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Generation game

Jenny Cantrell, Business Manager of Facilities Management recruitment experts 300 North on why the FM sector needs to reach out to the school and student population to succession plan for the future

With the current skills shortage in FM, largely due to lack of apprenticeships following the 2009 recession, our workforce has become truly polarised. Many skilled and experienced staff are nearing retirement with no-one to replace them. To prevent this skill gap growing further, it’s time the FM sector started succession planning by engaging with the youth of today.

Visibility is key to ignite the imagination. When growing up children dream of becoming doctors, actors, police officers and teachers – all prominent roles in our society. One of the issues with FM is that it’s the ‘unseen’ profession; when everything is running smoothly, we don’t even think about facilities, however it’s only when estate issues arise do we feel that value of the FM provision. So, how to bring FM out of the shadows and highlight it as an engaging and rewarding sector to work in?

Engagement at school level is vital. Higher education is not the natural next step for everyone and spiralling tuition fees are making practical education choices more attractive. More than this, we must work hard to promote vocational routes as there is still stigma around workplace study being an avenue for people not academic enough to continue to A-Levels or University. In a recent study undertaken by ‘The Transformation Trust’, it was found that 1/3 of parents asked didn’t know what an apprenticeship was and a further 1/3 saw it as a last option should their children fail exams. By engaging with 11-14 year olds, we can show vocation as an attractive choice with strong and attractive career prospects.

The IWFM believe that Workplace and FM should be promoted as a career of choice. IWFM North Regional Chair Mark Whittaker and Class of Your Own CEO Alison Watson MBE are developing a series of workshops and schemes to take to secondary schools, introducing FM as a sector and giving an overview of some of the job opportunities it can bring.

As well as professional associations, businesses are flying the flag including ABM UK and Engie who are already engaging with our secondary schools. ABM UK has a Junior Engagement Programme and after a successful pilot in three London schools, it will now be rolled out to nine schools UK wide. The scheme aims to tackle perceptions about engineering, FM and apprenticeships among the children and their parents. Engie, one of the UK’s largest facilities services companies, is championing both apprenticeships and internship opportunities for University graduates. One of their recent apprenticeship schemes centred around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and includes a three-year apprenticeship in FM – a level three qualification accredited by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management.

If businesses are not yet looking at engaging with schools, as a sector we should encourage them to think about how they could get further involved with these emerging talent pools. Could your business offer different types of apprenticeships? Does your business attend career fairs to showcase your company and the wider industry? Do you have structures and strategies to support growing talent – or do you only ever hire the ‘finished article’? These are all food for thought.

Another significant barrier to the FM sector, especially for young people today, is the perceived lack of viable career options within soft services. There is question over how you grow and develop your career within this sector – administration, catering and cleaning roles often being a job for life and seen as having no real career path. For those entering this work sphere that’s a grim prospect indeed.

Unattractive salaries are also a challenge in soft services where many roles are still remunerated at minimum wage. These salaries often don’t provide enough due to the rising costs of living and as a result, the roles tend to be targeted at people with few qualifications who are limited in their job options. The Migration Observatory report produced by the University of Oxford shows that cleaning sector workers tend to have lower levels of qualification and an average pay of £8.42 per hour. Some employees find these lower level roles genuinely rewarding, but for many they are simply a way to get paid; because of this the sector is poorly perceived and is often under appreciated. Owing to these factors, lower level soft services roles are often some of the hardest to fill for employers.

The current unattractive nature of some soft services roles poses a risk to the FM sector following Brexit. The UK are set to introduce an entry points system to create a ‘high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy’ and the British Cleaning Council has said it’s ‘very worried and concerned’ about the impact of this system on FM. With 24 per cent of cleaning industry workers coming from outside the UK, FM businesses could risk losing ¼ of their already understaffed workforce. And it’s not just cleaning. The catering sector is also highly staffed by non-UK nationals and there are over £54,000 EU Nationals currently in Administrator roles in the UK.

Twenty-two per cent of businesses are already investing in apprenticeships to try and off-set some of the short-falls Brexit will create and prudent employers are already implementing mitigation strategies. Engaging with schools and changing the perception of soft services is an excellent way to approach this challenge.

Ensuring job opportunities within your business are enticing to the modern job seeker is vital – It’s imperative your staff are appreciated, fairly paid, and have a clear promotional career path. There may need to be some internal culture changes and new paths to success created for those entry level career options, however these changes will pay dividends in establishing a loyal and motivated workforce.

About Sarah OBeirne

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