M&A analysis of the FM sector by BDO found that just over half of deals completed in the last two years involved businesses in the building management systems, M&E and compliance services sub sectors. In this way organisations can bring in skilled labour by acquiring specialist suppliers. We ask our panel of experts what else the sector can do to ensure the engineering skills pipeline is maintained in the long term?
An Accenture skills report highlighted that 34 per cent of employers worldwide are having issues filling posts. Of that number, 73 per cent cite lack of skills, experience, or knowledge as the key factor for failing to fulfil the vacancy. So the issues we have in FM are not unique. It could also be argued that they are also not generational. We are just much more aware of the statistics now as we become data literate and generate insights for every strand of activity on the planet. But having the statistics in no way offers a solution to the predicament.
The engineering shortage in the UK is now recognised by the government as the key issue in preventing the UK from generating a more favourable and productive future, not just post Brexit, but in general terms of global trade. As part of the industrial strategy, funding and programmes for STEM engagement and the launch of the ‘Year of Engineering’ are looking to attract talent into the engineering sector from a grass roots level. Whilst this will have a noticeable upside for the uptake of engineering students at least for the next 12 months, the impact on available resources here and now is unlikely to be affected by the initiative. That leaves us with three options: buy, borrow, or bake your own.
For our ‘here and now,’ there is no silver bullet solution. Instead, many activities and approaches are required to allow the growth of the sector. The addition of value adds services and the nurturing of a sustainable supply chain of educated, energised engineering talent. At GSH, we have focused on our immediate needs, in terms of numbers and skills required per service by location and category. Rather than just labour loading a model to deliver that, we have instead looked at what doesn’t need to be done, thus reducing load requirements (move to RCM based dynamic maintenance regimes), and how we then achieve more with less. The move to become data centric in our operation with a limited number of integrated web-based tools allows us to reduce our HR need. With that, comes the problem of how to achieve a multi-skilled workforce that is affordable, and loyal to the cause. For that, we need collaboration and cross pollination. The sector has become a little stuck in its ways, so GSH has purposefully gone out of the sector to engage with horizontal innovation in the learning environment and dipped into the ‘gene pool’ of other sectors to attract people with transferable skills.
All too often in the FM world we hear engineers wanting value added training and career development, and all too often they are left disappointed, unmotivated, and short of skills. To stop the cycle, GSH has looked to others to provide programmes and support for the engineering skill base as well as management and leadership for all our staff. In the US, we have established an academy to nurture single stream engineering skills and then advance the team towards system engineering capabilities and transformation into capable digital natives. In the UK, we have partnered with IET for the development and management of CPD programmes, which will provide learning for life for all of our employees on this side of the pond. Whilst core skills (M&E staples) remain part of the syllabus, a drive towards complex problem solving, integration knowledge, and a system’s engineer capability is the intended outcome of our scheme.
Where we can’t fulfil our immediate needs, we have established collaborations with partners who can support our multi-region needs at an assured price. The Borrow scheme provides entrance to wider markets for some of our smaller scale partners, utilising our global contracts and management through our platform. This enables GSH to deliver our ‘Always on’ promise, with access to the right people, with the right skills, at the right place and the right time. Like many other sectors and organisations, the way forward is collaboration.
The skills pipeline required for our industry is no different to a sales or marketing pipeline. It needs to be nurtured, constantly worked on, maintained, reviewed, refreshed and added to depending on stakeholder demands. Whilst there fortunately appears to be a healthy sales pipeline, sadly the same cannot be said for skills. This has been the case for some time and anyone currently operating within the sector will be suffering from a skill shortage in most disciplines. Industry leaders should therefore be encouraged to take a number of actions:
- Reduce the skill level required to build/maintain engineering systems, thus allowing lower/semi-skilled operatives to work on equipment.
- Encourage skill development through apprenticeships, training programmes, mentorship etc.
- Increase the remuneration levels of current engineers thus causing the employment process to overheat, which inevitably has a knock-on effect on tendering since the cost to deliver the services increases.
In reality, with the exception of item two, these actions deal with the symptoms of a long-term skill shortage. In addition, we would argue the modern-day apprenticeship schemes do not produce the volume or skill capability that the industry now requires. Furthermore, we would suggest the external training providers are far more focused at securing government grants than they are at equipping apprentices with the skills they require.
To encourage and maintain a skills pipeline we need to take a step back and try to identify the root causes for the skill shortage. In our opinion, we believe the following to be significant influencing factors:
- We are living in a constantly evolving engineering/technical environment. Whilst this does and should excite and entice most engineers (and those are the ones who are in demand), it also acts as a deterrent to engineers who are less inclined or struggle to learn new skills.
- Customer expectations are increasing. The ability to achieve a first-time fix is a key factor for performance measurement, so an attitude which appreciates the importance of multi-skilling as opposed to sticking firm to a single core discipline is most definitely sought after.
- We do not have enough people entering the industry. Schools, colleges and education institutions need to be more focused on vocational training to ensure budding candidates a) appreciate and b) are geared towards the opportunities that are available to them.
- We do not have enough people staying in the industry. Loyalty to the trade is dying with youth and more often than not, money talks. We need to ensure our engineers feel motivated, engaged, empowered and understand the positive impact of the role they play in order for them to feel loyal to their disciplines.
If we can we can satisfy the above we should be able to make inroads into the development of a skills pipeline to keep pace with industry demands.