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Food to Facilities

21 October 2008

Businesses developing new areas of activity need to attract and retain new staff. Sodexo is increasingly offering delivery of a range of facilities services as well as catering, and it has focussed on developing its people as well as its brand

SODEXO IS A NAME SYNONYMOUS WITH FOOD and this global company has a long history in providing
catering services to a wealth of industry sectors. However, food is by no means the only string to its bow – Sodexo is also a growing force in the UK facilities management market. FM services now account for 40 per cent of Sodexo’s total UK business, compared to around 15 per cent in 2000. This area is seen as key to Sodexo’s ambitious growth plans and will undoubtedly account for an even bigger proportion of its business in the coming years.

Sodexo offers a range of services in both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ FM areas ranging from cleaning and reception, to building maintenance and landscaping. Many of its clients use Sodexo for several – or multiple – FM services, and the company also holds a number of PFI contracts.

So how has a company with its roots firmly entrenched in catering managed the transition from ‘cook’ to ‘master of all’ so successfully?

Recruiting, developing and retaining the right people has been essential to achieving its FM goals. This sounds simple in principle but, given the inherent catering bias of the business, equipping teams with the knowledge and skills required for FM contracts has not been without its issues.

“Our FM business has grown rapidly over the last few years, and the challenge has been to ensure we have the right skill set in-house to deliver such services,” says Thomas Huscroft, Sodexo’s head of learning and development for UK and Ireland.

“It has been great that a lot of our growth has been organic, with existing clients inviting us to take on other elements of their non-core activities – for example, where we have catering contracts in hospitals, we might also be asked to do cleaning. And it’s not then just a simple case of drafting in our fully trained cleaners to do the job, we also have to review whether the Sodexo management team in place at that contract have the qualifications and experience to oversee this additional service.”

Where possible, Sodexo strives to fill FM roles with internal talent, and will consider whether a current gap in the knowledge or skills of an inhouse candidate can be rectified through training before looking externally. But given the speed at which this area of its business has grown, and the specialist skills required by some contracts, it is sometimes necessary to appoint experts from outside the business.

Claire Wragg, resourcing manager for Sodexo, explains that attracting FM specialists has proven tricky in the past. Despite the fact that a big chunk of our business now comes from FM contracts, Sodexo is still very much perceived as a catering company to the external recruitment market. Chefs looking for work are likely to have Sodexo on their radar, but many facilities managers will simply not be familiar with our business. And this lack of recognition by prospective employees has sometimes made recruitment more difficult.”

To overcome this issue, Sodexo is making a concerted effort to raise its brand profile in the FM marketplace. The company now employs a growing number of people from ‘pure’ facilities management backgrounds – which opens further doors into the FM world, as each will have worked with other specialists, and some of these may be interested in future opportunities.

Louise Gavin is one such person. She joined Sodexo as a recruitment and talent advisor in May, from a specialist FM recruitment agency. With five years’ industry background, Louise has a wealth of contacts and also sits on the committee for the Facilities Management Association’s Young Managers Forum.

“I’m already noticing that awareness of Sodexo as a facilities management organisation is growing in the job marketplace – we’re now starting to receive pro-active calls from potential FM candidates who are interested in whether we have vacancies,” says Louise. “However, we still need to do more to improve our profile, and we are looking at FM careers fairs and networking opportunities as ways of boosting our standing with potential talent.”

Whether staff are brought into the business, or developed from within, Sodexo is fully committed to ensuring they have the appropriate skills, certificates and qualifications they need to carry out their jobs. Between June 2008 and May 2009, the company carried out over 8,000 participant training days, running over 600 courses in total.

Of the many courses Sodexo provides for its employees, the most requested over this time period were IOSH and RIPH / CIEH, demonstrating the commitment of the company and its employees to working safely.

The company has also created a two-day ‘Introduction to Integrated Facilities Management’ programme. This is designed as a first step for managers wanting to branch out into additional services. For example, a catering manager might see an opportunity to offer a client reception or grounds maintenance services. The programme gives a good overview of facilities management, the legislation which applies, and the
interpersonal side of managing more of a client’s business.

Sodexo also runs a wealth of general courses for site-based FM employees, in areas such as cleaning, security, reception, working safely, as well as both personal and managerial skills. However, individual contracts will sometimes require employees to have additional, niche training. For example, while Sodexo ensures that all cleaning contract staff go through its internal programmes, at times this will need to be
supplemented by further training – such as cleaning for laboratory clean rooms and sterile environments. Where necessary, Sodexo will bring in partners to give specialist training.

The business is currently in the process of formalising the different service offers it provides and, as part of this, is clarifying the training and development process for employees at each level within that offer. One example is ‘Secure’ Sodexo’s service offer specifically aimed at delivering security services within an integrated facilities management framework.

“The cornerstone of the offer is the on-site manager who is able to react organically to the needs of our client and staff” explains Kathy Ridgard, central operations manager. “This is an important selling point, as clients need to be confident that any contractor they employ meets all the required regulations. Sodexo has opted to engage with the Security Industry Authority’s Approved Contractor Scheme as it sees this to be a fundamental stepping stone to ensuring that all staff acquire a high level of competency in their roles. The security industry has become increasingly legislative in order to clean up its image and prevent ‘cowboy’ operators putting clients at risk.”

In June this year, Sodexo was awarded Approved Contractor Status accreditation from the Security Industry Authority (SIA), a first for a company in the foodservice industry. This accreditation was achieved after a year-long drive to meet the approval requirements. As part of this, Sodexo implemented quality management
systems in all client-based security premises, with a quality assurance manager assigned to liaise with the client and ensure ongoing compliance. The business also had to achieve ISO9001 certification and Sodexo has partnered with reputable external organisations to provide employee vetting services and ISO and ACS

All security staff are fully licensed – compulsory licensing of all security guards has already been introduced in England, Wales and Scotland, and will be introduced in Northern Ireland in March 2009. To gain licenses, security guards must undertake standard four-day courses which cover areas such as ethical principles, conflict management training, and control and restraint etc. Sodexo tends to work with partner companies to deliver this training, but as its security business is growing rapidly, the company is progressing towards completing this training inhouse, and the team will be in a position to do this from early next year.

The company already runs courses for its managers, which aim to raise awareness of security legislation and the skills required to support a security offer. As many of the company’s managers come from catering
backgrounds, these workshops are essential to equip them to drive forward Sodexo’s security business.

“Our investment in ‘Secure’ is really paying off, and since we gained ACS accreditation, we have doubled the number of contracts we deliver,” finishes Kathy.

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