Facilities Management – your career choice?

by FM Media
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When you were a child did you have a deliberate intention to become a facilities manager or a building manager, or even to work in the property sector? Probably not, writes DR HILARY DAVIES, and you’re not alone.

What degree (if any) do you have? Have you come to engage with this profession from a roundabout way? I certainly have. A degree in geography was followed (after a year’s working) by a PhD in urban hydrology. Failing to find employment in that area in an economic downturn, I applied for any post that looked like it had career potential. The trainee position I landed with a UK local authority enabled me to qualify as a building surveyor and become a chartered surveyor – trained to look after the post-construction and operating phase of buildings. I am probably typical of those who have been associated with the functions of facilities management – historically, facilities managers have entered the sector from another career such as surveying and building services engineering, or from soft services such as human resources, financial services or even catering. Others have come to facilities management almost ‘by mistake’ and in an unplanned way. I also suspect that if you were to undertake a survey of anyone who had deliberate aspirations to work in the construction field in some capacity, you will probably find a relative working in the area – so they had some idea of the range of interesting careers that were possible – and the often-lucrative nature of the work. Can we let transferring across from other professions and serendipity continue to be the source of the next generation of facilities managers?

If facilities management is to continue to grow as a profession, it needs to be attracting the brightest and best to degree and postgraduate qualifications. Unfortunately, the general public has little idea about
facilities management as a career choice. Giving a talk recently at an open day at Deakin University, I asked the audience if they had any perceptions of what a profession in construction management or facilities management might involve. ‘Working on site’ and ‘mud’ were the answers for construction – and no offers for facilities management. And herein lies the problem with recruitment into courses – and ultimately about attracting the most able to work in the profession. Facilities management lacks a clear identity. Architecture has no such problems – most people think they know what an architect does, and degree programmes are in high demand as a consequence.
Considering that building, i.e. constructing shelter, has been one of the most essential activities that human beings undertake, I wonder why it has such low regard in the minds of the average person. Even those within facilities management still debate whether it is a profession or simply a market1. Trying to promote something with no clear definition is problematic. Facilities management has aspirations to be seen as essential to business and contributing to business goals, yet for the large part its practitioners work in operations for their respective organisations. It has singularly failed to demonstrate clear linkages between facilities and productivity or business goals and adding value.2
You will find the clear majority of courses that offer facilities management education are associated with design, architecture or construction-related programmes. Facilities management education has failed to establish its credibility with the ‘management’ of its title and is not recognised as a discipline within top business schools – the only such UK course based in Strathclyde Business School ceased to recruit some years ago, citing a lack of student numbers3. The open university considered a ‘bolt-on’ facilities management set of units to one of its business degrees, which failed to survive. This lack of a clear identity makes recruitment into programmes problematic. If it had more credibility as a ‘management profession’ it could well recruit at the levels of MBA postgraduate programmes. But how do you market and build a programme if no one knows what it is?

One area with potential is to start early, making sure school children have a better idea about the production of the built environment. In the UK a new Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment is being introduced into the secondary school curriculum from 2011. It offers a bridge between academic and vocational courses of study and practical experience linking schools, colleges of further education and employers. Students will take a series of compulsory and optional elements. One of the compulsory elements covers ‘the value and use of the built environment, including maintenance and management requirements and how built structures affect the community that uses them.’ This sounds like a good start.
The diploma will be set within the national qualifications framework, which has introduced a Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF). These QCF units are now the basic building blocks for qualifications. The British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) aims to provide opportunities for Awards, Certificates and Diplomas at Levels 4, 5 and 6. Figure 1 illustrates the routes to qualification and a hierarchy of awards for facilities managers. Introducing built environment units to schoolchildren is a step in the right direction, for creating awareness of facilities management as a career and placing it within a structure that encourages aspirations to the highest levels of education will surely ensure the continuing debate and continuing research into the future of facilities management – with the ‘management’ part of facilities management seen as its true contribution to business success – and perhaps this profession experiencing less of an identity crisis.

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