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The Long View

15 July 2006

The promise of action on improving FM skills and communications with the wider business community emerged from a roundtable debate of representatives from the spectrum of opinion across the sector. Frank Booty listened to the wide ranging conversation and reports for PFM

UNDER A WORKING TITLE OF 'The future of FM in the UK' several leading figures in the FM world met at Barclays HQ in Canary Wharf to debate the burning issues. The meeting, held last month was hosted by the Head of Barclays Support Services Group, Nicki Thompson and Relationship Director, Steve Francis, and organised by the FM website, www.i-fm.net, MD David Emanuel and editor, Elliott Chase. The wide-ranging discussion contemplated
...Where is this industry going?
...How does it collaborate to get the recognition that it needs?
...Does the industry have a strategy for its own development?
...Is the media engaged and providing effective support?
...What can we do to attract and retain more good young people in FM?
...Is greater professionalisation the right course?
...Is chartership the right goal?

The last i-FM.net organised roundtable held 18 months ago had raised some issues in the industry, and while the debate topics were similar the location on the 37th floor of Barclays HQ in Canary Wharf inspired a lively event that promises to create some positive outcomes.

A straw poll by Emanuel among those attending revealed that the key problems facing the FM sector are that it
...is not an adequately recognised discipline in the wider business environment
...is not regularly reported on in the general business or national press
...does not have a strategy for growth
...none of the relevant associations are collaborating effectively.

A profession?
However, the group, which was representative of FM practitioners, academics, professional bodies, recruiters and the press, was undecided about whether facilities management should beconsidered as an 'industry' or a 'profession', or both.

This lack of clarity is all part of the problem. Mike Cant, representing the RICS FM Faculty said, °The FM industry is all about delivering exceptional services, and is not essentially about qualifications,¡"while Richard Beamish, chief executive of Asset Skills, suggested that qualifications represent the 'carrot'. Martin Pickard, an FM consultant and past president of the IFMA UK Chapter, conjectured °We are failing to win the cost versus value dynamic."

Similar conversations and conclusions were reached in the round table debate 18 months ago, and then as now, there is a strong commitment across a broad range of bodies such as BIFM, IFMA, FMA, BSA, CIBSE, Global FM, RICS FM faculty, and others to the development of FM.

The difference this time is that agreement was reached on several fronts including support for
...the development of a Skills Academy
...setting up an independent vehicle to promote FM
...and forming a working party to take action.

Career path
How do you get started in FM? It sounds a simple enough question but the reality is, of course, quite different. As Jane Wiggins, a training consultant at BPP Malpas, pointed out, there are the various routes to the BIFM Qual ¨C through Parts I and II, via an accredited MSc or from accruing 20 years experience in the industry and then completing the Part III self assessment book. Since 1998, when the BIFM Qual first appeared, there are now 18 people with the qualification - that equates to just two people a year!

Pickard expressed concern that one of the first things BIFM did when the IFMA UK Chapter was 'reborn' as division of BIFM was to "kill off" IFMA's highly-regarded CFM professional vocational qualification. The round table members also debated the MBIFM qualification or designation and where it fitted into the overall skills structure which includes postgraduate qualifications and a new BTec in FM.

From the perspective of the Skills Council, Beamish said there is less interest in the 'status' of a profession, and rather more interest in 'competence' in the ability to carry out work now and for the future. "You need a longer view and for there to be a progression from school through to the highest levels. Young people need to see a way through from the humblest beginnings to the very top."

Comparison was made with the legal profession where there are clear and defined career tracks from solicitor to the bar, to becoming a QC, and finally to becoming a judge. Career structures exist in construction, engineering and surveying, but there is no a clear path in FM. Lessons could be learned from other disciplines and more should be done to go out to schools to inform pupils about FM as a career options.

Following a suggestion that employers should be encouraged to adopt a school to inculcate the many positive points of entering the FM profession, the notion emerged that a 'Jamie Oliver' figure for the FM world was needed to raise the profile of FM and make it an attractive option.

Skills academy
Beamish outlined the concept for National Skills Academy to cover the Asset Skills sector. Funding is likely to be derived through local and Skills Council funding, Government and matched by employers in relevant sectors. The project extends across all industry sectors and an employer related body will be required for endorsement. Val Hiscock, Deputy Director General of the BSA, explained that the BSA is already working with relevant bodies to apply for the National Skills Academy to cover FM.

Whilst the Skills Academy was seen as a good initiative, there still existed a confusion of qualifications. There is the BIFM Qual achieved by only a few, the internationally recognised CFM - Certified Facility Manager - qualification from IFMA and now the RICS is working on a Chartered FM Surveyor qualification, a position that, Emanuel argued, made the case for aiming for Chartered status to achieve a common professional standing for FM.

FM research was seen as a key area that is vital to defining a profession and/or industry. However, in FM good data is hard to find and there is little sharing research and innovations. Peter McLennan from The Bartlett School at the University of London, highlighted how DTI's Knowledge Transfer Programme which creates applications for theoretical conceptual work could add value in the context of FM. He explained that partnerships had been set up between higher education institutions and companies to create a product. "Examples include the development of a software tool with Alexei Marmot Associates and service value chain ideas with IPD Occupiers," McLennan explained.

Moving ahead
As an industry, it was widely accepted that FM does not adequately communicate outside its own sector, and relying on the promoting the corporate view of BIFM was not the answer. A clear concensus emerged that a body that is charged with the mission to promote the industry externally, to the media, private market,
etc is required.

This body would promote understanding of FM, demonstrate the value that is created for UK plc and show the scale of influence FMs enjoy. In advance of 2012, when the focus will be on Olympics and London, this body needs to build a wider recognition of FM and demonstrate its role in driving efficiency. It could promote more collaboration across the sector and a higher profile for FMs compared other professions. There was a clear recognition at the meeting that the Olympics will not proceed smoothly without FM, and the FM sector must promote its potential contribution to a successful event in a single, clear message.

Pickard suggested a working party comprising some of the individuals attending should be set up immediately to consider how this body could work and whether it could also have a wider role taking in promotion of FM to a wider audience through the national press, for example, encourage engagement with government and emulate the success of a strong and positive government agenda for FM in Australia.

Barclays generously offered the use of its facilities to host the working party, Beamish indicated that Asset Skills would join and Cant offered to help in running the body.

If this round table meeting achieves this aim, it could prove to be a significant step forward for FM in the UK. It is sorely needed. Remember the mantra: communication, communication and communication. Without it we might all as well pack up go home.

..Frank Booty is a freelance journalist


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