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Is it time for FM to be chartered?

15 October 2009

Yesterday’s debate on chartered status for FM professionals held to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the College of Estate Management, revealed differences of opinion across the FM sector which have still to be resolved, as Frank Booty reports

The fascinating Cabinet War Rooms museum in Central London was the location from where Churchill spent much time directing the Second World War. On 13 October it was the location from where the College of Estate Management hosted its 90th anniversary FM CPD lecture and reception “Is it time for FM to be chartered?”
Originally it looked as though this might have proved to be a key choice of location to hold such a debate as the speaker lined up was Iain Murray, chairman of BIFM. In the event he was unable to attend and the new speaker was Paul Francis, MD of Modus Services and also committee member of RICS facilities management executive group, which recently published its guidance note: “The strategic role of facilities management in business performance.”  The subject of the talk remained the same.
Any links between directing war efforts and the current state of the disparity of thinking over FM ends there. Earlier, in an interview with, Murray had said, “I would like to see chartership back on the agenda and I am hoping to get the BIFM board to consider whether it should be seriously researched. I believe we are in the right place structurally, in the right place mentally and in the right place with our peers. Our education framework is developing, and the people that are in the profession are thinking that chartership is something to consider. So I am going to try to push that forward.”
In March 2007, the Facilities Management Association and Chartered Management Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding bringing chartered status within reach of FMs with a management background. It was the culmination of a long ongoing debate principally driven by the FMA’s Young Managers’ Forum where the key concern had been credibility for FMs when dealing with their peers from the engineering and surveying professions, which have long enjoyed chartered status.
This was also a corporate drive in that FMA corporate members had joined in to ensure effective and accredited training for FMs, culminating in professional recognition. Members at the time such as ISS Coflex, Jones Lang LaSalle, Taylor Woodrow, Keir Facilities Management, Bailey Maintenance and TNT Managed Services amongst others discussed how they could utilise such a service in terms of mapping and accrediting their in-house training programmes. The widespread support ensuing lead to the industry first.
While the situation still is that the more accredited professionals there are in the FM industry, the better for everyone, it is not known how much further the CMI, FMA chartered initiative has progressed. There are definitely two young FMs who have achieved chartered recognition. Progress indeed.
Meanwhile the BIFM is overhauling its membership structure from next January, introducing a new grade of Certified member, denoted by the post-nominals CBIFM which replaces the BIFM (Qual). BIFM will now have five grades of membership: associate, member, certified, fellow and honorary fellow. The first three can be achieved through direct entry, i.e. applications can be made to join at those grades.
At the CEM’s London debate, Francis said, “Someone needs to lead and ensure change is established, and that there are longer term benefits. We need to discuss, debate, form opinions, listen and contribute, and share ideas and experiences. FM and property related costs constitute the second largest cost to an organisation after staff and ‘materiel’. It should be a high priority for any organisation.”
There are HR directors at board level and IT directors but few FM directors at this esteemed position. Why should this be? The required skills of FM directors are competence, consultancy, customer focus and people skills – as are required of all RICS members. Francis added: “That’s professional, technical and commercial competence, general and special relationship and communications skills, and standards of integrity and excellence. RICS stands for advancing global standards in land, property and construction – and construction is the world’s largest industry.”
RICS received its royal charter in 1868. “Chartered is the mark that shows a surveyor has achieved the very highest standard of professional competence,” said Francis.
Meanwhile, RICS chief executive Louis Armstrong is on record with, “Chartered FM surveyors have the unique opportunity to work in all sectors and industries ensuring organisations operate efficiently.”
To back this up, one refers to the White Book, the guidance note referenced earlier, which Francis is keen to point out is a document with a clear intent to deliver services and not an operations manual on how to do FM.
But there remains the disparity of thinking over FM. If we can’t agree what FM is, how can we tell the world how good we are at it? RICS chooses the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) definition of FM in the White Book – “a discipline that improves and supports the productivity of an organisation by delivering all needed appropriate services, infrastructures, etc, that are needed to achieve business objectives.”
Francis added that FM is about “understanding the organisation, role, value add strategy on infrastructure, estate, fabric, services, utilities and corporate social responsibility.” A wide range of skills is necessary to produce the best FM. Why is it that given what comes under the remit of an FM – legal, HR, health and safety, fabric, etc, etc – the FM does not enjoy the salary and benefits accruing to a legal eagle or HR guru? No-one can be found to answer the question. Where do FMs come from? Architects? Engineers? Surveyors?
How does a young person seeking to enter the profession go about it? A degree? That’s possible in Holland and Austria – but the UK? A search (on Google) produces four places in the UK which offer undergraduate courses: Kent, Central Lancashire, Uhi Millennium Institute, and Highbury College. Plus there is a solid choice in MSc courses, indeed quite a few. If you search in the architects, engineering and surveying sectors, the results are somewhat richer in content response.
Mike Ripper of Coretex International and also in the RICS facilities management executive group, made an interesting point. He said that a cleaner doing a worthwhile job, seeking to forge a career path, is unlikely to want to devote five, six or seven years of study to become a surveyor or engineer, before seeking chartered FM status. The broad offerings of courses through BIFM would be more suitable and can offer clear pathways through professional membership and career development.
Likewise, a senior member of an institution is unlikely to seek chartered status if they have say only a few years to go before retirement, and don’t need further accolades on a CV.
“So, is it time for FM to be chartered?” Francis asked. “Yes, we already are. RICS exists and is recognised worldwide. There is excellent brand recognition and an associated reputation.”
But it does need to be pointed out that while RICS has some 12,000 members in its FM group, some of them will have selected the group as one of four or five they are allowed to join as part of their membership structure. 
To round off the points raised and drive home the standing of RICS, Francis referred to an advertisement in The Sunday Times newspaper of 11 October seeking a bursar for a prestigious school. The role of the job described a typical remit of an FM – budgets, health and safety, energy, cleaning, security, etc. The key qualifications looked for were “MRICS or equivalent.  When the White Book was published two months ago, we said it would be good if we achieved the standard in five years. To achieve this in such a short time is very rewarding indeed.”
The College of Estate Management did well to serve up this debate as part of its 90th anniversary. There are many points that need addressing in FM but one that does need attention is the one concerning agreement. If we really cannot agree exactly what FM is – how on Earth can we tell everyone how good we are at it?
Frank Booty is a freelance writer reporting for FM Report

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