Written by David Emanuel, Managing Director i-FM 2009.Whether you call it 'outside the box' or 'off the wall', some fresh thinking about established ideas often leads to new areas of opportunity. David Emanuel offers a different perspective on facilities management as it stands today.
Whether you call it 'outside the box' or 'off the wall', some fresh thinking about established ideas often leads to new areas of opportunity. David Emanuel offers a different perspective on facilities management as it stands today.
What is it about UK facilities management that can make us feel so discouraged from time to time? It's not recession. Generally speaking, we don't work under the cloud of stringent belt-tightening and impending redundancy, as people in many other sectors currently do. This industry is in far better shape than some – think of property, design, construction – though that doesn't mean of course there's no pain amongst our businesses.
Facilities management is the more resilient end of the built environment sector. We have finally left behind the simplistic view that we're really just some sort of extension to UK construction. Until quite recently, our institutes and associations were rather too quick to cite figures from that industry when they were talking market values and trends, as well as being all too keen to pick up any new initiatives for emulation in our sector. We have been much too hesitant to proclaim our separateness, and to stake out our unique focus and the business strengths that economic crisis is now so effectively highlighting.
And we aren’t selling furniture, lighting or flooring either, like many of those that turn out for our industry networking events. It's not that I don’t have sympathy for these salesmen and women; I do, especially in the current climate. Many of them are quite good company and actually add another, interesting dimension to events which could actually be – dare I say it - boring if it weren’t for the mixed dynamics of the people attending; not to mention the critical role they often play in simply keeping the numbers up. No, it’s not the fact that these 'outsiders' are there. It's the fact that they frequently out-number people from the core industry and that those who have most to learn and gain from such events, simply can’t or don’t attend.
Certainly, facilities management is a big sector. In our enthusiasm to see it grow, we have tended to throw the doors open to all comers. A 'broad church' is the phrase often used; one where everyone is welcome. But the result of this is that what many call the ‘profession’ is in reality comprised of more non-trained, unqualified and inexperienced people than properly trained and competent facilities managers. Are we happy with dilution? Would it be better to have a clearer, more concentrated focus? That all depends on your stance: whether you are looking for broad support (including in terms of revenue) or real participation in a profession.
FM: a profession? It's taking a long time. There are 23 holders of the BIFM qual (and 24 UK holders of IFMA's CFM). It's difficult to get a straight answer as to how many people have sat the BIFM exams Part I or Part II over the years; though we do know there is a sharp fall-off in the number progressing - only about 30% go on from Part I to take Part II. Happily, we can add to that others who have taken degrees in facilities management. But still, we're talking about maybe a few hundred practitioners that actually have some form of educational or institutional accreditation at this point.
But that's the past and maybe the future will be different. The BIFM is moving towards a whole new qualification structure, partnering initially with the Institute of Leadership & Management (which is a part of the City & Guilds group) on a Level 3 Award, Certificate and Diploma in Facilities Management programme.
This is a VRQ - Vocationally Related Qualification – a different approach to the ubiquitous NVQ. Definitely an initiative to be welcomed. But there are so far only two providers known to be gearing up to offer the training, and apparently only one (Xenon) with a committed start date. The industry is not going to be quickly reshaped by this!
So what could we do to create a genuine profession, one with suitable recognition? If we want to advance the cause of professional practice, don't we need to differentiate facilities managers from the colleagues and associates of various types also working within the industry?
Surely the place to start is with a standard, a minimum or entry level accreditation that is recognised as being meaningful. (Don't get me started on 'MBIFM' – I believe the day might come when that genuinely does the job, but past policies have left it fatally devalued for the time being.)
Let’s devise a test! Let anyone take it who feels they have a fair chance of success. Pass and you have the basic accreditation of 'facilities manager'. Perhaps this could even become the foundation for a new and valued MBIFM designation. It could be interwoven with a new membership structure and, of course, the emerging qualifications structure. Thus a profession is born, complete with a proven basic competency and a route to go forward with further development.
I'm impatient for change in this industry, and I haven't given up on the idea that we can bring it about. Why wait for another five or 10 years for the wheels of professionalisation to grind forward? Change usually occurs because someone has spotted commercial advantage, or as a result of necessity driven by customer pressure, legislation or economic circumstance. Let's have some of all that. Less complacency, please, and more action.
FM is all about growing and adapting, so let's do it.
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