valerie Everitt is certainly looking pleased to have arrived at one of her own professional goals. “It’s been a long journey but it’s been a really interesting and exciting one,” she says. “Developing the qualification is very much in line with the BIFM’s mission of advancing the FM profession, professionalising FM and developing career and progression pathways that we felt were needed.”
The decision to embark on the expedition was taken back in 2006 when the institute decided to review its existing qualifications. There were a number of drivers, says Everitt, including the 2006 Leitch Report (which recommended that UK should urgently and dramatically raise achievements at all levels of skills) and feedback from employers and members. There was the option of continuing to offer the BIFM Qual, withdrawing completely and not offering any educational products at all, refreshing existing products or developing new qualifications.
Everitt and her team garnered the views of key stakeholders and the view that came back was that the product was good, but it needed to be refreshed and to be made more accessible and flexible to respond to the needs of the FM sector. “It’s a very practical and dynamic industry and is not as well placed as other professions for a static examination. So we wanted to reflect this in the way we assessed learners.”
The first milestone in the qualifications journey was the employer forum – a high profile event held in June 2007 at Wembley Stadium to talk about the FM skills agenda. As well as facilities professionals, the institute invited the HR community – typically heads of HR and training for major FM services providers and client side organisations – in an effort to understand what they were looking for in sector qualifications. Everitt describes it as a “launch pad” setting out that the future would be about employer-led qualifications – in line with the national skills agenda. Employers, after all, aren’t going to support employees through qualifications which don’t benefit their business in some demonstrable way.
The response from employers was positive. “They did want the institute to take a leadership role and they wanted the institute to continue to offer educational products, they didn’t want us to withdraw from the market; they thought it was part of being a professional association and they thought we were in a very good position to meet those needs.”
Despite this broad level of sector support, Everitt emphasises that the institute never wanted to do everything. “One big part of the strategy was to say ‘we don’t have all the answers and the BIFM is not going to be the provider of qualifications at all levels’”. Everitt points to the introductory level qualification (QCF level 3 on the scale where 1 is equivalent to NVQ 1 or GCSEs at grade D and below, and 8 to a doctorate) as an example of an area where there wasn’t a good fit for what the BIFM could offer because it was a slightly outside the main level of institute members. The solution was a strategic partnership with the Institute for Leadership and Management which was signed in June 2007. Everitt describes it as a “seminal moment” in the qualifications journey.
The Wembley employer forum spurred on the creation of an employer group, made up of between 15-20 client side and supply side organisations from across the public and private sectors, which met for several one-day workshops throughout 2008 and 2009. That group helped the BIFM to design the architecture of the new qualifications. The employers, for example, helped to decide how the units should be structured, which should be mandatory and which optional. “We would ask them “what would this person in this role in your organisation need to know, understand and be able to do.”
But the market research didn’t end there. The BIFM went out to its entire membership, both individual and corporate, and asked for their views on their qualifications through a survey (with an impressive 15 per cent response rate), telephone and face-to-face interviews. The feedback was not jut about the content of the qualifications but also a desire for a more flexible structure than previously – more work-based assessment rather than examinations.
The timing was perfect because the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), that was coming in at that time, was focused on developing vocational qualifications not based on formal exams but based on achievable learning in bite-sized flexible ways. In the end the BIFM decided to abandon formal exams altogether (something that is understandably popular with students).
But there were still several obstacles to overcome until the finishing line could be reached. Having identified that the institute wanted to become an externally-recognised awarding organisation, it set about reviewing the way it worked. “We had always set exams and marked them and we had awarded certificates for Part I, Part II and the BIFM Qual. But what we needed to do as an OfQual awarding organisation was to turn everything upside down, look at all our policies and procedures and ensure that we would fulfill the OfQual requirements, which were very tough. But we did it. And it was good because it made us have a look at everything we do and ensure we embodied good practice.” And of course while this was all going on, Everitt’s team still continued to run the old examinations.
There has been intense sector interest in the new qualifications, and non more so than from candidates already studying for, or having completed, Part I and Part II. Everitt is keen to point out that there are numerous ways for existing candidates to be recognised under the new framework. “It very much depends on what stage they have reached,” she explains.
For someone who’s completed Part I, (which is roughly equivalent to QCF level 4) they could go on and study for levels 5 or 6 if that was their aim. And those that have completed part II, are eligible for one of the routes to the new certified BIFM, (CBIFM) professional grade of membership which has replaced the old BIFM Qual. Those who had the BIFM Qual are automatically transferred across to CBIFM.
The last opportunity to sit the old exams was in December (although there are resits taking place in June). For candidates who were unable to finish Parts I or II, then credits for the modules completed will be given and they can then transfer across to the new framework at the appropriate level.
“What we can’t do is give someone who’s completed Part I the new level 4 because it’s a completely different qualification. It’s a bit like saying if you had O’levels, you automatically got a GCSE when they were introduced. You couldn’t do that because it’s a new system.”
The other key change is that the requirement to have a portfolio (for BIFM Qual) has been dropped, following feedback that it was a very good process but time-consuming in addition to doing the exams. It’s been replaced with an in-depth personal and professional review allowing those with appropriate FM experience to apply for CBIFM.
For the employer, the benefits of the new qualifications are clear – flexibility. “Because there are the mandatory and the optional units, it will allow an employer to select a size and level of qualification, almost tailor-make a qualification.” It’s also possible to take one unit, if for example, an FM wanted to fill a gap for CPD purposes.
The other big benefit for employers is that the assessments are much more practical and work-based so the return on investment and the benefit is obvious even before the candidate has completed the qualification. “ So for example if someone is doing a unit on space planning or project management, they can link the learning in the unit and the assessment they have to complete to a real-life project in the workplace,’ adds Everitt.
More than 50 learners have registered for the new qualification, with around 350 expressions of interest to date. The aim, says Everitt, is exponential growth over the coming years.
“This is a programme for growth. We’ve done this for the future of FM and for the future of our members it’s not a short-term programme. We have national and international aspirations for the new qualifications.”
At the centre
The demand is there, now it’s about delivering the qualifications. One of the big changes with the new system is that instead of learners registering direct with the BIFM, as before, the registrations go through recognised centres, of which there are currently three – Xenon Group, Blue Eye Training and BIFM Training (Quadrilect). A centre can be a private training provider, a further education college, a higher education institute or an employer.
The aim, says Everitt, is to develop a geographically diverse network, which will offer the qualifications through different methods from face-to-face tuition, evening class, distance learning or blended learning. “Wherever learners are in the UK there will be a choice for them. Now we’re not quite there yet, that’s the next big project that we’re working on – to try to roll out that process and create a wider network.”
She is understandably proud of what has been achieved over the past four years. Not just with moving from Parts I and II to BIFM Levels 4, 5 and 6 but also with the wider FM qualifications framework from the Level 2 diploma in construction and the built environment aimed at 14-19 year olds and the Level 3 apprenticeship scheme to Level 5 foundation degrees in FM and Level 7 post-graduate qualifications in FM.
“Now we have the complete ladder from school pupils to post-grad students, from level 2 to level 7. We think that’s really a huge benefit to employers in terms of staff development and for individuals as they see how their careers can develop within the FM profession.”
The BIFM has also worked to align membership grades to the new qualification with the development of the new Certified member grade. There are four paths to this new grade of membership: the BIFM Level 6; students who have completed the old Part II; experienced and senior facilities professionals with an appropriate exempting qualification; and those with post-graduate diplomas or Masters degrees in FM from accredited universities. The Fellows grade remains above CBIFM, but the difference now is that there is no direct entry to Fellows and they need to come up through CBIFM.
“It seemed a really good opportunity to provide greater clarity and transparency through the membership side as well as the journey through the qualifications,” explains Everitt. “We had feedback that the name BIFM Qual was an aspiration for many people, but the name, the brand, wasn’t as recognized in the marketplace as people would like.”
NEW QUALIFICATIONS LANDSCAPE
Level 2: The Diploma “Construction and the Built Environment” aimed at 14-19 year olds
Level 3: Apprenticeship scheme and ILM Level 3 Qualifications in Facilities Management
Levels 4-6: BIFM Levels 4, 5 and 6 Qualifications in Facilities Management
Level 5: Foundation degrees in FM
Level 7: Postgraduate qualifications in FM
• More than 50 learners have registered for the new BIFM qualification, with around 350 expressions of interest to date