Achieving enhanced education and increased professionalisation

by FM Media
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BIFM Training’s JANE BELL shares how the British Institute of Facilities Management is tackling the issues of improving facility management training and professional recognition in the UK, and provides an international perspective of the future of facility management education.

Throughout its 30-year history, the facility management profession has never really solved its identity crisis: who exactly are we, what do we do and where do we fit in? It’s been a constant challenge, both for individuals and the growing number of professional bodies trying to represent and develop facility management around the world.
For employers too, the task of building an effective facility management team hasn’t always been easy. In the early days, before job-specific qualifications were available, individuals often found themselves in rapidly expanding facility management roles, taking on highly challenging responsibilities in completely new areas with little or no training or preparation. Many senior managers have traditionally favoured practical experience over qualifications when recruiting and promoting staff, and there are still legacy issues today over how to balance out formal knowledge over on the job experience.
It’s hardly surprising then that facility managers have often felt at a disadvantage when trying to establish their credibility alongside more mature disciplines, such as property and real estate, engineering, procurement and mainstream management. As Hays points out in its report on facility management recruitment trends, which is summarised in this news item on Facility Management magazine’s website, this presents a continuing challenge in the Australian market, as there is still a shortage of professionally recognised and registered facility managers.
In order to overcome this in the UK, the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) has introduced new professional qualifications with the aim of creating more widely accepted industry standards among employers, and to create a more tangible link between formally qualified practitioners and those whose professional membership is based on experience.
These are intended to provide a more ‘joined up’ route to qualifications and to support career progression from entry level (equivalent to school leaver) up to first degree standard. Critically, in terms of the recognition issue, they also now link into mainstream education in the UK.

In such a diverse market, choice and flexibility are key factors for both individuals and employers looking for educational solutions. The BIFM qualifications follow the kind of competence-based approach adopted by the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) in the US, as well as aligning with wider trends in vocational education.
This kind of competence-based model has a broader value for the facility management community, since the underlying standards provide a valuable general ‘roadmap’ for learning, as well as a consistent series of benchmarks for employers and recruiters. Vocational programs will typically allow learners to select at least a proportion of their study modules to match their job roles, so that individuals with either a ‘hard’ (engineering) services bias or those involved in ‘soft’ (people-related) areas of facility management can develop their knowledge and skills in a relevant way while still covering ‘core’ elements of facility management practice.
For those with senior management aspirations, however, postgraduate courses offered through the higher education sector tend to be the natural choice, with a whole range of options now available as MScs or MBAs.

Whichever route people choose to take, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a growing range of choice in terms of skills-based training and accredited qualifications – and national boundaries are no longer necessarily a barrier if you want to study with an overseas provider.
New media, such as web-based systems for e-learning, conferencing, webinars and discussion forums, are revolutionising the learning process and making it possible to study flexibly and more cost-effectively, as well as creating valuable professional networks across the facility management spectrum.
Facility management is by definition a dynamic sector and that seems unlikely to change. But, the good news is that there are now unprecedented opportunities for individuals to develop their careers in any one of the wide range of sectors in which professional facility management is established.
Whatever the context, managers with good commercial, people management and communications skills – combined with a sound understanding of facility management operations – are likely to be in demand. Specialisation is already increasing – either related to specific industry sectors, or key disciplines including construction/infrastructure projects, procurement, ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ services, and sustainability – but for many employers, whether they are end-user clients or service providers, flexible, transferable skills continue to hold a broad appeal.
The message for anyone out there looking to develop a career in facility management is a very positive one: there are significant opportunities, but employers will increasingly want to see evidence of a long-term commitment to professional development. That may mean having relevant qualifications, but engagement with professional groups and continuing skills development are equally important.

Jane Bell is a professional development consultant and writer based in the UK, who specialises in the FM sector. She has a part-time role as director of learning and development services for BIFM Training, a joint venture between the British Institute of Facilities Management and Quadrilect, which provides facilities management training in the UK and overseas.

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