Maxwell Stephens

Its all in the Meaning

An analysis of the perception of the Facilities Management Industry in 2014


A 2005 study of recruitment and retention practices in NHS Trusts by Sheffield Hallam University researchers argued evidence of lower salaries and higher levels of employee turnover within the Estates departments of hospitals suggested there was a need to ‘raise the profile of estates and facilities management to those levels enjoyed by human resources and financial management’.


Fast-forward to August 2014 and FTSE 250 outsourcer Interserve is under fire from the Unite Union’s industrial officer Mike Eatwell, who alleges the integrated support services firm is “seeking to displace experienced engineers” and “run its operation on a shoestring” when facilities managers and maintenance engineers it employs at the BBC choose to support a ballot in favour of strike action.


To any casual observer these stories might suggest the facilities management industry is in disarray.


For graduates considering it as a career destination, however, they are a death-knell – in the United Kingdom at any rate.


Facilities Management: the New Route to Professional Stardom?


Pick up any newspaper in Dubai and you’ll almost certainly find your eyes being drawn to a headline about the professional exploits of a new breed of superstar facilities manager. For in a land where tall buildings are a symbol of power, facilities managers are powerbrokers – charged with winning and administering the mega contracts billion dollar (and pound for that matter) fortunes are made out of.


The Emirate is also a popular employment destination for many of Britain’s most talented facilities managers.


Witness the career of Ben Churchill, CEO of listed Australian software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider Urbanise who was recently poached from Emrill (Dubai’s biggest integrated facilities management provider), after masterminding a transformation that increased revenue growth by 60 per cent, profitability by 400 per cent, and won him the coveted European CEO Magazine“CEO of the Year” accolade in 2013.


Recruiters advising graduates about a career in facilities management might note also how, after being sponsored through university by JCB, Ben’s early employment included stints with Leyland where he worked on an engineering project in Liverpool and an entry-level engineering position with support services giant Carillion (which was to see him rise to the post of Director of Engineering in only seven years) – career migration is common between engineering and facilities management as the operation of modern buildings requires technical knowledge and skills.


Witness also the career of Billy Daly who first came to prominence when he was appointed to oversee the formation of IDAMA – then the facilities management division of Dubai Properties. Today he is the CEO of Dubai’s property holding giant, Ejadah Asset Management – migration between property management and facilities management is also commonplace.


Neither is facilities management’s stardust potential restricted to Dubai. For many of the world’s largest integrated facilities management contracts are managed out of Singapore – including the 58 million square foot global portfolio JLL oversees for HSBC Bank (which extends to all of the financial institution’s United Kingdom bank branches and offices).


Helping Raise Public Awareness about Facilities Management


Recently there have been indications the industry at home is beginning to take poor public knowledge and perception of facilities management seriously. At the beginning of the month CEO of the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) Gareth Tancred, announced the continuation of a partnership with ITN Productions to use video to ‘bring to a much wider audience the importance and scope of the profession’.


The move is a welcome one since graduate entrants will often consult their parents and peers about career choice and seek affirmation that their choice is the right one.


As recruitment professionals we can supported the industry by requesting copies of the new videos from the Association and making them available to new recruits and universities’ career offices.


Facilities management is used in two context which frequently result in confusion for graduates and job applicants, and recruiters can play an important role by ensuring the distinction is understood.


In its narrowest sense the term describes the commercial function that focuses on the efficient, profitable and environmentally responsible operation of buildings by central actors called facilities managers.


As a result of the popularity of outsourcing (integrated or total support services firms deliver 60 per cent of all facilities-related services in the United Kingdom today), there has been a trend within the industry itself to favour a wider, multidisciplinary definition of facilities management that absorbs the identity of industries as diverse as cleaning, catering and security (which operate in what is often referred to as the soft services sector as it does not involve altering the fabric of buildings) – as well as the (hard) building maintenance and building engineering professions.


The outcome? Cleaning Managers employed directly by building owners continue to be referred to by their title, whereas their counterparts working in the big support services companies will invariably be referred to as Soft-Services Facilities Managers!


Career Opportunities


The definition a recruiter adopts of facilities management will influence the nature and quality of the career advice they issue to potential recruits, since expansive definitions of the profession will result in candidates being steered towards graduate training schemes operated by support services firms. KPMG estimates the size of the integrated facilities management market at £100 billion annually (a figure that compares against £58 billion for the automotive industry and £180 billion for groceries), and these companies control most of that market.


In contrast, recruiters who adopt a narrower definitions will be disposed towards recommending traditional career paths into the industry which have focused either on operational management (and its related commercial functions) or on building engineering.


Educational Opportunities


As buildings become increasingly sophisticated it is clear perception and beliefs about facilities management are changing.


A raft of dedicated Masters’ level degree programmes have begun to emerge in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, with institutions as reputable as University College London (UCL) offering courses to meet the 21st Century needs of professionals who will be required to combine commercial business skills with an understanding of technology and the environment.


The industry too is rising to the challenge of introducing continuing professional education, supported by industries that have a longer tradition of demanding the highest standards of their members (following widespread consultations, RICS® released its first Professional Guidance Notes for facilities managers last year).


So it may be said – and with some justification, that the industry is finally coming of age!

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