What we learned from ‘Skills in the post-COVID world: evolution or revolution’


  • Coronavirus,
  • General news

13 August 2020


In response to the COVID-19 crisis, IWFM has launched 'Navigating turbulent times': a new regular webinar series where a variety of expert guests delve into the global economy's greatest challenges. In a webinar streamed live on Wednesday 8 July, an expert panel discussed the challenges and opportunities of driving skills in the post-COVID-19 world.

The workplace and facilities management profession is rapidly evolving into a diverse, multi-faceted discipline.  Fundamental changes in automation and artificial intelligence – the rise of big data and smart technology – pose questions and present opportunities not only about how facilities professionals work, but how the workplace itself (however defined) can be used as a flexible tool to enhance organisational performance and achieve the holy grail of higher productivity.

The UK economy is suffering a skills shortage and so is the facilities sector. The Open University put the direct cost of the UK skills shortage at £6.3 billion a year. In our Market Outlook Survey last year, three-quarters of respondents reported their organisation had found it difficult to recruit employees with the right skills over the prior 12 months and expected the problem to continue. And that was before the impact of Brexit and most recently COVID-19. 

As we emerge from the pandemic the focus has to be on how we can build back better - and what this challenging, changing, environment means for today’s and tomorrow’s facilities professionals and the shape of the future skills agenda.

The webinar featured a diverse panel, including:

  • Linda Hausmanis, CEO, IWFM
  • Toyin Aderiye, Principal lecturer in FM and executive MBA course leader, Sheffield Hallam University
  • Dave Greene, of the IWFM International Specialist Interest Group
  • David Carr, CEO Bouygues Energies & Service Solutions
  • Danielle Northam, Deputy Director Government Property Profession at Cabinet Office

Key take-outs from the webinar are below.

To view a recording of the full webinar, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOhFFb-K84w

To explore future webinars in the series, visit: https://www.iwfm.org.uk/coronavirus-resources/webinar-series-navigating-turbulent-times.html

To explore IWFM’s Career of Choice resources hub, visit: https://www.iwfm.org.uk/insight/policy/career-of-choice.html

Key take-outs:

Key skills for FM & workplace professionals

As we navigate times of huge change, there is a vital need to focus on the end user and understand their needs – looking beyond individual customers to truly understand clients’ business strategies and plans.  The role of workplace and facilities managers goes far beyond simply managing the built environment, it is about driving organisational performance. Workplace and facilities managers need to speak the language of business. As buildings of the future will be able to maintain themselves to a significant degree and more employees will likely work from home FMs need to be adept at managing potential conflicts and navigating different corporate cultures.

We have seen such change in the concept of ‘workplace’ in recent months that it is impossible to know what the landscape will look like over the coming years. FMs need to be agile; able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and look ahead to how their own organisations or clients’ priorities might change.

The crisis has also seen the role of technology come to the fore. Moving forward, it will be crucial for workplace and facilities management professionals to understand technology and data, and how to use it effectively to improve, create and curate effective workplaces – wherever they may be.

Yet at its heart, workplace and facilities management is a people-focused discipline, and requires a level of ‘softer skills’, such as good customer service, sales and time management. The coronavirus crisis has seen the industry become even more attuned to the benefits of these skills - with increasing focus placed on the likes of listening to client’s needs and helping people to achieve an effective work/life balance. 

The opportunities and challenges to up-skilling

Time has always been a key challenge to driving the skills agenda – with formalised training difficult to fit in around other work pressures.  This is where technology comes in. Digitalisation is facilitating learning the world over – as the Covid-19 lockdown normalises things like online webinars and digital training sessions, which offer a degree of flexibility and allow us to train and develop our people in sessions which can more easily be worked around other priorities.

It’s also key to ensure learning programmes are agile and quickly able to adapt to what people need. This involves listening to people and clients, to understand where there are potential gaps and ensure training can adapt to address them.  We need to facilitate a learning culture; investing time to make sure programmes are well structured and delivered, and that training is available to everyone.

With so many free courses and training options available, the excuse for such a large skills shortage in this country should diminish. It is the inherent responsibility of every individual and employer to commit to lifelong learning – understanding people’s motivators and drivers and committing to helping every single person to be the best version of themselves. We need to create a culture where it is normalised that at every level, in every institution, people have a set of skills that improve life and impact society.

The government has shifted its focus to look more at further education, but this shouldn’t be to the detriment of other educational providers – training should be a focus at every level of society, to ensure all people have access to the skills they need. For example, investment in youth employment to help reverse the impact of COVID-19, coupled with employers thinking about how these opportunities are given and how they are spread across the country, is the only way to move the dial.

How do we make workplace and management an attractive career of choice?

The profile of a ‘typical FM’ remains largely unchanged since 1999: a 45-year-old man who fell into the profession. In order to change this, we need to showcase FM as a credible and enticing career path – putting the sector and the talented people within it in front of children and young people, to showcase the diverse range of options available within this exciting field. 

Part of the problem may lie in the lack of a clear definition for the role of an FM. However, this may not be a bad thing. The industry and profession are so vast and varied that it means different things to different people; and people come into it for different reasons. Trying to define it could devalue what we can offer to future employees – instead, we should focus on identifying who we want in the industry, then personalise and tailor communications to those groups.