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Building talent

Julie Jarvis MD of property & built environment recruitment firm PRS discusses the increased demand for building services and FM professionals in light of the UK’s tentative move out of lockdown

In May, the government unveiled a “conditional plan” to reopen society, which encouraged people to return to work if it was safe to do so. To help businesses deliver a “COVID-secure” workplace, guidance(1) was published that included information on social distancing, managing visitors, cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE).

While always an integral part of the workforce, building services and FM professionals have become a focal point for many businesses looking to reassure workers that it’s safe to re-enter the premises. The increased reliance on professionals in this field has meant that employers are now exploring ways they can bolster the building services element of their workforce, but is this easier said than done?

Securing talent in building services and FM was a challenge long before COVID-19, and it’s set to become a lot more challenging. Any FM recruiter will tell you that one of the biggest challenges is receiving candidate applications that are strong enough to progress to the next stage. Right now, there are typically around 18 roles for every candidate in building services and FM. And, if recruiters are finding it challenging, then those companies handling recruitment in-house will be having an even tougher time sourcing the most qualified applicants.

Bear in mind that this is a period when hiring has been put on hold for a lot of businesses, so consider the situation when employers start looking to rehire the staff they’ve let go, or want to bolster their building services and FM offering.

Despite a somewhat bleak outlook, there are still several things that employers can do right now to ensure they improve their chances of securing talent, as well as some considerations that should feed into their long-term strategies.

While there’s no silver bullet for attracting and retaining talent, there are three key areas that employers can focus on currently:

  • Talent pipeline. There may not be an abundance of professionals on the market, but that doesn’t stop you connecting with talent in the market. Those with an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) should look back at referred candidates, former employees, interns, and candidates who reached the final stages of a previous hiring process. Earmark people for re-engagement and get in touch to tell them you’re expanding your network. Remember to be respectful in your approach, especially as you’re unlikely to know their current situation both professionally and personally.
  • Talent supply chain. It might sound harsh, but now’s the ideal time to evaluate your suppliers on how they’ve handled themselves during the pandemic. Finding skilled professionals is only going to get more challenging, so you need to make sure you are partnered with suppliers robust enough to support the evolving talent needs of your business.
  • Flexible recruitment strategy. Contracting is a growing market across all industries, providing flexibility for workers and enabling businesses to scale talent up and down. With the months following the lockdown lift set to be a peak period for building services and FM, temporary specialists can help you access talent quickly to support the increased workload. The best way to speed up the process is to team up with a temporary staffing recruiter, preferably one that specialises in your sector as they’ll already have a contractor database and talent pipeline to draw from.

If businesses remain unable to recruit the right building services and FM talent, they will have no choice but to invest in developing the skills of existing employees and new recruits. This would require a significant investment in both time and money, as they would need highly-skilled people from the offset to kickstart the upskilling as well as upgrade the overall learning and development infrastructure. In short, such a substantial and immediate capital injection coupled with ongoing financial support thereafter would be a step too far for some businesses, especially when we’re staring down the barrel of a recession set to rival 2008.

With the skills gap in this sector set to widen, we’ve reached a tipping point. The future of the profession is technology, namely automation and machine learning, which looks set to replace certain technical job functions that companies are struggling to hire for today.

International Facility Management Associate (IFMA) Fellow, Dr Dean Kashiwagi(2) believes that FM roles will evolve into:

  • FM Professional. C-suite professionals with a focus on leadership instead of technical skills
  • FM Associate. Highly specialised technical experts capable of accomplishing tasks that cannot be automated

Dr Kashiwagi’s role predictions complement the Millennial and Gen Z workforce who have grown up with technology and are therefore more comfortable incorporating automation into their daily lives. Furthermore, as stated by independent Analyst and Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Josh Bersin, millennials are being hired into leadership positions at younger ages more than any other generation(3). So, perhaps the future of building services and FM leadership is brighter than it seems. Until then, all businesses can do is review their talent strategies with today’s increasingly competitive market in mind, and get ready to go to war to secure the best people.

About Sarah OBeirne

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