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The FM industry: changing perceptions

FM has struggled in the past to attract and retain talented individuals. However, perceptions of the industry are now changing, with more and more people recognising the long and rewarding career paths it can offer. Capitalising on this shift in awareness will be crucial to driving the ongoing success of facilities management teams and our wider industry, says Carl Johnson, director of talent and learning at Interserve

There’s no denying that the FM industry has suffered from an awareness problem in the past. From the point of view of the general public, it remains a relative unknown. Emerging from cost-cutting initiatives in the 1970s and 80s, FM is still a relative junior. It will take time for it to accrue the same kind of public recognition as its more established siblings like construction or engineering. As a growing industry, this poses significant challenges for FM which increasingly needs to attract and retain talented people to meet the evolving demands of its customers.

The requirements of FM roles have grown significantly in recent years, becoming much more diverse and strategic. In large part, this has been driven by a shift in the way that organisations view the workplace. Workplaces were once simply functional spaces – with key concerns for businesses being cost per square foot or whether a working environment offered sufficient room for future growth. Now, however, organisations recognise the fundamental role working environments play in boosting the productivity of employees and reflecting a company’s brand identity, success and performance.

This has created new opportunities, and even greater demand, for talented FM professionals to meet these changing requirements. Successful FM teams need to be able to diversify and think more holistically than ever before about their operations. Those in the industry in tune with the changing nature of the workplace have already responded to this by expanding training programmes and promoting the employment opportunities on offer. However, more work is needed if we are to fulfil customer needs and continue to drive the progress of our sector.

For those that are aware of FM, it has often been seen as the more functional end of the property industry. For many years it was caught in a simple race to the bottom, with providers pushing to deliver services as efficiently as possible for the best price. This posed significant challenges for organisations looking to encourage talented, proactive individuals to even consider FM as an industry that they would want to work in, and has also had implications from an employee retention perspective. For those who did join the industry, FM has often been viewed by frontline employees as ‘just a job’ – a short-term stop gap in their career before they moved on elsewhere.

Yet this should no longer be the case. The dramatic advances FM has made provide a great opportunity for industry leaders to challenge these perceptions by demonstrating the more strategic role we now play in the overall management of workplaces, buildings and the wider customer experience.

The shift to daytime working in the cleaning industry, for example, has allowed employees to take on additional tasks such as meeting room management and AV support, helping to create slick, well-oiled working environments while freeing up customers’ employees to concentrate on other tasks. Front of house teams, meanwhile, are embracing new technologies such as tablet devices to step out from behind their desks and roam entrance spaces, personally greeting visitors to create a more engaging, positive experience for a building’s users from the off.

Attracted by this more diverse, customer-facing working style, more and more people are choosing to pursue a long-term career in FM. Employers need to do what they can to encourage this shift, making sure that they put the right tools and training programmes in place to help employees upskill. We also need to be proactive in getting the message out to the wider employment market and exploiting opportunities to bring in a new generation of skilled employees.

In addition to finding their roles more rewarding, FM employees are now finding it easier to make the progression from frontline service delivery to management positions. Working more closely with other building teams, managing broader responsibilities and interacting closely with the customer is now a standard part of many employees’ roles, putting them in a good position to take the next step to a senior position.

Again, as an industry we need to support and encourage this process. There are now a number of FM professional qualifications coming to the fore. Employers need to support employees who wish to embark on these schemes, whether that means allowing time for them to study or even offering financial or mentoring support. Interserve, for example, was one of the first FM organisations to partner with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and we encourage our employees where appropriate to embrace the FM career pathways organisations like RICS can offer.

dsc_8939smallEmbracing professional accreditation schemes will not only drive the progression of talented employees but also professionalise FM in the eyes of external audiences, helping us to reach new pools of talent. The diversification of the FM role has brought huge rewards both for employees and customers, but it will also likely throw up new challenges as our sector moves into unchartered territory. Attracting a broader range of people will be key to overcoming these in the future.

The evolution of the FM role has created real opportunities for those seeking a career which challenges them to do things better and constantly be one step ahead of customers’ changing requirements and the latest trends in the workplace experience. As an industry at the forefront of shaping how we live and work, FM needs to punch its weight in the wider employment market.

It’s up to the sector’s leading employers to show that for intelligent, ambitious employees, FM isn’t just a job, it’s a long and rewarding career.

Andrew Rawdon has enjoyed a meteoric rise up the Interserve ranks since joining the company as a graduate project quantity surveyor in 2007. Now managing director of Total FM & Technical for the FTSE listed company’s commercial property division, he has gone from post-grad to managing director in just nine years.

Rawdon left Sheffield Hallam University in July 2007 with a BSc honours degree in Construction Commercial Management, and initially did not intend to join the FM industry. Indeed, he had very little knowledge of the profession prior to applying for the Interserve role.

“It’s fair to say I had no intention whatsoever to work in FM when I left university,” says Rawdon. “I had my sights set on construction and was looking for a role at one of the major contractors when the support services position at Interserve became available.

“What sold the job for me was the diversity of the role. There was the opportunity to work on anything from a workplace management project with a major corporate to a long-term government total FM account, both here in the UK and abroad. It was also the fact that the job covered so many disciplines – management, compliance, health and safety, sales, marketing – everything you needed to progress into a senior management role.”

Rawdon ran infrastructure support accounts in the Falklands and Cyprus for Interserve’s defence team, rising to the position of general manager in three years. He then took on the role of international project director, monitoring the delivery of operations in Cyprus, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Ascension Island, Oman and Dubai as well as compliance services in Nepal, Brunei, Kenya, Singapore, Canada and Belize.

Most recently, the opportunity arose for Andrew to take over as managing director of Total FM & Technical for Interserve’s commercial property team, putting to good use his extensive experience of managing large and complex accounts across some challenging environments.

As managing iirector for Total FM & Technical, Rawdon’s current role brings together all of the aspects that first attracted him to the FM sector. Rawdon explains: “In my new position I am responsible for total FM and technical accounts as well as smaller project work, looking after over 30 customers across a range of sectors including retail, professional services and telecommunications.

“The diversity of the role is both a challenge and a reward. You need to continually think on your feet to understand each customer’s needs and tailor solutions to fit. My experience of working internationally has set me in good stead but I am always learning and progressing – which is after all what makes FM such an exciting and interesting industry to work in.”

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