careers & jobs

by @paulcarder

I’m in reflective mood. On #WorldFMDay, I thought I should reflect on my affection for, and criticism of, Facilities (or Facility) Management. It is merely one person’s perspective. But it may provide a viewpoint, perhaps useful (or not) for the younger professionals joining our sector. There are some great, varied, and sometimes well-paid careers ahead for people who pick up the education and variety of skills needed in today’s FM market.

And to keep my friends happy, I’ll take the widest definition of FM that you may find! It is different in almost every organisation, and only limited by what one chooses to add to the FM portfolio. And the confidence shown in FM by the leadership of that organisation. That confidence is in the people who lead, manage and deliver FM – and there are some great leaders, managers and ‘do-ers’ around the world. It is a truly global sector.

People often fall into FM …today, it could be a career of choice. And should be.

I didn’t “fall into” FM, as many did a couple of decades ago (today, young people coming into FM can justifiably see it as a career of choice – it wasn’t in the early 1990s). I read about it, and saw it as a new and interesting sector. It wasn’t an FM practitioner who brought me into FM, but an architect and academic, Dr. Frank Duffy CBE, past President of the RIBA. More importantly, Frank was co-founder of DEGW, arguably the first workplace consultancy (see Reading University’s DEGW Archive for further information on this incredible firm). I was lucky enough to work right in the core of his international office, a desk or two away from Frank, Colin Cave (CEO), Professor John Worthington (when he was in :), and to sap up knowledge like a sponge for a year or so.

But I wasn’t an architect, designer, planner or social scientist (of which, DEGW had many greats over the years). I was a graduate Building Surveyor (“a what, sorry?” they said, in Germany or the USA, where I first travelled with the DEGW Workplace Forum). At the time, FM was being defined (it had been in existence for around a decade, publicly at least), and what I was reading was more about “workplace” than FM. That is what appealed – the whole workplace, and its contribution to organisations. A long way from surveying (and still is today, one could argue).

The Total Workplace….FM and organisations

I had Frank Becker’s 1990 book, “The Total Workplace – Facilities Management and the Elastic Organization”. Duffy and Becker were good friends, and I was fortunate to meet and talk with Prof. Becker on a couple of occasions.

I left DEGW, to join Symonds FM, in the office of another great FM thinker, and London Business School MBA, Oliver Jones (a far more successful businessman than the academics at DEGW had unfortunately been). Then I was offered my first company car 🙂 and more money in 1996, to join Procord (an IBM management buy-out of the property and FM department – one of the first large and successful ventures of its kind).

Procord (later Johnson Controls Integrated FM… much later GWS – Global Workplace Solutions …and recently acquired by CBRE) was a “total workplace” provider. And again, I was fortunate enough to get to work with top minds like Barry Varcoe (who later went on to run CRE & FM at Royal Bank of Scotland, and Zurich Financial…and is now an academic at Oxford University! If you’re in FM, you can get to Oxford…! (but only if you have a brain like Barry’s).

Occupiers …it all comes together ‘client side’

It was only really when I had my ‘baptism of fire’ at Barclays Bank in 1999-2003 that I learned the fundamentals of how all the areas of property, capital projects, policy, planning and facilities management came together. And that all of it is led by the occupier organisation – in this case, a large High Street bank. It was all very structured and orderly, and I found it hard going for at least a year. A great team of people, led by another first class mind in Peter Jones (now an MD at G4S) and working alongside someone I learned a lot from, Debi Rowland, now a Director at Sodexo.

10 years… half in consulting/supply-side… half with an occupier, client-side

I think that would be my recommendation for anyone coming into FM …and I would recommend anyone to join FM (though I have argued elsewhere, it is becoming “Workplace Management”…that’s for another day!). There are two sides to FM, and both are vital. Supply-side, working for an FM service provider or consultancy, provides a commercial understanding, and often leading practices. And client-side, working in an occupier team, for only one client…you are the client…provides a true understanding of how FM (and all its peer-group support functions) work together. And how they work with the ‘core’ front-line customer-facing units.

That was appreciation…now onto criticism 🙂 constructive, and necessary

I have not used the word profession above. I have mentioned ‘market sector’, or ‘management discipline’. And for good reason, I think – FM is not there yet. Not unlike many sectors which are only 20-30 years old, the FM sector has not done enough to become a profession…yet. And I’m not, here at least, getting into the issue of whether FM becomes “Chartered” or not (that is a British institutional thing, which albeit now global, is not the only way to become a profession). I don’t have space here to do this subject justice, but made a start in a 2013 blog.

FM needs three things to happen:

  1. the pursuit of excellence. And self-criticism, openly and honestly, with the aim of achieving perfection. Like a surgeon – not slapping themselves on that back and saying ‘how great we are’, but rather, analyzing what could be improved. And being constructively critical of what is wrong with FM.
  2. more continuous learning – and sharing that learning. That means a desire to research, to collaborate, to publish learning for the benefit of other professionals, for the benefit of the profession as a whole, and its customers.
  3. FM must consider society, and the environment (human and natural) as its customers – not just the organisations that pay directly for its services.

As I said in the 2013 blog article, there is hope for FM to become a true profession if we focus on these things:

FM has a promising professional career ahead, making a difference to society, by lifting the human spirit through people’s surroundings and a passion for service. And making a difference to the environment, by providing facilities that do as little damage to the planet as possible, and also give people the opportunity to ‘work, rest and play’ with less need to consume resources for travel.

So, I join into the spirit of #WorldFMDay – we all need to celebrate our successes. And I thank all those of you I have met along the way, over 20+ years, some mentioned above, but many more not. And I hope that, after the celebrations are over for another year, we can all focus on more reflection, self-criticism, research and learning – that will be the route to the true profession of facilities management.

Take care all.

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Robots, work and place

by Paul Carder on November 7, 2015

It’s the weekend. I’m not paid by UWE Bristol (my ‘day-job’) to think at the weekend. I can stop working (attending meetings, teaching, writing emails). But I can’t stop thinking – it’s going to happen anyway. As Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am”. This is part of the challenge of understanding what “work” actually is, for the few of us (knowledge workers¹) – most of the world is still sweating and grafting a living. They know when they have stopped work, downed tools, or whatever their terminology may be. We, knowledge workers, are probably almost as alien to some of the people doing ‘real work’ as robots are to me. All humans are sentient beings, and the robot is not. But the supposed equality of all sentient life forms would be lost, during working hours at least, on the person threading beads onto a string in India, for a rich person’s child to buy on holiday. These poor workers are robots in human form, in a sad and real sense, not like the androids of science fiction.

I have never taken much interest in robots until now, possibly as I have had little interest in what they do. But now I find myself interested in what they do not do! Robots don’t think. They are computers, with useful appendages. Robots are told (programmed) what to do, and they only do that thing when someone tells them to do so. That strikes me as being very similar to much of what we once thought of as ‘work’. Much of this work does not require a sentient life form – and the more sentient the individual is, the more likely their mind will wander, and errors will occur. Robots don’t think, so they do not get bored. So, we humans have creatively made robots which can, on the one hand take mindless soul-destroying work away from people (for a Forbes debate on this issue see this link²), and on the other hand remove their livelihood …a double-edged sword, if ever there was one….

But wait… what is this I am reading in the Guardian newspaper³ today? Robots can think! The article says:

“…the development of artificial intelligence means computers are increasingly able to “think”, performing analytical tasks once seen as requiring human judgment.”

Much of the newspaper’s article draws on a 300-page report, revealed exclusively to the Guardian, in which analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch “draw on the latest research to outline the impact of what they regard as a fourth industrial revolution, after steam, mass production and electronics”.

I have picked out two types of work discussed by the Guardian, which would not have been considered (by most people, I would guess) to be a possibility for robot-replacement: financial advisers and doctors.

“Financial advisers Bespoke financial advice seems like the epitome of a “personal” service; but it could soon be replaced by increasingly sophisticated algorithms that can tailor their responses to an individual’s circumstances.”

The implication here for ‘places’ is unclear, but we could imagine some scenarios. Informed users accessing the financial advice via their connected device, anywhere. Less informed users still needing to visit a financial adviser, to talk through the process (but perhaps not in the next generation?). And more work for software companies, located anywhere. In many cases, the user and the service provider (in this case, the adviser) do not need to meet, and the activity can be asynchronous. Will financial advisers offices and retail outlets be needed?

“Doctors Some 570,000 “robo-surgery” operations were performed last year. Oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have used IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which can read 1m textbooks in three seconds, to help them with diagnosis. Other medical applications of computer technology involve everything from microscopic cameras to “robotic controlled catheters””

Again, the implication here for ‘places’ is also unclear at this time. The medical service ‘user’ would generally need to be at a specific place (a hospital, or somewhere with the appropriate facilities). But the doctor may be elsewhere. In some cases the ‘user’ would be at home, or still at the scene of an emergency. These things already happen: kidney dialysis patients can have home-treatment machines, and paramedics can treat patients at the emergency scene using head-sets connected to a doctor back at base in the hospital.

Robots change work changes places

The two scenarios above are examples of how the physical places that have become familiar may change, or the proportion of use of places may change, through the increased use of robots. Fewer financial advisers (if that is the way things go) will mean reduced demand for office space. Other new service offerings may replace the old, and office demand would normalize. Conversely, we will always need doctors, but they may not work in the same way, or in the same places at the same times as they do today.

The one area which seems reasonably clear and certain is that there will be growing work for the location-independent digital employees. For example, the software ‘coders’, technologists and data analysts, who together make the computer-driven technologies work smoothly. Where will they work, and in what kind of places? Largely in offices, labs and service-centres; more of the same. Potentially, this ever-growing group of digital employees could mostly be located anywhere. Except where the service user and service provider are working on time-critical activity, like the doctor and paramedic. Whomever is supporting them will need to feel close by, even if they are not physically close. Whereas, a non-critical online transaction, such as the financial advisory applications discussed, could be delivered from anywhere in the same way as much of back-office of financial services is already delivered.

The corporate occupier will be most affected by where the corporation finds and recruits these growing numbers of digital employees. Where are they being educated and trained? This is a concern for politicians and executives at the highest levels – will your country deliver enough people with these advanced digital skills? Will they come to where you are now? Or will you have to build new facilities for them in places where they want to be? Spaces to think? I think, therefore I am…I want…I demand…  Robots would be so much less demanding – but quite boring!

Refs:

1. The Work Foundation (2009), Knowledge workers and knowledge work: A knowledge economy programme report, London, UK.

2. Vanian, J. (2015), Robots: Will They Steal Your Job? Fortune, 4th November

3. The Guardian (2015), Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality, Thursday 5th November.

 

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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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