The battle for talent: skills in FM
Does facility management need to be seen as more vocational to address the skills gap? DONALD MACDONALD reports.
Is facilities management’s greatest strength also perhaps its Achilles heel? In the battle for talent I suggest it may be. Other industries, such as quantity surveying, nursing or accounting, are vocational in nature. Practitioners follow a tried and trusted route. They progress in the footsteps of those who have trodden the same path before them, mentored and supported through a well-planned and mapped out journey from tertiary education to autonomous practitioners and senior management.
FM, on the other hand, is more of a convergent industry. Practitioners evolve into it from a wide range of sectors – surveying, engineering, catering, security, cleaning and general management to name but a few.
Current research appears to suggest that this facet of FM may be a major benefit; I was particularly struck by a Harvard Business Review article from November 2016, entitled ‘Why diverse teams are smarter’. In it, authors David Rock and Heidi Grant referenced a wealth of research that underlined the benefits of working in the type of divergent teams that tend to be encouraged by this typically convergent role development so prevalent in FM.
The article stated that a benefit of workplace diversity is that: “Non-homogenous teams are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.”
However, the Australian labour market is a relatively remote and shallow pool. When it comes to punching at its weight in the battle for talent, FM has several handicaps to overcome.
The convergent nature of the industry, lacking as it does a single vocational career path, arguably contributes to its relative anonymity.
It’s probably unreasonable to ask a primary school child what they would like to be when they grow up and expect a reply of anything other than nurse, policeman, astronaut or similar, but the lack of awareness of FM is continued at secondary school and beyond. FM in Australia would do well to look to other countries, such as the UK, where FM is embedded in educational curricula.
AN AGEING PROFESSION
The ageing time bomb ticking under FM was discussed in the third global research paper by RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) and IFMA (International Facility Management Association) entitled ‘Raising the Bar’, which identified that: “More of RICS’ facility management professional members are over 70 than under 30, and less than 15 percent of them are under 40 years of age. IFMA faces a similar challenge; based on a 30 percent sample of its 24,000-plus members, the average IFMA member is 50.9 years old.”
This issue was identified when the first of this series of research papers was published in 2012. It remains just as relevant to the industry today.
For a long time, overseas candidates have provided a popular source of talent for the Australian FM industry. However, with the abolition of the 457 visa program in April 2017, controls tightened up.
The 457 program has been replaced by the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa. The TSS features the Short-term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) and the Medium- and Long- term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL). FM with some restrictions, features on the former list, the STSOL, which gives eligible applicants the opportunity of employment in Australia for a maximum period of two years.
While MLTSSL applicants are eligible to apply for permanent residency after three years, there is no comparable right for STSOL applicants. This has the effect of reducing its attractiveness.
BURIED UNDER MANURE?
Of course, few industries exist in a vacuum, or are immune to the impact of external factors. When considering the various concerns regarding the recruitment and retention of FM practitioners it is tempting to assume that current levels of demand will continue, if not increase.
When considering future trends, however, it is often useful to look to the past and in doing so I am reminded of an article that appeared in The Times in 1894 warning that by 1944, every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure.
Of course, the invention and proliferation of the motorcar stymied this truly horrific premonition. It is possible that innovation will have a similar impact upon the demand for FM resources into the future. The deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and other innovations has the potential to truly disrupt the industry, resulting in a substantially reduced dependence on the labour-intensive FM models of the past.
BENEFITS OF CONSOLIDATED CONTRACTS
A further solution may be offered by several client organisations entering into a consolidated FM contract with a single service provider.
This approach is not unprecedented in Australia, where local councils often enter into consolidated contracts for roads maintenance and similar activities.
When it comes to FM, however, it has tended to be off limits to these councils. In the UK in recent years, pressures wrought by central government-introduced austerity measures have seen service sharing across councils to a much greater degree than in Australia.
An article on the UK FM industry website i-fm.net, entitled ‘Shared services now ‘business as usual’ for local councils’, in July last year, stated that: “New data from the Local Government Association (LGA) shows that there are 486 individual shared service arrangements among local authorities across the country, resulting in £643 million in efficiency savings.
“Shared services are so embedded in day-to-day service delivery that they have become business-as-usual for most councils, the LGA says. The focus in most cases is on improving performance and efficiency, with arrangements covering everything from frontline services to back-office operations.”
In October 2013, UK consulting and infrastructure support company Amey was awarded a single consolidated 10-year FM contract with Westminster City Council, Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council, and Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council. It is currently expected that this contract will realise some £72 million in savings over its term.
With the ongoing scarcity of appropriately skilled and experienced resources in the labour market, and the challenges that local councils often face in attracting and retaining staff, this is a sector that could be well-placed to benefit from contractual consolidation.
For example, benefits from three neighbouring councils entering into a single consolidated FM contract may include:
- the opportunity to substantially reduce the size of the contract management team
- substantial reductions in procurement costs
- the ability to leverage competitive tension to reduce costs and improve service quality and,
- improved return on investment(ROI), due to the increased critical mass, making innovation more attractive.
‘Raising the Bar’ reminds us of the current global FM talent shortage from which Australia is not immune. Indeed, its circumstances may be exacerbated by the tightening of immigration controls and an absence of robust vocational pathways into the industry.
While education is likely to be part of the solution, however, more imaginative contracting models, where practical, may present an opportunity to reduce the pressure on the labour pool.
While, in time, IoT and other technological innovations may well result in the current lack of resources being about as relevant a risk to the long-term success of the industry as horse manure ultimately proved to the streets of London.
Donald Macdonald is a director of Macdonald Lucas FM consultants.
This article also appears in the April/May issue of Facility Management magazine.
Image: 123RF’s gajus © 123RF.com