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FM 'the business chameleon'

Experts from the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), Rising FMs BIFM special interest group, the Facilities Show and waste management company SITA, discuss the role that formalised education, ongoing Continual Professional Development (CPD) and training plays in putting the evolving role of the FM firmly on the map as an established profession.

FM 'the business chameleon'

Estimated to be worth between £40bn and £95bn per annum in the UK alone*, the facilities management function underpins successful business strategies in thousands of UK organisations every year. As the chameleon of the business world, FM has continually evolved throughout 2011 to help businesses meet challenges brought about by the economic climate, changes to legislation, emerging technologies and globalisation. However, despite impacting so significantly on the bottom line of many businesses, there is much work still to be done to see FM more widely recognised as an established profession.

If anyone can practise as an FM, without any independent certification or accreditation required, can facilities management ever be a true ‘profession’? In recent years, significant progress has been made with the introduction of both formalised education paths into an FM career and an influx of new CPD and training opportunities. A funding injection from the Government through Asset Skills - the Sector Skills Council for facilities management, housing, property, planning, cleaning and parking, will also see more than £2 million spent on projects to drive employer investment in skills next year. "The professionalisation of the FM function mirrors a similar path to that of Human Resources and Marketing. It is now solidly underpinned by a sense of identity within our community, common standards of entry and a body of knowledge and requirements for education or training" says Valerie Everitt, Director of Education and Professional Standards at the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM). "Where we need to focus now is raising awareness amongst our existing community and drawing fresh talent into the profession through the variety of entry routes and ongoing development opportunities", she adds.

So, with an ever expanding job remit, how can FMs stay abreast of the latest legislation, best practice and new products and solutions to help make their jobs and lives easier? Adrian Newton, Portfolio Director for Safety & Building Management at UBM heads up two industry events; Facilities Show and Total Workplace Management which draw over 24,000* people from within the FM profession every year. He believes regular networking with your peers is key: "Much research has been conducted into the effectiveness of CPD in professional networks - collaboration, peer support and use of experts are all high up on the agenda. For the profession to continue moving forward, FMs must keep talking and learning from one another." Samantha Bowman FBIFM, Facilities Consultant at GVA and Chair of the BIFM's Rising FMs special interest group agrees, but is keen to add that "passion, enthusiasm and a constant desire to learn is absolutely vital for a successful career - FM is definitely a profession, not just a job." Bowman has spent 30 years in the FM sector and in that time, has seen the importance of professional accreditation and qualifications steadily increase. "In a time of austerity, competition in the job market is fierce, so employers are looking more and more at an FM's professional qualifications as well as their on-the-job experience. That's not to say that years of experience will ever be trumped by a newly qualified graduate trying to enter the profession, but employers want best value from their employees so want to work with those ahead of their game".

Topping up your knowledge through training and CPD opportunities now forms a critical part of every successful FM's job. "In this tough job market, FMs will increasingly find that they need a Level 2 IOSH qualification in Health and Safety simply to qualify for interview and many employers now look more favourably on those that have gone a step further gaining the Level 3 NEBOSH", says Bowman. She continues: "Employers are no longer recruiting FMs on a leap of faith. Today, the job market is full to the brim with academically able, driven candidates who are developing their career and skills in line with these new professional frameworks. They are entering the profession with passion and vigour so it's never been so important to stay ahead of your game as an established FM."

Everitt is keen to add that whatever point an FM is at in their career, whether they are looking to enter the profession or are in an long-standing role, there are CPD opportunities widely available. "As a practising FM, there are a variety of resources out there to help you plan your future career - from careers services advice which can help you plan development, to an online CPD framework which will enable you to self-assess against core FM competencies. This is particularly useful if you are planning to move roles as it helps identify gaps in knowledge and recommends the best training available."

With an ever expanding job remit, a core element of the FM role is now outsourcing - procuring services from external suppliers and managing the output from the service provider. Simon Evans, Integrated Solutions Manager at SITA UK; a leading recycling and resource management company, believes more needs to be done to help educate FMs about the organisations they are signing up. "Professional waste management is a highly specialist and complex skill, requiring organisations to keep up with constantly changing legislation, new technologies and best practices. What we are seeing is a rise in the number of TFMs offering waste management services and tendering this out to partners who are not technically competent to practice these services. Most companies have the ISO badge, but when you scratch below the surface, service quality is very poor. This is not only resulting in poor service to the end-user, but could in fact lead to non-compliance with key legislation."

So why is this happening and what is being done to help ensure that FMs procure quality services? Evans believes cost efficiencies driven by senior management is a current issue: " I think the pressure has come from FMs having to deliver cost reduction straight away on every service they procure and this often leads them to sign up cheaper deals which in the long-term cannot deliver the specialist services they require." So what are Evans' top tips for FMs? "Critically evaluate your third party partnerships and champion open and fair tender processes - see a range of suppliers before you make your decisions", he concludes. Newton is keen to add: "Get out and meet the suppliers you're keen to work with and see their products and services in action. This could be at a trade show or even at a customer's site. Ensure you have tangible evidence that the supplier is effective before signing up. Sixty nine percent of visitors to our 2011 FM shows cited sourcing new products and services as a key reason for their attendance as well as 79 percent who wanted to learn about the latest industry trends - take advantage of the free networking opportunities open to you."

Everitt is keen to express that "So much work has now been done to define the core remit of the FM. The challenge now is to get FM recognised in every organisation and as the vibrant and exciting vocation that it is. Testament to that, we currently have over 700 learners registered for BIFM qualifications across the UK, both established FMs and a wealth of new blood entering the profession. In addition to formal education pathways, BIFM has also just launched a new ‘BIFM Registered CPD Provider’ scheme to deliver high quality independently assessed CPD. We are now taking submissions for the scheme, and members will be advised when new CPD materials are available."

Newton concludes: “2011 has been an extremely positive year in FM's move towards improved status and power and standing as a managerial profession, however, we must never stand still - there is always more to be done to see FM firmly on the map in every organisation."

Finally, a call to action from Everitt: "This is an exciting time for the FM profession - there is a vast talent pool of experienced FM managers and those keen to enter our industry. There is also a clearly defined education framework and a wealth of CPD opportunities. So, to remain top of your game in this economic climate, every FM, regardless of experience should invest in their personal career development, or risk being left behind!"

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