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Stepping Stones to Study

22 October 2008

Changes to the national structure of education and training offer an opportunity for existing BIFM qualifications to be re-drawn to provide a career ladder for facilities managers. Jane Fenwick explores what is planned

TEENAGERS STARTING TERM IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS this autumn will be the first have the opportunity to study the new Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment. One of 17 new Diploma courses to be introduced to the secondary school curriculum by 2011, it offers a bridge between academic and vocational courses of study and practical experience linking schools, Further Education Colleges and employers.

So far, 44 areas in the country will be involved in delivering the Construction and Built Environment Diploma and over 3,000 students are confirmed to take the course. Major contractors supporting the scheme include Bovis, Laing O’Rourke, Lovell, Wates, Rok, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Persimmon Homes, Carillion and Seddon Group.

Students will take a series of compulsory and optional elements. One of the compulsory elements covers
“The value and use of the built environment including maintenance and management requirements and how built structures affect the community that uses them.”

Historically, FMs have entered the FM sector from another career such as surveying and building services engineering, or from soft services such as catering. Others came to FM almost ‘by mistake’ and in an unplanned way.

All this could about to change. As the framework for national qualifications is changing so too are those for FM. Ofqual has introduced a Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) expressed as credits – Award (1-12 credits), Certificate (13-36 credits) and Diploma (+37 credits). These QCF units are now the basic
building blocks for qualifications.

The BIFM has undertaken a thorough review and consultation across the industry over the last 18 months better match its ‘home grown’ qualifications to this re-structured QCF. It can be best described as a ‘pyramid’ of achievement from entry level to academic dissertation (see left). The BIFM aims to provide
opportunities for Awards, Certificates and Diplomas at Levels 4, 5 and 6.

In April this year BIFM obtained recognition by Ofqual as an ‘Awarding Body’. This means that although the BIFM has been offering professional qualifications since 1966, as an Ofqual accredited Awarding Body it is now externally accredited.

BIFM has some staff are now dedicated to managing the examination and qualification processes and ensuring the standards demanded of Awarding Body status are maintained. Valerie Everett, the BIFM’s director of Professional Standards and Education heads this Awarding Body group among her other duties, and she is also a member of the FM Board of Asset Skills, the Sector Skills Council for the FM sector.

In addition, there are a number of ‘super volunteers’ drawn from the BIFM membership who are part of the team of examiners and moderators, all of whom have relevant levels of knowledge and experience.

The current Part 1 and Part 2 exams fall within levels 4/5 and 5/6 in the QCF structure. QCF has 8 stages from level 1 for Basic skills and literacy through to academic PhD study at university. The levels as they relate to FM are as follows:

8 PhD in FM
7 Academic post graduate MSc FM
3 ILM Awards and diplomas
2 Entry levels skills (GCSEs and NVQs)
1 Basic Skills (literacy)

FM education will start from Level 3. It is envisaged that this level will be ideal for people working in single service lines such as cleaning, catering or security who have been recognized as being able to take a wider role as a first line supervisor.

Everett explained that work is underway to remodel BIFM’s qualifications to align them to the new QCF levels 4, 5 and 6. This will also meets some criticism within BIFM membership that there was too little distinction between the existing Part 1 and Part 2 exams.

She explained; “ In Part 1 exam students study three modules that cover all the 20 BIFM competencies. People have told us that this is a too big step from virtually no knowledge to level 4 which covers ‘everything’. We are now creating a level 3 and this will start to give people a stepping stone approach. Level 4 will continue to give a breath of study but with some mandatory units and some optional ones.”

However, BIFM will not offer the Level 3 itself but has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ILM – Institute for Leadership and Management – to develop the new qualifications for practicing or potential first line FMs. The new qualifications (a name has still to be decided) will have an Award, Certificate and Diploma at Level 3 which can be studied as freestanding qualification, or candidates can progress from Award through to Diploma.

The final approved ILM qualification is due to be announced soon with courses initially at ILM’s 2000 approved centres across the country. Everett explained that her objective is to encourage more providers to come into the market place to widen accessibility to courses around the country and offer a choice of course
providers and study options including in-house employer-led courses which can be more cost effective.

Not everyone will have to start at level 3 and work through. Depending on experience and competence, aspiring FMs will be able to join the ladder of achievement at any appropriate point, or they can work their way through as their career progresses. The new qualifications will offer increased flexibility by giving greater recognition of work-based learning that at present. There will be more opportunities for learners to undertake specific units relevant to their work role and accumulate credits towards the achievement on an Award, Certificate or Diploma.

The recognition by Ofqual of the BIFM’s qualification processes opens the way for the Institute to remodel it Part I and II for accreditation in the new QCF structure. The qualifications at levels 4, 5 and 6 are under development offering levels of achievement from operational to strategic FM. Throughout this change process, the BIFM has been working with its employer members in an employer development group to
develop a modern and appropriate qualification structure. It is currently submitting the new framework to the employer development group, and discussing how it anticipates the qualifications could look at QCF levels 4-6. Everett explained that the concept is for a broader qualification at level 4 with mandatory and optional units, stepping up to a more specialized qualification at level 5 that sees a reduction in the breadth of the
subject covered, but an increase in the depth of knowledge. This will then step up to Level 6 which will provide a true strategic qualification at Diploma level.

Units in the new qualifications will be ready for approval later this year together with a timetable of transitional arrangements for those currently studying to migrate to the new system. Everett explained that will be possible to study one level with a year. As she explained: “ Our driver arising from responses from the BIFM’s research and interviews with employers was the question of timing. We can’t have qualifications that take 3-5 years top complete for people on who have contracts for only two or three years with their
employer. The longer the course of study is, the more difficult it is to aspire to gaining it. Ideally we want students achieve a qualification in a year.”

For those companies who have developed their own academies, there is the prospect of the BIFM
accrediting these employer schemes to become recognized centres of training. This means that they will not have to send their employees to training centres but can provide the training themselves where they have an appropriate training resource. Another possibilities is that from 2009/10 the BIFM can as an awarding body, develop bespoke versions of the qualifications for major employers in the sector to include their specific requirements at different levels.

Other developments include the BIFM working with Asset Skills and ILM to support the development of apprenticeships in FM. Pilot schemes are currently underway in one large FM company and in the health service. Additionally, work is underway to blend the current BIFM CPD study arrangements with the unitised
qualifications with an option to use CPD to fill student’s gaps of experience and knowledge. New competencies are to be added to the CPD framework including leadership, sustainability, regulatory framework and health and safety.

Finally, the BIFM is considering how it can reflect achievement in the qualification structure in membership grades for the Institute. Everett said, “The BIFM is showing leadership to professionalise FM as a career of first choice, and to encourage individuals to take interest in their professional career by providing a pathway
through stages of study and recognizing achievement.”

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