FM – trade or profession?

by FM Media
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Is the tertiary education sector in Australia helping or hindering the growth of Facility Management as a respected, stand-alone discipline? DR DAVID LEIFER from The University of Sydney sounds a warning.
Facility Management has a tenuous presence in the boardooms of Australia. Why? As the CEO of the Property Council of Australia, Peter Verwer, has pointed out at more than one FMA (Facility Management Association) function in the past, we have a very poor public image. We are perceived as ‘janitors’, not an indispensable part of the infrastructure of business.

FM’s invisibility is compounded by:
* Its lack of ‘presence’ as a career choice for school leavers. We have few FM role models who have progressed to be captains of industry. We are not deemed worthy of consideration in business courses even though we deal with tangible assets that are a substantial cost to business.
* The adoption of competency standards confining the entry level to that of a trade. This keeps the status of FM on a ‘tradesperson’ level, purveying the same service delivery level as plumbers, electricians, etc. Recognised professions maintain entry at degree level.
* The need for FM practitioners to have an understanding of ‘business management’ applied to facilities.

This can be explained by reference to Figure.1 above, adapted from Briggs (1999), showing levels of training in the tertiary sector.

In secondary schools the student studies different ‘subjects’ in isolation (e.g. mathematics, biology, history, etc.).
In technical colleges a student takes various learning modules associated as an area of knowledge representing a trade (i.e. electrician, real estate agent, etc.) Here, the modules are stand-alone and are based on competencies. A graduate will have demonstrated competency in each module, and the range of competencies is construed to represent ability in the ‘area’.
Tertiary education at undergraduate level deals with subjects within an area such that a graduate would be expected to be able to cross-relate and overlap the consequences of individual subjects on each other.
Postgraduate (PG) education – or mastery – expands upon graduate knowledge such that when a question is encountered, the PG can identify the issues impacting upon it, and examine the issues in detail. By synthesising the issues and their interrelationships, the PG can formulate possible solutions to the question. But further, the PG can select a recommended proposal and rationally argue why it is the preferred solution.
The final level pertains to research degrees. Here the research student is expected to not only demonstrate mastery, but also project further to how the process and solutions found can be used generically as tools to deal with ‘classes’ of problem. The successful student here will be tested on their adherence to an argued process and their contribution to knowledge.

Since there is no ‘career path’ the demand for FM education comes from those people who have fallen into the role from other backgrounds and realise that they need to obtain a better understanding of the ‘whole’. Most people entering FM come from trades level or non-cognate degree backgrounds. They have little understanding of either management or business. An understanding of the mission, goals, and drivers of the organisation are essential if the facilities are to be managed to support it.
A business decision can be made rapidly; the real estate takes time to be configured to support it. Strangely, this seems to have been more apparent to schools of architecture and property that it has to schools of business.
The lack of appreciation of the impact of Facilities on the organisation is seen in the fact that university faculties offering FM have been confined to the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney, notwithstanding Professor Craig Langston’s valiant efforts to nurture courses when he was formerly at Deakin and now Bond Universities. There is simply insufficient demand to make courses elsewhere viable.

Universities are given statutory powers to accredit their own courses. However, professional courses look to professional bodies to recognise their courses as acceptable for exemption from their entry examinations. While this issue has been raised since 1993, there is no scheme for accrediting university courses for FMA professional certification. Now that the FMA has adopted IFMA’s systems, the University of Sydney is seeking accreditation with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) such that graduates of our courses will be able to qualify and use the post-nominals ‘MRICS(FM)’.

There is little doubt that the focus on Ecologically Sustainable Design (ESD) is bringing the facility manager’s role more prominence through the impact of costs-in-use in Life Cycle cost analysis. However, although ESD is a societal imperative, it is not a business imperative. Minimising the capital cost of building projects will remain a more powerful incentive than Life Cycle costing so long as the sponsors of buildings are not the ultimate users.
This is because the practice of discounted cash-flow analysis, used by building sponsors to decide the most cost-effective option, degrades the value of future savings (and future costs). The principle of calculating Net Present Value is to assume that a lesser sum today can be invested to produce a larger sum in the future. On this basis two alternative courses of action can be compared to the amount that would have to be invested today to meet the future costs. This would hold true if and only if the sum of money so predicted was actually invested: It rarely is.

Nevertheless, as the efficient operation of buildings is required in order to maintain published Green Star and NABERS ratings, FM will increase in importance. Increasingly stringent OHS, accountability and due diligence obligations, coupled with the need to appropriately train staff to carry out their designated jobs, are further pressures ensuring that the demand for trained facility managers will increase.
The question for the universities remains whether Facility Management will remain a trade or make the transition to a real profession.

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