The facilities management sector must be more visible says the CEO of The Building Futures Group Sarah Bentley, as her organisation prepares to launch the first ever "FM Manifesto".
Can you imagine a world where no one knows what Doctors, Nurses, Teachers or Police Officers really do, or how they benefit each of us as individuals or society as a whole? It would be incongruous to think that a sector that provides essential services that enable the United Kingdom's economy to function and support the health, wellbeing and productivity of us as individuals - in fact, every aspect of where we work, live and play, would be invisible to the majority of people and decision-makers in the country.
Well the truth is this is exactly the situation the UK's FM industry finds itself in. Despite being an established sector which has been supplying essential services for over 30 years, FM is invisible. Many of those who work in the sector they will admit they ‘fell into’ working in FM pretty much by chance, once they fell into it they realised that there is huge potential for those with the aptitude and willingness to learn new skills to thrive and in some cases earn six figure salaries working in some of the most iconic buildings in the UK.
One large FM company engages in visits to schools talking to young people about the opportunities FM careers can offer. At the beginning of their talks no youngster has heard of FM and certainly wouldn’t consider it a career choice. By the end of the session however the majority are eager to find out more especially as FM provides career choices for such a wide variety of skills and environments. No other industry can offer such a vast amount of working options, environments and offers clear pathways to success for those who want to be the best.
FM attracts some of the brightest and most emotionally intelligent professionals able to deal with the micro issues that clients expect resolved swiftly, right up to large scale macro infrastructure solutions. How can it be that such a sector full of talented workers who seamlessly adapt to providing new services and solutions within an ever evolving work place aren’t recognized for the amazing work they do everyday?
It’s irrational when you think about it, a sector which contributes at least £130 BN per year to the UK economy and is an essential component to the UK’s success in an increasingly competitive global market and yet hardly anyone who isn’t working or procuring FM has heard of it, let alone recognize its value to the UK and its citizens.
What’s even more irrational is the fact that companies who operate in the FM arena are working on some of the lowest profit margins imaginable. Increased pressure from clients to get the lowest possible procurement of services has led to a ‘race to the bottom’, companies having to operate on low margins and still fulfil the highest expectations from clients in terms of service delivery. One thing is for sure this cannot continue forever without detrimental impacts to services, jobs and the very working infrastructure of the UK.
So what can be done to change this?
The answer is both simple and complex – the simple route is for the Sector to become more visible and demonstrate its value for money and productivity. The complex issue is how to become visible, companies that make up the sector are often contracted to provide services which seamlessly fit in with existing company brands, services and even identity. So unlike doctors, nurses, teachers, police etc. companies and their employees cannot create their own distinct public facing branding and identity which the public and decision makers alike will be able to relate to. This is not conducive to create sector awareness.
The complex solution is to work on a range of initiatives and over a sustained period of time. Companies that make up the sector can, and do raise their profile through corporate social responsibility activities and membership of trade associations like The Building Futures Group and professional bodies such as BIFM. Only through collective action can the FM industry hope to gain the status and recognition it deserves.
The Building Futures Group is a relatively new comer to the scene having formed through a merger between the Facilities Management Association and Asset Skills the Sector Skills Council for the FM sector in April last year. As a corporate membership and training organization, The Building Futures Group is in a solid position to represent the FM sector and campaign for positive change. That’s why the group has undertaken a number of campaigns to raise awareness of the sector as well as representing its views to end users, decision makers and other stakeholders. Its largest initiative was last August’s #secretjobs FM career campaign which not only promoted the value of FM, but also the multitude of job opportunities for young people in FM. The campaign reached 8.5 million people across the UK. Building on its campaign work throughout February and March the Group surveyed key stakeholders in FM to help it form the UK’s first ever FM Manifesto.
The Manifesto marks the start of the Group’s ambitious public affairs plans to raise the profile of FM amongst UK elected officials. The Manifesto will outline the views of the industry and is likely to call for Ministerial representation of FM, challenge the ‘race to the bottom’ and call for investment in careers education to help organisations like TBFG to raise awareness of the excellent opportunities FM offers to young people. This is especially pertinent as FM, like many industries is facing an aging leadership crisis and if it does not recruit fresh blood into the talent pipeline a leadership crisis is inevitable in the coming years.
Once the Manifesto is produced it will be sent to all newly elected MPs after the General Election. The Group will then target those MPs who have a large FM presence in their constituencies and invite companies to further engage with their MPs. It is hoped that on a local level companies will be able to develop strong relationships with MPs and seek their support in matters such as CSR, recruitment, media and community relations. As well as this the Group will be working with other stakeholders who have an interest in FM and explore the opportunity to encourage engaged MPs to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group in FM.
Such a group whilst not designed (or is able to be) a lobbying tool, will enable debate amongst MPs and highlight the work of the sector and in conjunction with associations undertake research to produce reports on the FM Sector.
It is not expected that the Manifesto or any subsequent activity that comes from it will radically alter the FM Sector overnight and act as a ‘magic bullet’ to resolve all of the sector’s issues, yet from such initiatives the whole industry can start to develop its profile, promote itself to the decision makers, users and public alike. It is imperative that the sector and its key stakeholders make a concerted effort to focus externally and celebrate our successes and contributions to work, life and leisure across the UK.
Failure to do this is likely to lead to a terminal decline with FM being seen as a mere utility, with a lack of innovation due to under-investment and untenable profit margins – after all how can we recruit the best without the best resources and an appreciation of the essential contribution UK FM provides for UK PLC?