Career progression in Facilities Management in a corporate/government organisation

by Paul Carder on July 6, 2012

There is always a reasonable amount of discussion around this subject, whether on the online groups or face-to-face at conferences and events. I think that Heads of Facilities Management (FM) in corporate and government organisations often believe the following:

  1. There is limited opportunity to progress ‘upwards’, other than to move to a larger organisation perhaps;
  2. In the largest organisations, due to reporting lines, progression is often ‘up’ to Corporate Real Estate (or ‘Property’ or ‘Estates’ Director, depending where you are);
  3. Real Estate or Property is a ‘chosen profession’, often from college onwards, whereas many Facilities Managers have ‘fallen into’ FM somewhere along the line, having started out somewhere else;
  4. Ambitious graduates will not ‘chose’ to go into FM

I also think that they are wrong on all counts – or at least, they are moving in that direction!

I’m going to leave point (2) for now, as it will be covered in detail in our “Raising The Bar” study later this year. Suffice to say, there is evidence of several patterns of reporting line from FM up through the executive levels.

Let’s look at points (3) and (4) – what stops people ‘choosing’ FM as a career, rather than ‘falling into it’ as many have done in the past. Firstly, careers advice probably in many cases – the situation is much like it was with construction (and may still be today). I know, I have been there! I became interested in construction in the late 1980’s boom years, where there were new developments everywhere (UK), and it looked more fun than an office job (and it was). But, my careers advisor at school suggested Civil Engineering or Architecture. “But, I want to be a builder”, I said, to blank looks. No idea about construction management, and nobody even mentioned surveying.

So, how good is careers advice today for someone looking for a varied and interesting career, travel opportunities, and not to sit at a desk in an office all day? If you are a recruiter or careers advisor, or have experience, let us know please….

On point (4) in particular, graduate recruitment into FM is always going to struggle to compete with the more established professions and general management roles on offer. But, in my view, one of (if not THE) best routes to a solid training in FM, and key to a very senior role, would be to go through the general management training programme from one of the largest corporations or government schemes (like the UK Civil Service).

Why? One of the KEY success factors for any senior FM is understanding of how the organisation works. So what better training than to go through 3/4 years of rotation through various departments and functions across the core business. Then progress into FM. I put this to a senior global FM this week, and he said, “Mm, yes…agree…but would they come into FM when they have all those other departments to choose from?”; Yes, I think they would….

Its not as though the salaries and rewards at the senior levels are not attractive – six figure salaries are commonplace at ‘Head of FM’ level in the largest corporations. Put that together with the variety of management challenges in FM, and the almost limitless ability to transfer your skills around the world, why would it not be an attractive career choice?

Lastly, lets look at point (1) above – lack of career progression. Even this is starting to become less true. The rise of Shared Services and Enterprise Support and similar multi-disciplinary support functions sees opportunity for leaders from any background. A Finance leader may move into HR, and the latter into FM, etc. So we will see competent ‘Heads of FM’ moving up to lead Shared Services functions, if they have acquired the breadth of skills and experience.

In summary, career progression is improving in FM, within the large corporate and government environment. As an industry, we need to do more to (a) support careers advisors, at schools and Universities, and (b) to look harder, and be more ambitious, in pushing FM into the rotation cycles for graduate training schemes in large organisations. If you have experience to share on either of these points, do let us know.

Paul (paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com)

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