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Career Ladder talks to University of Manchester’s Library Space Development Manager

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
Having run businesses in the music sector, I decided to transfer my project management, working with people, event management and marketing experience to the education sector. It was in this sector that I saw how important it was to provide people with safe, functional and inspiring environments; helping students to thrive, teachers to enable and the community to connect. This led me to managing Failsworth Sports Campus in the role as Integrated Services Manager. During this time I achieved the IWFM Certificate in Facilities Management, PRINCE2 and a range of other qualifications. These refined my skills whilst bolstering my ‘on the job’ experience. I progressed to the role of Deputy Facilities Manager at the University of Manchester, where I supported the operation of the sport facilities. An opportunity then came at the University of Manchester Library. I started as the internal client for a £34 million capital redevelopment project and progressed to my current role as the internal lead of all our Library spaces and facilities. I am also the Chair of the Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club Committee, where I use my real estate and facility management experience to help manage and develop the Club’s facilities and overall operation.

Q: Do you have any qualifications or training in FM and related areas such as health and safety? And how have you benefited from them?
I achieved the IWFM Certificate in Facilities Management and this was the catapult for my career. I learnt the intrinsic value that facilities management provides, which in turn has fueled my passion in the sector. My PRINCE2 Practitioner project management qualification, BCS Business Analysis Practitioner certificate and SCRUM Fundamentals certification not only support critical skills needed in my role (for example undertaking feasibility studies, creating business plans and developing options appraisals) but also boosts my overall knowledge of how to run an efficient and effective operation. The IOSH Managing Safely qualification provides the backbone of my health and safety knowledge. This knowledge base is boosted by smaller ‘bolt on’ development opportunities and in working closely with the University of Manchester Safety Service. I am currently undertaking the RICS Certificate in Corporate Real Estate and Facilities Management. This course is providing a broader and deeper understanding of the CRE and FM and will help me to work with a wider range of professionals, whilst providing an even more transferable set of skills across the sector.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role?
This is somewhat of an easy question – my greatest contribution is the support I give to help others grow and develop within the sector. Knowing that you have directly helped people gain FM qualifications, progress to more senior levels and change career paths to a rewarding role in FM makes me smile every day. I am an advocate of helping people from non-traditional FM career backgrounds and of BAME heritage to prosper in the industry.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working in FM?
My mission is to be a catalyst for workplace and organisational development. I get the greatest enjoyment from seeing people thrive and perform better through the changes we make as FM professionals. This could be by providing a safer working environment, enhancing the experience of a visitor or creating a study space that allows people to learn and innovate in new ways.

Q: Do you have future projects or career goals in mind?
I am focused on achieving a position such as Director of Facilities, Workplace, Operations or similar. This could be in any sector – as an avid Formula 1 fan, I wouldn’t say no to a role within the Mercedes team!

Q: What personal qualities do you think are most needed for a successful career in FM?
Being people focused is key. In many respects, Facility Management goes far beyond bricks and mortar. The most important part of any organisation is its people, so FM professionals must have people at the centre of every decision they make.

Q: What do you think would make the biggest difference to the FM sector?
We need stronger communication of FM as a valid career choice, not just to the next generation of students but also to people who are at later stages of their careers. FM professionals must also better articulate the tactical impact of FM in ways that senior colleagues understand. This includes a correlation between the performance of buildings and facilities on the wellbeing of building users. Such an approach could then be championed by Chief Workplace Officers at an executive level (as recommended in the Stoddart Review).

Q: Are you a member of any FM association or body and if so what benefits do you think they provide?
I have been a member of IWFM for over 10 years and value everything the institute has provided around professional development and career progression. The IWFM North Region learning events are always very useful and provide a great networking opportunity for members. Although not a member, I follow RICS and IFMA very closely, using resources when I can and attending events (in person and online) where possible.

Q: What advice would you give to someone coming into the profession now?
Tell us what we’re missing! Put forward your opinions and share your insights. Be passionate, proud and confident in asking ‘why’.

Q: What are the greatest challenges of working in FM?
Every challenge is an opportunity – this is part of my FM mindset. I champion the idea of ‘solving the unsolvable’ to my team, encouraging them to transform every challenge into a mission! The greatest trick is to keep everything in constant balance; the time spent planning tasks, reacting to issues, engaging with stakeholders, ensuring facilities are compliant and adding value to an organisation’s objectives.

Q: What do you predict could be the main changes to the FM sector over the next few years?
We must take advantage of rapid advancement in technology, respond to a changing workforce demographic and be open minded towards dynamic customer expectations. It is critical that we work smarter in the face of a challenging financial outlook and as we enter a global climate emergency. If anyone is best placed to help tackle these issues on an organisation level, it is FM professionals.

About Sarah OBeirne


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