FMJ discusses the skills shortage in the FM industry, with FSI and FRL

Children don't even want to be train drivers anymore - let alone FM's.  And adults are often confused as to what the job actually is.  The industry is facing a recruitment crisis, say FSI (FM Solutions) Limited managing director John Moriarty and Facilities Recruitment Ltd (FRL) managing director John Davis

It is ironic that at a time when FM offers more exciting and dynamic career possibilities than ever before, recruitment is the biggest challenge facing organisations looking to fill FM roles.  In this respect, the changing face of FM is both its greatest asset and the root cause of a major skills shortage that all in the industry must work together to address.

In many respects, says Davis, the problem is that definitions of FM roles have been varied and filled by people with diverse specialist experience.

As the industry consolidates, these variations are being brought together.  The result is that organisations need FM's with a much broader skills set.

Moriarty adds that it is clear the industry is going through a period of change that is having a considerable impact on the way FM is perceived.

"Increasingly, we find that FSI's software is being used by people who are not necessarily FM's in the traditional sense, but step into the role from other areas of the company and bring a new portfolio of skills and experience to it," he says.

"This is good news for the industry, but it also highlights how much FM has taken centre stage within many organisations.  That in itself creates a new era of demand for comprehensive skills sets that can take the benefits of CAFM into every aspect of FM."

FSI and FRL have extensive experience of working together to address labour requirements on a short and long-term basis.  Both companies say the need for fresh blood and significant numbers of appropriately skilled people is becoming more urgent all the time.

"The skills shortage is the biggest factor in recruitment, particularly where organisations are looking for individuals with far greater skills than the single skills base they previously had," says Davis.  "At the moment, there are as many interpretations of an FM's role as there are people working in the industry!"

In the Navy

Traditionally, explains Davis, FM's often came from building services and maintenance backgrounds, perhaps from the marine engineering sector or the merchant navy.  On board a ship, he points out, the head of engineering is responsible for all the services that keep the ship running.  Back on dry land, a transfer to a similar role makes perfect sense.

Other streams feeding the FM sector have included property and hotel management, catering, cleaning and construction.

This scenario has served a model in which some aspects of FM - asset management, space management, environmental management, IT, cleaning and security - have taken priority, according to the nature of the employer's organisation.

But now, says Davis, FRL increasingly finds that companies are looking for individuals who have capabilities in all areas.  They want to recruit people who are experts in health and safety, and customer service, for example, in addition to the host of mainstream FM responsibilities.

"And because FM contract sizes are getting bigger, these people have to be financially astute as well," he says.  "Particularly where they are given control of large budgets and profit management."

As Davis explains, such highly-skilled people are at a premium to begin with.  Employers are forced to raise salaries in order to attract them, and a leap-frogging pattern is emerging as FM professionals are prepared to move jobs to take advantage of more lucrative offers.

The trend towards more outsourced FM contracts is also putting pressure on the industry.  FM service providers need to recruit staff to fulfil newly won contracts and they, too, are competed to offer higher salaries - often just to lure staff from their competitors.

Recent research carried out by FRL suggests that the average salary of an FM rose by more than 8% between 2004 and 2005, with the highest levels on offer in the service provider and consultancy sectors of the FM industry.  An assistant FM could expect to earn around £22,400 a year in 2003, for example.  By last year, that would have risen to almost £25,000.  An operations director would have noticed their average salary climbing from around £58,500 to more than £86,000 in the same period.

That might be good news for incumbents and skilled FM professionals already on the merry-go-round.  But as contract margins are eroded in a highly competitive market, there are limited resources to invest in attracting and training new recruits to the industry.  And in-house operators are often unable to compete for the cream of the professionals, making it more difficult for them to retain a shrinking pool of skilled staff.

Record vacancies

FRL has noted record numbers of FM vacancies being registered.  Davis says he's encountered a commonly-held view among HR managers that it's becoming more difficult to source candidates with the required skills and competencies for the current FM operations of their companies.

Increasingly, those competencies are represented by specific qualifications.  However, stretched resources, and the impact of TUPE regulations on industries where staff are often transferring from the public to the private sector, mean that less money is spent on training existing staff.  With issues like health and safety now paramount in FM, a shortage of IOS and NIBOSH qualified individuals is a real concern for the industry.

Davis suggests that unless there are significant changes in the way organisations seek to attract potential employees to FM positions, salary rises might continue to busy current low levels of inflation.  The vicious circle will make the skills shortage even more acute, with employees jumping from one company to another as they build a portfolio career.

The FM skills shortage throws up some pressing issues for the FM industry, but perhaps the most important is how to bring fresh blood to a profession that until now hasn't enjoyed the profile of other industries.

Rather than treating this as an obstacle, the time has come for the industry to seize the opportunity to promote itself to a new generation of professionals in search of a career path that offers fulfilment as well as substantial remuneration.

There are promising signs that this is happening.  The British Institute of Facilities Management, for example, is lobbying to get the job title of facilities manager registered as a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code.  But it is also vital to get young people interested in FM as a career.

Dynamic career

Davis has recently been discussing how to achieve this with bodies like the Asset Skills Council.

"The trouble at the moment is that the FM industry is not one that people leave school with the idea of joining," he says.  "They don't say, 'I want to be an FM!  How do I go about it?'  And that's a shame because it is a very diverse industry to work in."

FSI has seen at first hand how IT, for example, has made key aspects of FM accessible to employees who are often stepping sideways to fit the role.

But there simply aren't enough people out there with all the competencies that most organisations now require from their FM professionals, whether they are service providers struggling to fulfil new contracts, or HR managers trying to fill crucial in-house positions.

"As a software company, we provide solutions that support each stage of the lifecycle of an organisation's FM strategy," says Moriarty.

"Often, our software is used by people at every personnel level, from space planners and assistant FM's up to operations and business development directors.  We have seen FM develop into an integral element of an organisation's life, whether outsourced or managed in house, which has a real impact on the way the business operates.  The challenge for the industry now is to present that dynamic quality in a way that's attractive to potential recruits."

Davis says we have to start addressing the situation much further back than is currently the case, in secondary education, where FM should be identified as a potential career: a vocation that can be followed through to a degree, and even beyond that, to a masters degree.  FM specialists with this level of qualification - which represents, after all, the ideal for so many organisations with crucial FM roles to fill - are simply too thin on the ground.

That, of course, means selling FM as a career that can take people into an almost limitless variety of exciting working environments.

"The industry certainly needs to adopt a kind of unified marketing campaign to promote the fact that it is indeed an industry in its own right," says David.  "And there needs to be some sort of educational programme at GCSE level which demonstrated that a career in FM could well be of interest, and that the role of the FM is valued and important.

"At the moment, it tends to be a hidden industry.  It takes place in the background of an organisation and nobody takes any notice of it until something goes wrong.  If people think about it at all, they're usually under the impression that it's purely concerned with managing office blocks.  And of course it isn't."

Davis points out that even the most exciting working environments - recording studios, racecourses and luxury-marque car salesrooms - require FM's.

"Take a Formula 1 motor racing team," he says.  "You need to get 50 people around the globe to 16 race tracks throughout the year, with a couple of container lorries.  The FM is responsible for the transport, for the security, for everything down to the laundry.  The team relies on the FM and its an essential role to play.

"It really can be an exciting type of career and that's what the industry has to market to potential recruits."

But cracking the skills shortage isn't just about marketing your organisation as The Place to Work.  An FM recruitment programme has to match competencies with the objectives of the organisation's FM role.

Given the changing face of FM, companies should think long and hard about how they actually define the job - in all its many permutations.  If you can't be clear about the forms that FM takes within your organisation, it will be much more difficult to advertise to potential recruits, let alone put them through a testing and profiling process that makes sure you get the person for the job.