Education: breaking down the barriers
Educator MARTIN LEITCH from the private FM training company fmedge says Australian facilities management professionals are notoriously reluctant to undertake professional development. Why? And what do we have to do to break down this barrier to industry improvement?
Nairobi in Kenya is probably not the first place you would think of as being a significant market for facilities management training. Yet, over the last two years, 180 industry practitioners have completed the fmedge three-day Facilities Management Fundamentals course through our Kenyan partner Quantum FM. And they are desperate for more training opportunities!
Compare the Kenyan experience to Australian course take-up rates. In the same two-year time period, only eight people undertook the same course – even though we had the capacity to take on 80 participants.
So, what stops Australian facilities management professions from undertaking professional development? What do we have to do to break down this barrier?
Industry feedback suggests that lack of time, location and cost are the most common barriers to people undertaking training, with further investigation showing that a lack of motivation and fear also factor into the equation.
TIME, LOCATION AND COST
Lack of time is a valid concern to FM practitioners, because standard ‘9 to 5’ working environments hardly ever apply to facilities management jobs. At an operational level FM is reactive – and that generally means long working hours and constant availability. Given this ‘time poor’ situation, it is a major challenge to commit to even one day out of the office to attend a training course.
In regard to location, how often are courses available where the practitioner needs the training, and how many practitioners can wait to gain the knowledge they need? Low numbers of available courses have meant that many practitioners only secure additional training when ‘coincidently’ a course comes up at the right time. This has led to a ‘Catch 22’ situation where the industry stops offering courses because it perceives a lack of demand, while the practitioners don’t undertake training because they perceive a lack of courses.
The geographical spread of practitioners across the breadth of Australia is also a major challenge. For practitioners not located in and around the three main eastern seaboard CBDs, interstate travel is an essential element (and cost) of attending training.
Cost has always been a significant factor, more so now as a result of the GFC. Cost, of course, includes not only attendance fees, but also the cost of travel and non-productive time. Budgets, as a general rule, seem to have little room for training, and, within the service provider sector, margins are always under pressure and appear to have no capacity for improving competence through training. The other side of the cost issue is the cost of not training – how many organisations measure the cost of errors arising from the lack of required skills and knowledge?
Let’s consider motivation in relation to three industry stakeholder groups:
• the individual – their motivation is to enhance their knowledge and experience to do a better job, to improve their job satisfaction and perhaps to advance their career.
• the employer – the employer’s motivation is to train their employees to improve team performance, to deliver more efficient services and to make a positive contribution to the bottom line.
• professional bodies – their motivation is to raise the general level of competence in the industry, to improve the industry’s credibility and increase recognition of its value to the national economy.
I very much doubt that any industry practitioner would disagree with the ambition to improve their salary-earning capacity, so much so that fmedge has experienced many individuals who self-fund their professional development. Maybe part of the reason that they have resorted to self-funding is that their employers are not motivated enough to achieve the above objectives.
Clearly time, location and cost play a part in this lack of employer motivation, but perhaps another factor is fear. Fear of investing in their employees, only to have them leave for a different position. If that is the case, then employers should take the time to consider that money is no longer the primary motivating factor for employees, particularly younger generations. Salary ranks below working environment, personal development opportunities and corporate social performance.
Industry bodies have a significant role to play in motivating employers and practitioners to improve competency and industry performance. Unfortunately, the lack of open and credible professional accreditation and competency maintenance programs is having an opposing effect.
BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS
While face-to-face training is undoubtedly the preferred training method, it seems that the barriers that education and training providers need to surmount are too extreme to deliver this type of training. It is clear that the FM industry just does not have the critical mass to support cost-effective, responsive, face-to-face training courses.
What is the ideal solution? How can we break down these barriers?
Perhaps the FM industry needs training courses that are:
• low-cost – making them cost-effective for employees and employers
• flexible – available at any time, so participants can more easily work around their day-to-day operational commitments
• available anywhere – so that location is no longer a disadvantage
• relevant – and provide specific skills that resolve immediate training deficits
• attractive – to the individual and employer to improve personal and team performance
• motivating – to support Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and life-long learning.
THE FUTURE IS ONLINE
fmedge has seen a growing acceptance of e-learning as a valid learning tool during the past five years of delivering online professional development and qualification training. This has created a new opportunity.
The fmedge solution is the ‘skillspak’ online learning tools that can be completed in less than two hours and cost under $100. These are subject and task-focused short courses that satisfy the growing demand for ‘just-in-time’ learning within the facilities and property management industries. These courses also represent the first step on a pathway that can lead through broader subject-focused CPD (continuing professional development) to VET (vocational education and training) sector qualification and eventually to university degrees.
The FM industry seems to be languishing in a state of complacency with regard to professional development training, despite the great intentions of the FM Action Agenda of 2006.
The training and education sector has in the past struggled to supply high-quality training options that overcome the barriers of time, cost and location – but times have changed. There are now training programs out there that are extremely accessible, despite the high demands that the FM industry places on its practitioners.
A new industry outlook is all it will take to develop a new highly skilled breed of FM practitioners who are committed to career-long learning – an outlook that looks past traditional training methods and embraces new technologies.
Martin Leitch (BSc, FBIFM) is the CEO of fmedge facility management training, Australia’s leading FM industry training provider. Through fmedge, Leitch has successfully pioneered the introduction of online learning into the FM industry and continues to improve access to training and education by pushing the boundaries of training delivery technologies.