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Interviewee: Andy Donnell, group managing director at ABM

Issue: ABM’s programme to attract schoolchildren into FM apprenticeships

Andy Donnell

8 January 2018 Andy Donnell

Andy Donnell, group managing director at ABM, discusses ABM’s programme to attract schoolchildren into FM apprenticeships.

Why does the industry have trouble attracting new talent? 

Historically, it has been quite a closed industry, but some of the issues we have in the UK with labour shortages are the same  as in other big Western countries.

Technology now is a part of FM too. All our engineers carry smart devices. I think the industry has suffered from poor perception – that image of it being about oily rags and overalls; it’s an undervalued career, but we need to spin that on its head. 

How will you do that? 

We need to talk about the opportunities in the profession, like travel, or being able to go on to managerial roles. We have noticed that schools are still very much targeting getting young people into universities when in fact apprenticeships are a great way to earn money as you are learning. When you finish your apprenticeship at 19 or 20, you go on to a good salary and are not saddled with debt. 

Why is ABM’s pilot Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (JEEP) to be offered to 36 year-7 children from three London Borough of Ealing schools? 

I started in FM as an apprentice. Someone gave me an opportunity to get into the industry. I, ABM, and the industry have the responsibility to do the same for more young people.

How does the programme work?

We have developed a training programme that is officially accredited with BIFM. The kids get a formal qualification at the end of it. Over three to six months they will come into the training centre and complete different training modules. We will have qualified trainers there, but also our directors so that we can balance the technical side with the softer side and talk about how we have arrived at our positions.  

Will they get experience on real sites?

We will take them to some of our iconic customer sites [like the 02 or the London Transport Museum], which they probably know of, but they do not understand what an FM or an engineering manager does there. There will be mentoring after the training is complete. They may decide not to become an apprentice, but we want to give them the information. We will measure the success of that first programme with the view to launching a bigger one. 

What is the long-term aim of JEEP? 

To find out why kids aren’t going into the industry, and why parents aren’t encouraging it. We are doing research into this alongside the training programme. Most engineers are second, third, fourth generation because they’ve grown up with their dad being an electrician. But for people who do not have that background, parents are uneducated about these opportunities. We also want to change the government’s mindset and tell it that it is not all about university but for people to have careers that can afford a great living. And this isn’t about ABM; this is about the industry. I’d love our competitors to launch their own schemes.