Professionalising facilities management
Anyone can practise as a facility manager in Australia – no independent certification or accreditation required. The big question is: can facility management ever be a true ‘profession’ in the absence of nationally uniform, widely embraced professional standards? Private educator MARTIN LEITCH says this issue must be resolved as a priority.
In 1989 a group of people got together to try to address some key issues they were facing in meeting their responsibilities to manage the buildings occupied by the organisations they worked for. Yet 22 years later, the passion, energy and experience of this now expanded group remains underutilised, unharnessed and uncoordinated.
Conversations are still being held around these exact same issues. The only difference is that they are now being held in disparate groups, each with their own spin on what needs to happen. Despite their subtle differences, these conversations are sending out a single clear message: Facilities Management is at a crossroads and needs to move on.
The key issues identified all those years ago are still subject to debate today. They may be summarised as follows:
• recognition as a senior profession that is based on demonstrable ethical and educational standards
• alignment with procurement to ensure that service delivery is not constrained by low levels of financial investment
• recognition as a critical strategic business function with a voice in the board room
• creation of genuine points of difference amongst service providers to provide competitive customer choice.
In his paper, ‘Facilities Management at the Crossroads’, Glen Hibberd states that, “Whilst this [lack of progress] may seem to paint a rather grim or at least disappointing picture for the profession the good news is there is a solution. The intersection we have reached also represents an opportunity for the profession.” Hibberd’s paper identifies a way forward and proposes a number of very relevant solutions.
THE FM PROFESSION
Using the term ‘industry’ when describing Facilities Management does not give it the standing and strategic relevance to business success that it deserves. It is clear that Facilities Management is still fighting to be truly recognised as a senior profession on the same level as engineering, architecture, building surveying, etc. And it will not be recognised as such until we start adopting similar language, behaviours and structures as those other professions.
“A profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level, and who are prepared to apply this knowledge and exercise these skills in the interest of others.”2
The focus of the debate about the optimum direction to take from the intersection must be on FM as a profession. FM professionals, along with other professionals and trades, contribute to making the FM industry.
One of the first benefits that this will bring is proper acknowledgement of and due credit to the many professionals working in FM who, through their hard work, have made a difference. It will also help us to re-evaluate the language we use and to re-package our role as being an absolutely critical business process rather than an industry that is ‘non-core’ and operational.
However, the profession needs to go much further than this. It needs a robust system for demonstrating to the market and to the public that facilities management professionals adhere to ethical standards and possess special knowledge and skills. To achieve this, the profession needs a robust system for measuring and demonstrating professional capability and performance and, once established, ongoing monitoring of professional standards.
The profession needs a formal system that establishes and maintains standards to meet the requirements of the customer. Such a system will result in consistency of quality across all professionals. As things currently stand, anyone can call himself or herself a facilities manager, irrespective of their level of knowledge and experience. It’s no wonder that there is a lack of clarity inside and outside the profession as to what a facilities manager is or what they do.
So what options are open to the profession for establishing appropriate standards?
Options essentially fall into two categories: those that are externally governed and those that are internally governed.
Externally governed schemes
Externally governed schemes are generally government controlled. Such schemes range from government-assisted schemes that do not feature enforcement to explicit government schemes that carry the full weight of legislation.
Licensing, or registration, is one example of an externally governed scheme. The objective of licensing an industry is to regulate traders when there is a high risk of consumer detriment. Examples of licensed practitioners include: conveyancers, real estate agents and funeral providers.
Previous and current conversations suggest that this type of approach to formal recognition for FM might be relevant. While at a cursory level this approach may seem to be appropriate, it is the view of the author that licensing is not appropriate on two counts.
The first of these is that licensing in Australia tends to be most suitable for business-to-consumer transaction. FM is either an internal business process or a business-to-business transaction. FM does not directly impact on risk of consumer detriment. It directly impacts on risk to corporate performance.
The second is that licensing tends to be most relevant to trades and industries, rather than professions. The FM industry comprises a large number of different trades and skills that are licensed in their own right. The establishment of standards therefore needs to be focused on facilities management as a profession.
Schemes that do not feature government involvement are generally created from voluntary agreement within the industry, and are characterised by voluntary codes of conduct or standards and have no government enforcement.
There are many cost and flexibility advantages to this self-regulation approach over licensing. However, self-regulation must be established through a robust consultative process that involves all stakeholders – employers, industry bodies, training and education providers and government representatives.
One of the key components of self-regulation is setting standards for behaviour and competency.
The former can be addressed through the development and implementation of ethical standards and a code of conduct which professionals can choose to adopt and comply with by becoming a member of the profession. These need to be established as the cornerstone of the profession and the focus of the promotion of the profession to the market.
Whether recognised by external regulation or by internal accreditation, the resulting professional status will add value to its members and attract new entrants into the profession such that it becomes a career of choice.
If we do not take the initiative to make the change, the decision may be taken out of our hands. For example, how long will it be before the insurance industry starts to make demands on regulated accreditation for a profession that is responsible for business continuity, business reputation and billions of dollars of capital and revenue budgets?
COMMITMENT TO CHANGE
Setting competency standards can readily be achieved through the development and implementation of an accreditation system. This needs to focus on the strategic nature of the profession and to respond to the needs of the market. In this respect, the profession needs to take the lead in educating the market on the benefits of strategic facilities management though its integration into key business processes.
Of course, meeting the requirements of an accreditation system is only part of the requirement that permits the use of the title ‘facilities manager’. It is essential that anyone eligible to use this title demonstrate his or her ongoing compliance with the standards set by the accreditation system. Professional accreditation must be supported by an enforceable ‘continuing professional development’ (CPD) program.
The time is right for the self-regulation of facilities management in Australia. This can be achieved readily through the implementation of ethical standards and a code of practice and through the development and implementation of competency standards that truly reflect the strategic nature of the profession.
But what is going to bind this together and how can it be driven forward? One of the attributes that is missing from current ‘industry representation’ is a sense of belonging through membership of a community of like-minded professionals. Also lacking is interactive engagement with the external business community. However, there is a significant number of professionals committed to making a difference by professionalising facilities management.
SETTING THE STANDARDS
The big question is: how can this level of change be achieved?
The process needs clear direction and strong leadership with a mandate from all the constituent stakeholders. Who are these stakeholders?
Employers: This group of stakeholders includes all employers of facilities managers, corporate employers and service provider employers, represented by senior business leaders, not just those directly involved with FM.
Industry bodies: This stakeholder group needs to include all associations and informal groups that represent facilities management. It will include FMA Australia, TEFMA, CoreNet Global and other associations that have an interest in FM, such as Women in FM.
Training and education: Representation from the secondary school, VET and higher education sectors is essential to direct discussions around establishing educational pathways, defining educational levels and the practicalities of proposed solutions
Government representation: It is essential that government be represented in such a forum. This would be facilitated through the Construction and Property Services Industry Skills Council (CPSISC).
The formation of an overarching body comprising representatives from each of these stakeholder groups would establish the framework for the FM profession to develop into the future. This ‘Regulators Forum’ would be under the guidance of an independent body or individual.
Having arrived at this intersection, the time has come for Facilities Management to make the commitment to becoming a profession that is defined by relevant standards and practices and whose primary care is to its customer – the business community. Recent failures such as those that shut down Sydney Airport and Westpac Banking Corporation highlight the criticality of facilities management to any organisation. The profession needs to set standards that exceed regulatory requirements and market expectations.
The time has come to harness the passion, energy and experience in a way that defines the future of this exciting profession and capitalises on untapped opportunity.
“Professionalism is more crucial now than ever before to society’s economic, social and moral wellbeing. The impact of professionalism on society is both wide and deep. Its essence defines and directs many of society’s endeavours in an ever more interdependent, informed and complex world.”3
1. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/industry, last viewed 14 May 2011
2. http://www.professions.com.au/defineprofession.html, last viewed 14 May 2011
3. ‘Why professionalism is still relevant’, George Beaton January 2010.
Martin A Leitch (BSC FBIFM) is the CEO of fmedge facility management training, Australia’s leading FM training provider. Leitch is dedicated to making a difference in the FM profession. He has successfully pioneered the introduction of online learning into the profession and continues to improve access to training and education by pushing the boundaries of training delivery technologies.
To comment on and participate in this conversation, visit www.thebuiltcommunity.com. Also, see the Editor’s Comment in the latest issue (Aug-Sep 2011) of Facility Management.