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A clear message

4 June 2015 | Martin Read


Good to hear that a whopping 70 per cent of those who completed the BIFM’s recent Business Confidence Monitor survey rated the current business environment for FM as either positive or very positive. 


Better still that 65 per cent of in-house respondents expected the size of their teams to increase in the year ahead. And OK, perhaps a majority expecting their budgets to remain the same despite this expansion perhaps slightly contradicts this sense of expanding market activity, but let’s not have that spoil the underlying and welcome picture of positivity this survey paints.


Let’s talk instead about the Q&A session that followed the launch of the survey results. I calculate that around 90 per cent of the discussion with guests representing all aspects of the sector had little to do with broader market issues (insourcing vs outsourcing, the gap between turnover and profitability, the latest in service innovation) and everything to do with the war for talent.


Promoting facilities management as a career choice was back on the agenda, and rightly so for companies concerned that while their order books may be growing, they may not have sufficient human capital coming down the line to manage all this new work. Inevitably, discussion touched on some staple topics – loose definitions of FM for one, FM’s interactions with school and university leavers another.


Of course, much has changed in recent years. New career and qualification routes have been fleshed out, and an FM degree is in the pipeline. Those who complain that not enough is being done to sell the sector to young people are often surprised to hear just such an initiative that those who complain weren’t previously aware of.


And yet I still wonder – what single thing we could do to paint a more powerful picture of a career in facilities? Perhaps the problem is there in that single word – facilities. 


Advertising mogul Maurice Saatchi talks of the power of “one-word equity” for brands, by which organisations dominate markets by ‘owning’ single words for marketing purposes. (Arguably, Google owns the word ‘search’, for example.) Does ‘facilities’ do the trick for such a multi-faceted sector? Perhaps not. But then, perhaps FM’s definition problem is a product of our age. Accounting – a one-word description of a profession that everyone can identify with – defines a business practice codified well over 100 years ago. FM, by contrast, first coalesced as a descriptive term in the 1980s before coming to prominence in the 1990s  - just as, coincidentally, the internet started to atomise established ways of doing business.


When explaining FM we often find ourselves talking in overlapping sentences about in-house and outsourced provision, of vertical and integrated services, of myriad details that fit for one client but not another. Yet clarity of description is crucial when seeking to engage with the next potential generation of FMs. Are we trying to define in a single phrase a form of activity that just won’t fit? Maybe so. 


The solution to that conundrum? Please, if you have one…


Martin Read is managing editor at FM World