BIFM has had a region in Ireland for the last 21 years. In 2014 The BIFM Ireland region underwent a fundamental change in terms of how it was structured. Previously the Ireland region consisted of a single branch which was run by a committee based out of Belfast and the majority of members were located in Northern Ireland with less than a quarter of its two hundred members coming from the Republic.
The Ireland region created a new branch based out of Dublin which has helped in growing its network. This was the first International members committee to be established by BIFM. The Region encompasses the Island of Ireland and is unique in the fact that it covers two jurisdictions. In a way this approach is similar to the many sporting institutions in Ireland which straddle both North and South. The Irish Rugby Team is a good example of this.
The new BIFM Ireland region was met with great enthusiasm by facilities management professionals and resulted in a steady organic increase in membership to a point where it is now the largest professional body representing facilities managers in Ireland. Today there are over 500 members with two thirds of members now based in the Republic.
Business in Ireland has always been outward looking and has for a long time had strong economic ties with the UK and the rest of Europe. The BIFM organisation was seen as another professional organisation which could add value and an international window for FM in Ireland. From an Irish perspective the importance of BIFM has always been about what it can do for the FM Profession in Ireland.
The name proposed name change from BIFM to IWFM for those of us based in Ireland is focused on what it is adding. The term Workplace has for some time been steadily replacing FM as the title best fitted to describing what functions we perform and deliver for organisations. It provides FM professionals with an opportunity to move to the centre stage in the whole Workplace relationship and start to take a leading role. BIFM as an organisation of over 17,000 members worldwide is showing true leadership by steering the conversation towards the Workplace debate and that can only be a positive thing.
In terms of Charter status this is seen by many, including myself, as being long overdue. FM has long suffered as a Cinderella profession in comparison to the others which operate in our sphere such as Engineers, Architects and Surveyors. Charter status will help to develop and progress the educational side of facilities management and change the perception and image of how it is viewed in a very positive way.
As we all know and recognise, those organisations that change and adapt in relation to what happens around them not only survive but thrive. Those that don’t become extinct! For a long time BIFM was perceived as maintaining the status quo. Now it’s starting to show true leadership and silencing its critics! The two proposed changes by BIFM might be small steps but they are a giant leap in the right direction for the FM profession.
I have discussed this issue with Tutors and Learners and discovered a range of reactions – both positive and negative. One question was whether the priority is gaining the status of a chartered body or the rebranding – can the BIFM support both initiatives, given the cost of both endeavours? Most of the stakeholders in the learning community believe that charter status is more important to the learners; that the name change is diluting that effort. Removing the word British potentially reduces its attractiveness to overseas learners, especially those in the English speaking and Commonwealth countries who place British qualifications and professional bodies in high regard. Some asked for a wider discussion of all members on the two issues. One problem for many learners is that they are not full members, so will not be able to cast their vote, yet this would be their future professional body.
The term ‘Workplace’ has generated more concern in the learning community. The BIFM qualification papers that cover the general scope and extent of FM, all require study of the FM function, profession and industry. Those starting their management careers in FM find the diverse contexts of great appeal and a great opportunity to work in many sectors, industries and built environments. Many learners come from the MoD, schools, hospitals, councils, housing associations, shopping centres, hotel, manufacturing, airports and leisure centres. Most of these contexts have a wide range of premises types and built environments with many focused on the experience of the client’s customer. The term ‘Workplace’ may indicate a more ‘office based’ environment and more office management activities. Some current members and learners do not identify their role as managing ‘workplaces’– their focus is about enabling client organisations to be more productive and effective – for example to improve the learning attainments in schools or the patient outcomes in hospitals or providing access to unique heritage premises. FMs in these settings are not limited to services for ‘workers’ but providing a range of services for all occupants and users of their premises.
Some of the issues of being chartered must also be considered; 75 per cent of the membership must be degree equivalent qualified. A chartered body must evidence a significant contribution to society / industry; a unique professional offering, sound financial standing; be able to sue and be sued; act in interest of public rather than members and ensure ethical behaviour of members. Given the overlapping nature of RICS, CIOB and CIBSE, it may be hard for BIFM or even the newly named IWFM organisation to convince the Privy Council that there is room for another chartered body in the built environment. The existing bodies would have the opportunity to comment on such a proposal.
The impact on our learning community to continue their studies to L6 will be a challenge – cost, time and effort is not insignificant – and of course, a supportive employer is needed. RICS offer a chartered FM surveyor status to BIFM level 6 Diploma qualified FMs, subject to a number of additional requirements, however few seem to take up this opportunity, as so few gain the L6 Extended Diploma in FM via BIFM. The quest for qualification still seems low in our industry, despite best efforts of BIFM to promote education as a driver for advancing our profession.