2-4 December 2024 | ExCel London

Skilling up: Exclusive Interview with Mark Whittaker Chair of the IWFM

Skilling up: Exclusive interview with IWFM Chair | Facilities Show

03/05/2022 | Sara Bean, editor, FMJ | An article written exclusively for Facilities Show by FMJ

There has never been a greater need nor more opportune moment to fix the skills crisis in workplace and facilities management. But what will it take to do it? In this exclusive interview the IWFM Chair Mark Whittaker CIWFM, who is joining a discussion panel at the Facilities Show on this topic, shares his views on the skills and recruitment crisis facing the FM sector.


Question: What is the current situation in FM in recruiting staff?

Mark Whittaker: “I think the last 8 months have seen a very fluid, changing situation in the labor market. From much talk and evidence of the “Great Resignation” in late 2021, with professionals re-assessing their work/life priorities post-lockdown, it seems that there has been a slowing down of this recently and a focus on the challenges of increasing inflation, specifically energy prices and the cost of living crisis. That said respondents to our 2022 Market Outlook research saw the availability of skilled workers as the second biggest negative impact on their organisations. Firms are now working hard to both attract and retain their talent and this is not just in the form of salary increments or bonuses, but also in training and career development.”

“The cleaning and hygiene services industry still seems to be struggling to fill vacancies and the impact of Brexit, the 2020 Immigration Act, and the classification of such workers as “unskilled” or “low skilled” has definitely had an impact through the restricted supply of overseas workers. The impact of Brexit was ranked equal to skills for Market Outlook respondents in its reported negative effect.  

 “Another potential trend is that with increased home and “hybrid” working, organisations are re-assessing the size and use of their building portfolios. This has impacted on both the internal resources required to manage FM services and the scope and spend with service providers. The counterbalance to this is the organisations who, through workplace strategies,  are giving a greater priority and monetary investment in the “workplace experience” to encourage their people back into the office to facilitate greater collaboration and innovation, which takes more effort to achieve with mass remote working. Particularly encouraging from our Outlook research is that one in three respondents thought the FM team was better positioned in the organisation as a result of Covid.”


Q: What do you think are the biggest reasons for the challenges for FM in recruiting the right people? Brexit, the pandemic, raising the profile of the sector amongst younger people?

 MW: “Brexit and the lower numbers of overseas workers is having an impact, as well as skills shortages in other sectors which is driving significant wage inflation, such as HGV drivers.

“The “demographic time bomb” within the facilities management profession remains unresolved and is a challenge for all of us. It is one of the reasons IWFM continues to promote the “Career of Choice” initiative and why the “Rising FMs” Special Interest Group is so active and energised in speaking with young people about a career in the workplace and facilities management profession. This is not a quick win, though, and we need to continue the professionalisation of the industry and a consistent focus on the careers options available.” 


Q: How can FM address the problem – how can FM engage government and the wider business world? 

MW: “The continued professionalisation of FM is key in my opinion. That is why IWFM has placed such a focus on creating a development pathway with opportunities for progression via formal learning routes like qualifications and training via recognised centres including IWFM Direct, and the Academy; and is developing competency based routes to Certified status, such as the recent Recognition Programme.   

 “The challenge for the profession is to be viewed as invaluable in the delivery of key matters impacting the workplace: workplace design and experience; attracting and retaining talent; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI); Environmental, Social and corporate Governance (ESG); social value; achieving Net Zero targets, and so on. These are wonderful opportunities for the profession to embrace and evidence our worth, realising its potential as ‘agents of change’ in organisations.

 “In terms of Government engagement, IWFM continues to be active in making the profession’s case and presenting evidence to policy makers, particularly from our Special Interest Groups, Focus Groups, and through the work of Sofie Hooper, our Head of Policy Our work in advising on the National Living Wage and on building safety is evidence of this.” 


Q: Is there an opportunity here too for FM to upskill for the future, how can IWFM help achieve that?

MW: “I think IWFM will continue to develop our membership value proposition by focusing our research and insight on issues that are relevant to the sector today and in the future, updating the Professional Standards and providing practical tools and guidance to members to help them realise their potential to bring about change in organisations. Personally, I want being a member of IWFM to be an essential avenue for career progression and development of skills and knowledge. In addition, the key will be to be adaptable to the changing skillsets required as the profession continues to rapidly evolve.


 Q: How important are events such as the Facilities Show in bringing the sector back together?

 MW: “Events like the Facilities Show, where we are a partner, and the upcoming IWFM Conference, for example, are great opportunities to meet face-to-face once again, network, and broaden our knowledge and skillsets. Similar to the hybrid working debate and the importance of face-to-face collaboration, there are some activities that cannot be replaced by technology; webinars are an excellent and widely accessible platform, but they can neither replicate nor replace real human interaction.


Q: What are you most looking forward to seeing at the show?

 MW: “Foremost, I am looking forward to the range of speakers and getting the views of those on the stands. IWFM will be there as usual [come and see us!]. In addition, we have two discussion panels at the FM Theatre; on 17 May we’ll be discussing the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine and on 18 May I will be chairing the discussion on the skills shortage and how FM companies, suppliers and professional bodies can work together to fix the skills crisis in the sector. This will be followed by the IWFM Rising FMs networking event, which I am really looking forward to supporting.”


Turbulent times: FM's best upskilling opportunity - takes place at the FM Theatre between 10:30am - 11:15am on Wednesday 18th May.