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Is the future bright?

William Betts, Senior Associate at recruitment consultancy Macdonald & Company, shares his predictions for the FM sector in 2018

FM continues to be an evolving industry that is at the forefront of business transformation. The 2017 RICS & IFMA Raising the Bar research report suggested that FM professionals have assumed two distinct roles in recent years. Facility Professionals, the traditional role of FM, make buildings work, whereas Workplace Professionals ensure that those facilities serve the needs of the business and its workforce.

The root cause of this could be that while companies are continuing to invest more than they did in the years running out of the credit crunch, they need to maximise their return on those investments through the better management of assets.

Of course, not everyone is investing. A key point raised at the 2017 RICS Commercial Property Conference was that Brexit has put many investment decisions on hold. However, regardless of whether companies are actively investing or not, more emphasis is being placed on better management and FM is key to implementing this. The market for Facility Professionals in the traditional sense has remained largely unchanged, but there has been a clear shift in the need for Workplace Professionals and those who fit between the two.

Artificial intelligence and automation is a hot topic at the moment and while I haven’t seen any direct evidence that it is threatening the FM sector as a whole, it is certainly changing the built environment. This, in turn, is having an impact on FM. One consequence of technology is the drastic contrast between the success of the retail and industrial property sectors. Retail is continuing to suffer against the rise of online purchases which, in turn, is fuelling the demand for industrial distribution and logistics centres.

There has also been a huge rise in the serviced office community. WeWork entered the market three years ago and is about to become the largest office tenant in London. Surely the increase in automation and building intelligence has helped to contribute to this?

When it comes to artificial intelligence though, few industries are completely safe and the key rule is to stay ahead of the game. Low-skilled positions will always be threatened by automation in any industry driven by cost. Just ask yourself: will it be cheaper for a robot to do my job? The pace of change is hard to predict, but the impact that Uber had on the Taxi sector is enough to make anyone want to stay ahead. The way forward has to be education and training, so that as a skilled worker you continue to offer commercial value. The new suite of qualifications from RICS and IFMA provide a fantastic opportunity to advance your career because they enable you to further verify your skills in the industry.

CHANGES IN THE FM RECRUITMENT MARKET
It’s been a really busy year for the FM team at Macdonald & Company, but again salaries haven’t really changed. This is one of the findings of our annual salary survey that we produce on behalf of the RICS (https://www.ricsrecruit.com/article/2017-salary-survey-rics-macdonald/). The UK continues to have stagnation in salaries, yet increasing living costs mean that people are feeling the pinch. I often have candidates that feel underpaid in their roles yet are already on a market rate salary. Is the industry due a pay rise?

Interestingly, our survey highlights that qualifications do add value to salaries – on average, holding a RICS qualification leads to a 32.3 per cent higher base salary.

We’re also finding that salaries aren’t always the key reason for people to move. Often work/life balance is cited as one of the biggest reasons, together with the ambition to find new challenges.

IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE OF A SKILLS SHORTAGE?
Speaking to my clients, there are skills shortages when it comes to finding FM professionals who think about the wider service from a strategic viewpoint, and do more than just ‘make buildings work’. My clients want people who question the status quo, and keep pushing service standards from sheer passion.

My view point has always been that there is only so much that can be taught in a classroom, whereas a large amount of valuable experience is gained on the job. I believe that there could be more done by government and employers to promote apprenticeships, but to also shake up the typical classroom environment. I spoke to a close client recently who struggles to find people with the know-how to deliver five-star hospitality services. His solution was very simple. He takes his team members into five-star environments where they experience the required level of service first-hand, and realise their passion for it. Could there be more done to show off excellent FM environments to inspire existing and potential FMs?

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS ARE EMPLOYERS LOOKING FOR?
FM is renowned for being an industry where people come into it from different avenues and with few qualifications. So, it can be hard to differentiate different levels of skill set. That’s why it is extremely valuable to verify your level of knowledge and skill through industry qualifications and membership status. We’ve seen an increased awareness of, and demand for, the MRICS and AssocRICS certifications within FM. The IFMA-RICS suite of qualifications are likely to have a similar impact, so if you want to prove or to further your FM knowledge then I’d highly recommend them to keep that hot candidate status.

WHAT CAREER ACTIONS SHOULD ASPIRING STRATEGIC/SENIOR FMS TAKE?
Aim for recognised industry qualifications – get the ‘stamp of approval’ for your experience and leadership skills with a RICS qualification

  • Subscribe to relevant publications, e.g. RICS Strategic FM newsletter, FMJ, i-FM
  • Keep up-to-date with how FM is evolving, and benchmark how you’re managing your own FM model against others
  • Consider taking a position with a greater workload to gain the wider experience/skills it could offer
  • Always ask your clients about what you’re doing well or not so well – this should feed into your career development plans.

OUTLOOK FOR FM OVER THE SHORT AND MEDIUM TERMS
In the short term, I believe that companies are going to continue to hold off some of their investment plans, leading to the status quo being maintained.

In the medium term, there are some really exciting changes ahead. Once Brexit negotiations are complete, companies will know where they need to focus their investments. This will shake up the FM industry, and will lead to increased clarity between the roles of the traditional Facility Professionals and the Workplace Professionals.

As artificial intelligence and automation continue to change the way we do things, the UK property market will undergo significant changes. This will alter the way we use our properties, leading to an exciting time to be in FM!

About Sarah OBeirne

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