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The adaption game

Jane_BellBritain’s relatively low productivity levels are increasingly in the spotlight, and once again attention is focused on skills shortages and education gaps. But for a fast-changing sector such as FM Jane Bell, director of corporate development – BIFM training, argues there are multiple challenges in keeping competitive which make the learning and development agenda more than a question of improving efficiency levels

Professor John Van Reenen, head of the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE, recently received widespread media attention for his claim that: “By Thursday lunchtime the other countries have produced as much as it takes us to produce by Friday afternoon when we knock off work. 

“So basically we could take every Friday off if we could be as productive as those other countries and earn the same amount of money.” (BBC News)

In comparing Britain’s productivity to that of other countries, notably France and Germany, the Professor highlights the widening gap between our levels of output and the effort involved, which as many of us know from personal experience just seems to demand ever-longer working hours.

Experts attribute Britain’s productivity problems to under-investment in business fundamentals, such as technology and equipment as well as people and skills, which when combined with poor management result in us having to work harder just to keep pace. As we know, the long-term effects are damaging, including reduced motivation and morale as well as inefficiencies in output.

The FM sector is no less immune from these pressures than other parts of the economy. The latest FM Salary Survey, for example, highlights increases in staff turnover rates, reporting big increases in the percentage who had been with their current employer for a year or less. In addition, a quarter of the FMs who had changed jobs in the last year cited perceived limitations on career opportunities as their main reason for switching employers, a significant increase on a year ago.

But the challenges for FM are even more complicated than this might suggest. The survey also highlights the fact that the demographics of the industry are changing significantly with more younger practitioners entering, including directly from universities. The proportion of respondents under 35 in the 2015 survey stands at 33 per cent compared with only 18 per cent five years ago. At the opposite end of the spectrum, those with over 20 years experience in FM are beginning to drop away. The younger profile of FM teams is likely to have wider implications based on changing expectations of work and employers, which are mirrored in the broader workforce. Going forward, one of the key challenges for employers across the board will be to promote staff engagement and to build incentives systems beyond pay and benefits which will help to retain talented individuals.

We already know that training and development opportunities are seen as significant motivators and increasingly client organisations and service providers are seeking ways to link learning programmes more closely to their career progression strategies. However, are we focusing on the right things, and will the investment pay off as FM continues to evolve and change?

The loss of expertise at the more senior levels is prompting many recruiters to warn of future shortfalls at the top end of the industry within the next decade unless succession-planning strategies improve, and of course this also has implications for the so-called ‘pipeline’ of talent at every level in FM organisations, along with the general availability of skills in the sector. As an example, we’ve seen a growing trend towards recruiting staff with so-called ‘soft’ skills as a response to the emphasis on relationship and customer service management in many FM roles. However, this has led to gaps in knowledge of technical and engineering services in some organisations, which presents a continuing challenge, and one that is likely to grow more acute as senior staff with traditional ‘hard services’ backgrounds leave or retire.

The international growth of FM creates its own set of challenges in terms of transferring knowledge and skills. The UK is perceived to be a world-leading source of good practice knowledge and innovation in FM, which has created considerable demand for experienced practitioners in many countries, notably in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Those with the right capabilities can still benefit from an exciting range of international opportunities, but as markets start to mature individuals will increasingly need to compete with local management talent, and will require suitable language skills as well as knowledge of local markets and culture to be effective.

Facilities Management has always been a highly diverse function and continues to shift and grow beyond its recognised boundaries, which is one important reason why achieving a single unified definition has proved so difficult. The BIFM’s valuable work over the last decade has undoubtedly helped to give a clearer focus to the broad territory of professional FM.

However, interpreting the roadmap of competences and standards in the context of individual organisations’ requirements requires considerable sensitivity to the balance of demands as the emphasis in any one situation can vary enormously. Nor do things stand still and the range of competences is certain to evolve further.

Looking ahead it’s clear that leaps in technology could provide an important catalyst for change – both in terms of helping to re-shape how we work and boosting creativity. As artificial intelligence matures to the point where it is routinely embedded in everyday products and tools, workers have exciting new opportunities to achieve more and better things. But according to Microsoft’s chief envisioning officer, Dave Coplin who spoke at the recent Think FM Conference in London, the promise won’t be realised if we simply try to automate existing ways of working. His conclusion after 25 years in IT is that technology often constrains rather than enables productivity. Instead he feels we need to focus on creating cultures which support transformation and fully engage staff by making them feel they can make a difference.

This is no small challenge and there are potentially massive implications for the balance of skills and capabilities required. As well as the existing broad scope of disciplines whole new dimensions around technology and innovation may be required as an integral part of managing change, not to mention much improved people and communications skills.

About Sarah OBeirne

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