Maxwell Stephens

Career Building Strategies in Facilities Management

Facilities Management is enjoying an increasingly high profile in the UK and is certainly one of the most successful arenas of growth and opportunity. With an emphasis on adding value while maintaining or reducing costs, facilities management is expected to increase from a market value of £106 billion in 2012 to £117 billion in 2017 according to research from Market & Customer Insight.

A developing market demands an increasing number of highly effective professionals. Unsurprisingly the BIFM states that it oversees one of the fastest growing professions in the UK. Naturally enough, the BIFM produces a wealth of information on career development, including apprenticeships, degrees, postgraduate diplomas and BIFM-specific qualifications. The question for aspiring and new entrants to the field is what’s better, experience or a qualification?


Facilities management is similar to other careers in that there are a number of routes into it. Education is one way, and those with experience in a highly business-focused environment or from building services, estate management or engineering backgrounds do transfer in without specific qualifications. The debate, then, is fixed on whether the cost of a qualification serves you better than building experience and working your way up.


The qualifications route


In line with other professions, such as human resources and accountancy, the BIFM encourages flexibility in the way you can achieve professional accreditation. To get qualified, you can take one of the following options:


A foundation degree in facilities management. Universities have been responding to employer demands and a good number of them now provide undergraduate degrees, which will give you Level 5 qualification at the BIFM.


A postgraduate qualification in facilities management. From diplomas to MSc degrees, there are a number of universities recognised by the BIFM to deliver to Level 7 professional standard. These include University College London, Liverpool John Moores, Edinburgh Heriot-Watt and Sheffield Hallam.


BIFM Award, Certificate and Diploma qualifications. These are delivered by BIFM recognised centres through day and evening classes and distance learning, giving students more flexibility. These give membership from Levels 2 through to 7 and are geared towards your particular career point. Level 2 is aimed at school leavers while Level 7 is suitable for strategic facilities managers.


ILM qualifications in facilities management. These courses were developed by ILM in partnership with BIFM.


To get an idea of costs, you can expect the BIFM Award level to cost upwards of £800, while the Diploma level can result in a bill of several thousand pounds for distance learning courses.


The experience route


There are a number of ways of breaking into facilities management, depending upon your current career stage. These are:


Apprenticeships for younger people. An apprenticeship with an appropriate employer earns BIFM membership at a Level 3 qualification. With an ageing facilities management workforce, employers are looking to encourage young talent into the sector. Higher level apprenticeships are also available. Further information can be obtained from the BIFM or Asset Skills websites.


Experience in lower level facilities management jobs. If you’re a school leaver or graduate, you can access facilities assistant roles, as they generally require no previous experience. You will need to have good problem-solving, IT and organisational skills. Salaries start at around £16,000 and can rise to £22,000. From there, it’s possible to progress to the role of assistant facilities manager, although it’s more common for employers to ask for some level of BIFM or health and safety qualification.


Transfer from a relevant field. Successful applicants for facilities manager jobs sometimes also come from sectors that demand the same types of skills, such as surveying and commercial financial management. Because the demands of facilities management roles are so broad, people who have solid experience of high pressure management and good technical understanding can break into the sector this way. Facilities manager salaries depend upon the scope of the job but can often start between £40,000 and £50,000.


Getting down to tactics


So which route is better? The answer may depend upon which stage of your career you are at, but the reality is that the BIFM is professionalising what is still to the outside world a fairly new sector. It has ambitions to see membership become the standard requirement, just as CIPD membership has become pretty much obligatory to succeed in human resources.


A review of senior facilities manager roles reveals that employers are more often than not asking for BIFM membership at qualification Level 5, so the question is really whether it’s more suitable for you to obtain a specific qualification early in your career or to gain experience and then use the BIFM’s more flexible route to become qualified as you work.


If full-time studying is not for you or you can’t afford to go to university, pursue an apprenticeship, particularly if you want to reach the top of the career ladder in facilities management. Your career progression won’t be halted temporarily as you gain the qualifications that you need to get into those senior management levels.


If facilities management appeals but you’re not sure about committing to a life career, it would probably be better to gain work experience as a facilities assistant. If you want to take facilities management further, you can then access the BIFM’s flexible learning methods. If not, you’ll have gained a lot of transferable skills that you can take to a different career.


If you’re a graduate in an unrelated subject, your career route will, quite simply, depend upon your finances. The cost of postgraduate courses is roughly comparable with the BIFM qualification route and both of them can be achieved through part-time study. If you’re already carrying a student loan from your undergraduate course, you may want to earn a salary for a few years before you contemplate further studying. If you perform well, you may be able to persuade your employer to pay part or all of the costs of the course or offer you an interest-free loan.


Working your way up


Not surprisingly, the most common route is for people to get work experience in facilities management and then study while they work to allow them to progress to a senior management level.


The conclusion, then, is that a career in facilities management is possible without qualifications but the professional membership route is becoming the standard in the sector. Furthermore, the experience versus qualifications answer will be unique to your circumstances and learning style. By devising the right tactics for your career aspirations, you can get the best return on your efforts and hopefully reach those higher management salaries.

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