RICS skills debate

What skills will be necessary for FM leaders to stay ahead of tomorrow’s market trends? That was the question for a panel of FM experts and an invited audience assembled in RICS headquarters last night (1st July). Christopher Hedley of IPD Occupiers was in the chair.

Peter McLennan, MSc Course Director in Facility and Environment Management at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, said that in 20 years of teaching, the students who went on to success were those who could bring “transformation” to their organisations, rather than simply manage transactions.

Looking at the standing of facilities management, Professor Dr John Hinks, Global Head of Innovation, CRE&FM at Zurich Insurance said there is “no collective industry or professional vision to get FM out of the doldrums.” As the client role is eroded back to contract management and governance, it’s unclear what leadership would mean, he said. If the client’s “intermediary” function is weakened, this also affects the ability of service providers to innovate. FM must grasp a strategic role. According to AWA’s Andrew Mawson: “We need metrics for value as well as cost if we are to argue the case for FM in the face of pressure to simply reduce expenditure.”

Paul Carder, co-author of the RICS’ influential Raising the Bar study on the strategic role of FM, agreed, arguing that management of delivery is important but end-user FMs must really study and understand the core organisation, not just the facilities dimension.

Inevitably the discussion turned to definitions – of facilities management and professionalism. Kath Fontana, Managing Director BAM FM and member of the RICS FM Professional Group Board, was clear that if FM is not a career of choice, then the answer is to make it a profession, with professional qualifications. “I want to be part of a profession not an industry,” she said.

From the floor, consultant Dave Wilson admitted to being in something of a dilemma over the “professionalisation” of FM. Wide experience is important, he said, we are generalists and that’s a strength but the UK is way behind the rest of Europe in graduate education for this sector.”

Continuing his critique of the industry, John Hinks said industry doesn’t get involved enough with research and development, and particularly with embedding it in operations.

Picking up the research theme, Professor Frank Duffy, co-founder of pioneering firm DEGW (now absorbed into Aecom), said he wasn’t sure that the nineteenth century concept of a profession was applicable to facilities management but he would like to see an education model that reflected the  cooperation integral to FM. He proposed sharing “stories of success and failure” using the Harvard Business School method of teaching through case studies. See here.

At the end, as with many of these discussions, there was no obvious consensus or a clear way forward for the industry or profession. Old themes were echoed but with a more urgent underlying message of changing times, to which both organisations and individuals must adapt.

Cathy Hayward