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Fast train to FM

31 May 2012

Noel Clancy

Industry still needs a clearer focus when it comes to attracting and training raw recruits, as Tim Fryer found out from Shepherd FM’s managing Director, Noel Clancy.

It is clear that not all in the world of FM is as it should be. There are fundamental problems in the way the sector has evolved that make recruitment and career development difficult to counter. This, according to Clancy who is an optimist by nature, presents opportunities.

While these opportunities lie in corporate and personal development, it is worth looking at where Clancy believes the problems have come from, and it starts from a procurement culture that can be short term in its outlook. “This may adversely affect the quality of service provided and also the clients core output,” said Clancy. “There is a small, but growing, segment of the procurement world that is inhabited by transient consultants. Buyers are often in a very difficult space. Buy cheap and they can become the fall guys - think long term and they won't always be around to see the merits of their forward thinking, claims Clancy. He goes on, the quality of the resulting service, which you could view as the consequences of 'shorting', are sometimes of no concern to the procurement consultant as his behaviour is being driven a different way from above. Why can't procurement teams bonuses be index linked to output? Silo procurement is the worst offender where buyers do the deal and run.“

This combination of short-termism in procurement along with TUPE, is effectively acting as a block to companies investing in training and, equally, individuals progressing their careers. This is where Clancy believes the opportunities arise, and there is a consistency about how he sees both his company and new recruits progressing.

This is where TUPE comes in – to protect those in danger of losing jobs by switching to outsourcing (or switching suppliers) – but Clancy doesn’t think that, however well-conceived TUPE was, that it always is beneficial. He commented: “ TUPE was put in for exactly the right reasons and I think in the main it still has a lot of value, but if you think about it now it is almost acting like an unofficial union because staff who are on sites will stay there when a contract is changed no matter how they are performing. Clients unhappy with their service often don’t get that it will be the same people who will still be there even if they change provider. Someone may be the reason that the old contractor has lost the contract, but they may get a pay increase, new overalls and everything carries on the same. The only chance is awarding the contract to a business who will strive to manage and develop their newly adopted team. And so I believe some of our competitors are not willing to invest in training these new recruits because if, it is on a three year deal, they are really deemed as pass - through labour.”

As FM providers go, Shepherd FM is relatively young – Clancy having started the company under the Shepherd FM name about four years ago. Clancy believes that the staff should play an active part in how the company grows and develops.

“If we get 50 people transferring into us that’s a massive asset for us, that helps us win the next contract,” explains Clancy. “That makes us stronger. Probably gives us some skills sets we didn’t have yesterday. So we prize that, we treat it as recruitment. And we can sit down with them, look at their skill sets and give that person a feeling of being wanted. It can actually give them a new start. But I do know that the big companies don’t necessary have the time or interest to do this – why would you invest £5000 on a training programme on a team that you are possibly going to lose in a year? It is easier to shut the door and let them get on with it. And that is where TUPE has let people down. The bad people – the non-performers – are protected. The good people all too often get thrown into that same box unfortunately.”

Investing in raw recruits, inherited staff and existing personnel is therefore not a policy that Clancy harbours for reasons of social conscience, he believes it is good for the business. “If we get to the point where we can no longer look after our people then I don’t want to be head of this business anymore. And I don’t think it is that difficult to do either. If you look at the heads of large organisations they have come in as heads of large organisations and it is very hard to reverse some of the cycles and some of the legacy piece. When I came to Shepherd it was very, very small and I had the opportunity to put something in place that we could grow the right way. That means putting our hand in our pocket, it means training and making it more exciting for the people in here, but it also means giving opportunities to people who have had very little opportunity. That’s not because I want to be a saint, that is because I think they could do a job for us. Someone who comes in here having been given a chance would, I believe, want to pay me back for that. Not everyone, some will fall by the wayside, but most people who have worked their way up the hard way will see this as an exciting business.”

Part of the reason why Clancy sees in house expertise as important is the business plan that will see Shepherd FM self-deliver the vast majority of its services. He commented: “We are not a managed provider, so we want to have the skills in this organisation to actually do for customers what we are telling them needs doing. We don’t want to be another frustrated layer and I think that is where a lot of the managed businesses are at the moment.

A main part of Shepherd’s training drive will continue to focus on customer service, as Clancy does not believe that customers will settle for second best service even if they are cutting back on budget. The solution is to get operators understanding the effect their work has on the client. “If we employee 10 engineers they are 9 times out of 10 going to be qualified to do the job. What we focus on is their customer service skills and that is all part of taking people out of plant rooms, out of kitchens, out of back office areas and making them understand what is on the end of the service they provide. Understanding why we do what we do. And why the customer pays us to do this in the first place and what it means to them if it goes wrong. This may sound obvious but I assure you for a large majority, it is not.“

However, with the drive to self –deliver, a more structured programme will be designed to offer customers expertise in every item on the Shepherd ‘menu’. This will be based around the company’s ‘Academy’ as Clancy clearly believes that the industry lacks the right sort of focussed training that is meaningful to both employers and the end-client’s needs. He said: “There are a lot of egos in FM and people saying we should professionalise it more – what does that mean? How do we professionalise what we do? It is very difficult from CVs in this industry to tell what people are actually good at. They say they are experts in soft services or hard services, but what does that actually mean? If you push people they can’t actually tell you what it means, they can just tell you directly what they have done and that is not always the same as the next person with the same things written on their CVs.

“If you look around leaders and managers in FM companies and asked them how they are qualified to do their jobs there would be some very vague answers. There has been no structure and it is all a bit of a grey area. I’m not suggesting that we all go back and get accreditations, but when we are dealing with raw recruits and bringing these trainees into this organisation now, wouldn’t it be nice to say that there are a certain number of modules that get you to a place that says that you are an FM and you can specialise in a core area. You will have to work in several different areas but you are going to have an expertise in a specific field. You will have something that says you have been to college and had enough experience in this area to speak with conviction about it.

“That is where the professionalism thing comes in. There could be some sort of chartered status, like RICS, to say that you understand property. It might be that you understand the real estate bit, you might understand the security, the engineering, the concierge… These are the modules that could be part of the programme. I am not aware of anything like this existing at the moment and I am certainly not aware of it from the people who present themselves to us. We have experts in this business – people who have spent all their lives on catering or cleaning and are experts in that field, but I am talking about the new blood coming through. We may get more people coming out of school earlier, not worrying about college, if they had two or three of these modules that they could cling on to and when they have those they can knock more loudly on the door when they go and see an FM provider.”

It is not going to change overnight, and other organisations clearly will have their own views on the best way to train the next generation, but the Shepherd approach will directly addresses some of the problems with recruitment and training that Clancy perceives. He concluded: “As a problem it is ‘crackable’, and we are in a position to make a difference. Not a huge one, we are not going to turn the industry on its head, but we can do our part .”

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