Last reviewed 24 July 2018

What will the workplace, and the facilities management workforce that serves it, be like in the future? What skill sets will be required in the facilities management professionals of tomorrow and how will the right talent be attracted to the sector? Will the gender balance change in different roles — such as more women in engineering roles? In this article Alan Field offers some insights into these complex and intriguing questions.

Introduction

Trying to crystal ball gaze about the facilities management professional of the future is fraught with unknowns. First, what skills will the facilities management professional need? What will future facilities management be? This will be informed by what will become important to the facilities management buyers of the future.

Before we consider these questions, let’s reflect for a moment on what the future market for facilities management might be.

Two of the biggest trends might be these. First, future facilities management will become an even more people-based business than it already is — we move from thinking about how buildings and services are managed to meet user needs, to thinking about how we meet user needs in a workplace context. So, processes will focus on customer expectations rather than just aligning with efficient management of a building.

The second key trend is sustainability. The march of sustainable expectations and targets will become even more essential to customers, and not only to corporate customers, but to individual building users as well. Both these trends could also align with the current move towards “managed services” — such as IT support, finance and HR — being managed by the facilities management professional. All these possibilities could become routine and the skill sets of the facilities management professional could become more segmented far beyond the current broad umbrella alignment of “hard” and “soft” services.

Also, the design of the future workplace could present more challenges for those designing hard and soft facilities management services. Think greater use of communications technologies to avoid face-to-face meetings, supporting homeworking infrastructure, and further expansion and evolution of non-conventional configurations, eg hot-desking, activity hubs, “beyond walls” approaches, all of which will probably better align with the blending of work and social activities within one building or one virtual work community.

These scenarios could lead to more tailored, personal managed services, with the expectation that these will always be delivered in sustainable ways. So, individual customers could expect, say, that all the energy they consume in their workplace should be from renewable sources, or they might have wider expectations of corporate responsibility, for example, facilities management staff better reflecting social diversity and educational development for social inclusion. These are all distinct possibilities to be planned for in terms of talent management for the future. In turn, this could lead to different priorities in facilities management delivery models and, eventually, evolve into different delivery models in themselves.

The workforce itself may also change and, therefore, their expectations of the facilities management professional. For example, while the marketing literature from many different business sectors usually depicts images of a young, stylish and perpetually happy workforce, the future reality could actually be more of an ageing workforce.

All these potential evolutions in the market highlight how the competencies needed from the facilities management professional will also have to evolve to meet — and better respond — to them.

Gender neutral?

While all genders are represented in all roles and responsibilities within the facilities management sector, there is still, perhaps, less of a gender balance in some roles than others. Arguably, this is indicative of a wider business issue and doesn’t only impact on facilities management. It also impacts on developing future talent, bearing in mind that facilities management businesses will still be competing with other sectors for the best people. It may simply be that the future facilities management marketplace, like other marketplaces, will demand a wider gender and socially inclusive balance in some roles. For more technical roles, this takes time and planning to achieve in terms of professional education and training.

In March 2018, the CIBSE Journal said: “Consider that the UK has the lowest proportion of female professional engineers in Europe, at just 8%.” Women in engineering estimate a slightly higher figure of 11%. Nevertheless, the trend it represents is still poor, bearing in mind there are numerous professional institutions in the UK offering professional grade memberships to engineers in different disciplines, along with many universities, colleges and other routes to studying engineering to degree or equivalent level.

One cause of this is the educational pipeline itself. As the WISE campaign has pointed out “Just 35% of girls choose maths, physics, computing or a technical vocational qualification compared to 94% of boys. This reduces the number of girls going on to do a degree or level 4 qualification in maths, physics, computer science or engineering — 9% of girls compared to 29% of boys.” So, gender imbalance in engineering is, partly at least, an issue of earlier education, ie not enough girls studying GCSE and A levels subjects that would give them eligibility to apply for university or equivalent courses that would lead to engineering qualifications.

However, what concern is this to the facilities management professional? One reason is how far the facilities management sector feels it has an obligation to develop the workforce of tomorrow and the new competencies they may need to bring. It can also lead into wider questions of corporate social responsibility (CSR), supporting community initiatives and social cohesion.

Many organisations — and not just in the built environment sector — engage in CSR. The motives for these policies — and the time and resources they take up — can be complex. Altruism is only one of the motives. Some organisations, for example, see that it is a method of team building and staff engagement, ie to encourage staff at all levels to co-operate together on delivering projects of benefit to the community. Some employers see that the skills and competencies their staff can develop in organising such activities — be it gardening for the elderly or raising money for charity — can then be harnessed for better customer delivery. Some organisations encourage a level of customer and contractor involvement in such CSR projects to encourage an even wider team building.

Perhaps with the facilities management customer base, demonstrating these CSR involvements will become a future expectation — in other words, for some individual building users the trend will be away from thinking of the unseen people who help keep everything working in the building, to more engagement with their support services partner, who is a key part of their team. Of course, this is already happening with some facilities management customer relationships. It is not yet the norm, but could become so.

This all means talent spotting goes beyond current expectations and means the technical and interpersonal skills of facilities management professionals will need to reflect the workplace users they are involved with. For example, remember that some 51% of the UK workforce are female and, maybe they will expect a better gender balance in all facilities management roles, including the more technical ones.

Conclusions

  • Future facilities management is likely to be quite different — the talent that the facilities management sector attracts will need some different skills and some different talent.

  • More gender balance in all facilities management roles will become a customer expectation.

  • Workplace design and what the workplace becomes will drive the competencies of facilities management professionals.

  • Future facilities management is likely to be driven more by individual customer expectations rather than just the technical expectations of building management.

  • Future facilities management could be a mixture of managed services and the facilities management professional being seen as a key member of the customer’s support team — this trend is already here but could soon become the norm.

  • Future facilities management is going to be sustainable — instead of it just being a corporate customer concern or even a landlord concern, one likelihood is that individual users will have their own expectations of sustainability.

  • End-user expectations of sustainability could, for example, relate to renewable energy or how the facilities management professional is supporting CSR initiatives.

  • CSR policies may be expected to support the competency pipeline as well as encouraging social inclusion.