“What changes have you experienced in the Facilities Management (FM) sector in the last 10 years and what do you see as the future trends?” One of the most common interview questions we all face when looking for new roles, designed to showcase if the candidate has a strategic understanding of the sector they operate within. October 2018 marks my 10-year anniversary within the FM industry, and the biggest change I’ve experienced is the definition of FM career pathways, more specifically the rise of a defined path for FM training. When I joined the sector in 2008, it struck me that is was near impossible to compare people within the sector in terms of how far advanced they were in their career. I’d met facilities managers who were on £30k, with less than two years’ experience that looked after an office of around 50 people, but similarly met facilities managers who were on £70k, with 20 years’ experience that looked after an office of thousands. It was an interesting challenge for the FM sector that roles could have the same title, but the individuals fulfilling them could be at entirely different ends of the ability scale. I still see this issue to some extent within FM, and it’s one of the issues which holds us back as a sector but, 10 years on, things are significantly more defined and continue to be clarified.
The key to this change and definition of the FM pathway is almost entirely down to the BIFM. I can still remember the day that BIFM announced the defined Levels 2 to 7 pathway within FM. It struck me that this is what the industry had been waiting for. It finally defined what each level meant, what skillset was required to pass it, what role the candidate would be completing to take that level of training, and established a metric to compare people within the industry. The impact this had on my career was I wanted to gain Level 7 as early as I could. Aged 23 the BIFM pathway had recently been defined and I’d just been promoted to Account Manager. I was offered the opportunity to take a BIFM level 7 and grabbed it with both hands. I completed the MSc over two years and it opened up my world operationally and strategically. It gave me a confidence to talk strategically to senior FM professionals and allowed me to gain an academic understanding of the sector which I could feed back into my operational delivery. I achieved a Distinction in the course and shortly after finishing was promoted to Associate Director aged 25, going on to become one of the youngest ever people to achieve Certified BIFM status in the institute’s history.
Achieving level 7 opened doors, grew my FM intellect, gave me confidence to operate well above my age and fundamentally gave me a great underpinning to establish my own facilities services business aged 27. Fast forward to today and, as an industry, we’re expecting more senior managers to have a BSc (level 6) or MSc (level 7) to even apply for roles, let alone the expectations for them to keep pushing their career educationally once they are in post. But more importantly, the sector has set an expectation that the industry leaders are pushing the training pathways at the earlier stages of people’s career. Specifically, that means more senior FM operatives should be working towards their level four, and middle managers are expected to come with level 5 and be keen to be working towards their level 6. It’s a higher level of expectations but it’s also just what the industry needed.
The other important rise we’ve seen in the last 10 years is the enhanced standing of apprenticeships. I’m an enormous advocate and think the Apprenticeship Levy has been a great step forward to force businesses to spend money on training. For me apprenticeships used to be socially seen as predominantly electrical/mechanical engineering-based opportunities for young males. Today that’s been totally flipped on its head, and offers previously unseen opportunities to get into all aspects of FM. From business administration to general FM, to FM supervision through to more traditional routes in catering, cleaning, security and engineering. This offers opportunities to attract diversity to the sector at an early age, something the sector still desperately needs. At Pareto, we use apprenticeships to strategic effect with our pioneering Hybrid Apprenticeship scheme which sees candidates complete an electrical qualification but also spend half of their apprenticeship within the facilities management team to get a wider understanding of the importance of customer service skills.
Although an advocate of training, I still don’t believe it’s a prerequisite to achieve great things within FM. In fact, far from it. The defined FM pathway has not restricted opportunities for those who haven’t sought out a defined training pathway. This fact is also what makes FM unique as a sector. Still today some of the best FM professionals operating in this sector have never completed any level of training. That’s because to be successful in FM you don’t necessarily need educational prowess, but you certainly need skills in problem solving, common sense, ownership, drive, hardiness, ‘get things done’ attitude, thinking outside the box and being the go to person for everything. I believe that is what makes a great facilities manager today. Skills you can’t obtain in a classroom.
However, the landscape is changing. More people within the sector are achieving these Level 2 to Level 7 qualifications outlined above which will start to derive those individual’s competitive advantage from a job seeking perspective. The nature of recruitment lends itself to comparing candidates with simple metrics, of which training level is now one of them. This may restrict opportunities for those with experience but not training.
Returning to the hypothesised question at the start of this article in terms of “What do you see as future trends?”… immediately, operational experience will remain important but in the next 10 years, to progress your career at the swiftest rate, jumping on the FM training pathway at your earliest opportunity may just accelerate your career. FM has always been about having a real mix of skills, bringing a qualification in to mix is just another string to be added to the ever-growing facilities -based bow.