Q&A – A woman with a Mission

by FM Media
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FM magazine interviews TRISH FERRIER, facilities manager at Wesley Mission Victoria, about budget restraints, industry challenges and the importance of relationships.

Q — Please provide us with a bit of background about your facilities management career. How and why did you get into facilities management? Where have you worked in the past and what are your responsibilities at present?

A — I started my career working as a contract administration officer with the Public Works Department, where I learned much about maintenance, preventative maintenance, contractors, contracts and tendering.

I stayed in government positions until the end of my role at Victoria Legal Aid, after managing the facilities there for more than 10 years. I then spent almost five years in aged care with the Royal Freemasons Limited, and I am currently working as a facilities manager for Wesley Mission Victoria. Wesley provides services in crisis and homelessness, employment services, social enterprises, disability, aged care, children, youth and family, and community detention at 135 properties across metropolitan Melbourne and Gippsland, including its Lifeline Melbourne service.

The Wesley facilities team looks after the responsive and preventative maintenance, including essential safety and compliance, safety and security, capital works, leasing and contractor management.

Specifically, I am the project manager for office refurbishments and new fitouts and a member of the project groups’ major capital works projects. I also contribute to the organisation’s overall asset management strategy, providing strategic advice regarding the life cycle of Wesley properties.

 

Q — You were previously facilities manager at Victoria Legal Aid and facilities manager at Royal Freemasons, and are currently FM of Wesley Mission Victoria. What are the challenges involved in working as a facilities manager for organisations such as these that have a limited budget?

A — The challenges for most facilities managers are similar. It is about budget and the best use of funding available. It is important to understand that spending money on facilities makes a direct contribution to how we care for our clients.

At Wesley Mission Victoria we have a ‘One Wesley’ theme developed from our recent Strategic Plan that influences everything we do. As a result, facilities management has become more of an integral part of the organisation’s business. The development of good working relationships with senior managers and executives is integral to the role of a facilities manager, as is service delivery.

 

Q — How do you overcome these budget restraints in your current role? Are there any particularly innovative initiatives you have implemented in your current or past roles?

A — In an environment such as a not-for-profit, it is most important to make sure solid preventative maintenance programs are in place so that the building fabric, plant and equipment have a full life. It is important to get the best from existing resources, as finding money for capital replacements and upgrades can be difficult.

Having a good sense of the condition of properties and their components is also necessary, so ongoing condition auditing is essential. I think it really comes down to having a thorough understanding of what you are managing and being able to, as accurately as possible, predict future capital costs.

 

Q — What are the important facilities management issues for smaller organisations compared to those that may be more important for larger organisations? What is front of mind at all times?

A — One of the dilemmas I have had is finding the balance between internal staff and external contractors. The belief being that it costs less to run an in-house service than it does to outsource. However, when it comes to managing risk and compliance, it is important to weigh up the pros and cons of using the services of a qualified tradesperson with expert skills versus using an internal ‘handyman’ who has a wealth of knowledge but no formal qualification or training.

Making sure that everyone, including staff, volunteers, visitors, and contractors, are in a safe environment at all times is what drives the facilities team.

 

Q — What are the rewards concerning facilities management for smaller organisations?

A — One of the best things about working in a small organisation is the relationships you are able to develop with your clients, the people you work alongside. I have been able to take the time to understand the programs and services delivered within the organisations I have worked in. This has enabled me to provide a better response – one that supports the requirements of the frontline staff.

Working in smaller organisations gives you the opportunity to develop a profile for the facilities team. Others in the organisation then gain a better understanding of what the facilities team can provide and how the role of the team fits in with the overall goals of the organisation.

 

Q — What are the challenges that the overall Australian facilities management industry is currently facing, in your opinion? And, how do you feel these challenges can be overcome?

A — One of the critical issues challenging the industry is the ageing workforce and the need for recruitment and education in the industry. Facilities management is still not a profession that starts with education and graduation into the industry. It is one that many people still ‘fall’ into.

The Facilities Management Association of Australia (FMA) certainly has education and training on its agenda, but unless there is an acceptance from employers and recruiters that facilities management is a unique profession with its own competencies, people will continue to ‘fall’ into it with only some of the competencies required.

In my own practice, I have been challenged many times because I have no trade or engineering background. It is only recently that there has been a change in thinking, or at least I believe there has been, that facilities management is about relationships, with clients, staff, consultants, contractors and other service providers. It is about building the right team of people around you to deliver a service in whichever environment you are working in.

 

Q — What opportunities are arising for facilities managers in Australia? Why should facilities managers take advantage of these opportunities and how can they take advantage of them?

A — The need to concentrate on the maintenance, refurbishment and upkeep of existing buildings is being acknowledged and discussion about this continues to gain momentum.

Facilities management will be pivotal in driving this challenge, given it is the facilities managers who have the most knowledge about the history and life cycle of the building, and who will remain to ensure the longevity of the building after the designers and engineers have left. It is critical to make sure that this is given the traction it requires and that the renewal of existing buildings is seen as as important as, if not more than, the construction of new ones.

 

Q — What advice or thought would you like to share with the Australian facilities management community?

A — Remember that facilities management is not just about buildings and services, but about people as well. The profile of facilities managers in organisations is growing and we are being seen as a required human resource along with the others required to run a business.

Many of us are now sitting at executive and boardroom tables, providing advice. Practising facilities managers need to be involved in the industry, to keep learning and to keep up with the continual shifts within in it. There is always something to learn.

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