Path into FM paved with numerous side roads
Delving into the current state of FM education in the region, FM ME reaches out to industry experts and teachers to discover how talent is sought and developed
Fostering talent in facilities management has always been a complex affair. Back when the industry was still in its infancy, many who stumbled into FM came from a variety of backgrounds.
There were no programmes or certifications in place to prepare this new class of professionals for what was to come. Every trick in the book that we know today, stemmed from a lesson learned from first-hand experience.
Though today’s candidates still hail from a variety of backgrounds, the path to FM is now paved with numerous side roads.
For both newcomers to the field or seasoned veterans searching for a competitive edge, there are plenty of programmes readily available through academic institutions and talent development firms.
While the common perception of the Middle East still sees the region lagging behind more mature Western markets, substantial progress has been made in introducing avenues for FM education, as well as creating its own blend of talent.
“There is a wide range of FM talent in the GCC, covering managerial, technical, all operational functions, plus IT skill sets,” comments Bill Heath, managing director of Macro International.
“The depth of experience and knowledge is the critical factor to maintain a high standard in the region. Project scale, diversity and general complexity have brought challenges that many FM practitioners have had to adapt to, and learn about, over the past 10 years.”
Launched in the UK as an extension to Mace back in 2002, Macro today maintains a global presence across 23 countries. Established in the Middle East in 2008, the company’s services range from integrated facilities management, FM consultancy, managed services, fm24 helpdesk/CAFM, technical services and owners association management.
In terms of the concentration of talent availability and development, the strongest country in this regard is undoubtedly the UAE.
While neighbouring nations such as Qatar and Oman have pushed to realise a strong FM identity, there are other countries in the GCC where development of FM has been slow and perhaps even stunted.
Part of the reason for this is that within ‘weaker’ countries, the concept of integrated FM has not yet been fully realised. There is also a lack of awareness and advancement of international practices.
Another limiting factor in the development of local talent is a tendency of FM providers to pool their resources towards drawing foreign expertise into the region.
In addition to being transient in nature, expatriates are typically less invested in the region’s development, when compared to their local counterparts. Contributing to the success of one’s home market is an incredibly powerful motivator.
Commenting on the availability of FM programmes in the region, Macro’s managing director asserts that over the last decade rapid progress has been made “to bridge the gap to mature markets”. While it may not have reached the same level, the GCC region has realised its own set of achievements in the sector.
“The region [GCC] is perhaps more advanced with regards to dealing with large scale development programmes and high rise built environments on a significant scale,” explains Heath.
The greater majority of FM companies operating in the GCC tend to implement in-house training programmes that are accredited by international bodies such as IFMA and BIFM.
An equally viable approach, is for training to be facilitated through local associations, such as the Middle East Facilities Management Association (MEFMA).
These associations offer a range of courses that cover everything from business strategy to technical skillsets.
“There is a number of international FM experts who operate as sole practitioners and these are being used on a regular basis to support training needs,” adds Heath.
One such company dedicated to promoting FM education in the region is UK-based Skills4Stem, a global skills and succession planning consultancy. Delivering its services to the UK, UAE and India, Skills4Stem’s long list of clientele includes the likes of AECOM, SPIE, BDP and Women in Building Services Engineering (WiBSE).
With 28 trainers on call, the majority of whom hail from a background in the built environment, the consultancy combines technology and field training in the delivery of its programmes. It assists its clientele in adapting to the demands of the modern workplace.
“It is about gaining a competitive edge, and about thinking how the industry is changing, how workforces are changing and how our clients might want to add value to their clients,” says Sarah Davis, CEO, Skills4Stem.
On the one hand, Skills4Stem offers accredited courses that include certifications on the more technical side of FM.
These include mechanical and electrical services, as well as health and safety.
The consultancy’s portfolio includes unaccredited courses that focus on tackling cultural challenges, language barriers and building effective communication skills.
In addition, Skills4Stem offers a wide-range of consultancy services focused on talent identification and development. A critical part of FM, according to Davis, skills analysis programmes can help FM companies identify the strengths and weaknesses of their workforce. It can also assist in devising an effective training regimen.
To this effect, Skills4Stem utilises gamification, a concept that uses game design mechanics to highlight the skillsets of participants.
“We conduct skills analysis through gamification, which is currently being used in the UK and it is something that we are starting to communicate into the Middle East,” explains Davis.
Open to all ages, cultures and genders, these 30-minute video game sessions record participants as they follow the game’s story.
At specific moments, the users are asked to make critical decisions that are recorded for analysis. The responses are then fed back to the organisations and the individual, highlighting strengths and weaknessess in terms of communication and leadership.
Davies argues that gamification is a cost-effective method that can be used to identify which candidates would benefit from leadership coaching programmes. This can highlight skill gaps shared by multiple participants, which may in turn indicate the need for group training sessions.
When pressed for her viewpoint on the current challenges of FM education in the Middle East, Davis highlighted a key issue with ‘identity’.
Simply put, the concept of facilities management is still relatively unknown outside of the market itself, and it isn’t a problem that is unique to the GCC — it’s a global issue.
“There is still a communication piece that needs to be done to let young people, or those people looking to move into new careers, know what an amazing job they could have in FM and what different roles are available,” explains Davis.
In addition to promoting awareness of FM and the wide-range of expertise that fall under its umbrella, the CEO added that the best way to address the issue is to introduce more professional qualifications.
This will provide a recognisable avenue for people to follow and appreciate, while increasing the field’s visibility across the general community.
Sharing some advice for prospective FM candidate, Davis suggests that experience from operating within the built environment is a good first step on the road to FM.
Acquiring a general academic qualification is also a good starting point that will then enable young people to land FM jobs and become more involved in running commercial buildings or complexes.
“FM is a very broad industry with lots of different opportunities. Young individuals can come in and really be involved in creating these great communities where people are working and living. By working in FM, you’re part of creating those spaces,” enthuses Davis.