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The mutual benefits of FM training and education

Education and human resource experts talk to fmME about the challenges of designing and implementing staff training initiatives in the GCC’s FM sector

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management

There is no doubt that training and education are key priorities for FM business leaders in the Middle East. The rapid growth of smart technology and tools – combined with evolving property development trends and stakeholder expectations – only means staff training initiatives will assume greater importance in 2017.

The study and implementation of best practices is likely to be a crucial driver of regional FM programmes during the year, according to Robert Jackson, MENA director at Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

“To enable the region to manage its ambitious growth and the increase in asset stock effectively, stakeholders need to move towards understanding... value creation through best practices in strategic FM,” Jackson told ConstructionWeekOnline (CWO) last month.

“We are seeing a progressive shift, but still far too many decisions are based on [an] FM service’s lowest price. There are false expectations that underqualified facility maintenance companies can deliver strategic FM services, and asset owners must begin to understand the significant value that international best practices can create.”

RICS’s partnership with the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) will bring World Workplace Forum – an event dedicated to the FM industry – to the Middle East for the first time this year. The forum will be held at Dubai’s Shangri-La hotel on 18 May, 2017.

In his conversation with CWO, Jackson said World Workplace Forum would support the Middle East’s asset owners and managers, FM professionals, and facility maintenance experts as a platform to dissect key industry issues and drive better service delivery.

He added: “Our partnership [with IFMA] is aimed at advancing global knowledge sharing and cohesion within the FM community.

“In order to attract international investment and asset owners and occupiers to the region, the FM industry must be strategic and deliver real value to all relevant stakeholders [throughout] the life of the asset. Ensuring this strategic mindset is applied to the building life cycle – from design to actual build and maintenance – will increase the value and productivity of regional assets.”

Events such as World Workplace Forum and Middle East Facility Management Association’s (MEFMA) Confex 2017 (p46) could be significant contributors towards a pool of skilled and trained FM professionals, thus mitigating a long-standing pain point for regional business leaders.

In a press statement issued last month, Imdaad stated that disinterest – as well as unsuitability – for key FM positions pose human resources development challenges for the regional industry. These hurdles could be addressed, Imdaad noted, if UAE nationals are provided pertinent training and offered opportunities to better understand the FM sector and its contribution to national development.

Imdaad’s budgeted training initiatives for the year – worth $952,899 (AED3.5m) – include soft skill and technical training; executive management development; and advanced management leadership; and certification programmes.

A “comprehensive annual training calendar” – based on an extensive training need analysis exercise covering individual employee development needs and business requirements – has also been prepared, Marwan Othman, executive director for human capital and administration at Imdaad, tells fmME.

He adds: “Compliance is being tracked and monitored through departmental Balanced Scorecards (BSCs). We have also identified three staff training programs for this year, which are the High Potential Development Program for rank and file employees; the Emirati Development Program; and the C-Level/Leadership Training for Senior Management plan.

“Additionally, we are eyeing a training program for the CEO/COO levels, which will enable attending courses at Harvard Business School and other leading institutions such as the American University of Sharjah.”

Training initiatives implemented by Imdaad last year include working with trainers certified for MEP services as well as by the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc). Imdaad is a BICSc member, and established an in-house team of the organisation’s certified technical trainers to educate its soft services employees about BICSc-standardisd cleaning.

Additionally, the company also introduced information technology (IT) refresher courses for Oracle and Maximo software, including new enterprise resource planning (ERP) user training. Imdaad’s aim with this initiative was to make its employees technology-savvy and help improve internal business processes and delivery of services.

Indeed, education programmes geared towards overall improvements in service delivery are likely to find more demand in the Middle East as regional businesses look to maximise investments and energy consumption.

Dr Taha Elhag, associate professor at Heriot-Watt University’s Dubai campus, says it is important to consider FM “as a key part of an integrated project delivery (IPD), which encompasses all stages: project brief, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning” while designing sector-specific study courses. Additional factors to remember include highlighting the link between an FM strategy and overall organisational plans; incorporating building information modelling-related (BIM) developments in FM programmes; and reviewing the scope for contemporary project procurement models such as public-private partnership (PPP) and private finance initiative (PFI).

Elhag says key trends that staff training and education programmes should focus on in the upcoming year include BIM and sustainability in FM.

“Dispute resolution and arbitration, service procurement and provision, contracts, and procurement must also be considered,” he tells fmME.

Launched in 2007, Heriot-Watt’s MSc in FM programme is taught from the perspective of strategic FM, and covers the field’s theoretical and practical aspects.

Taught courses include service procurement and provision; contracts and procurement; sustainable practices in FM; value and risk management; asset maintenance management; people and organisation management in the built environment; space planning and management; construction financial management; and the course includes a research dissertation.

Elhag outlines the key hurdles faced by the regional FM industry, and how the right study modules may abate them: “The adoption and implementation of continuously changing innovative technology and an integrated approach to FM could pose a challenge.”

Elhag says “long-term contractual arrangements between clients and providers covering total FM” are also a development that could impact local FM sector dynamics, and it is critical that training programmes devised and delivered by an in-house team cover these aspects.

He continues: “The availability of knowledgeable and experienced instructors and lecturers is one of the challenges faced by organisations delivering in-house training.

“Implementing the relevant and appropriate aspects of a professional training programme, and measuring its impact and benefits on overall organisational performance could also be a challenge.”

Over at Imdaad, Othman says the company has identified the prominent factors that have posed challenges for regional FM companies looking to provide staff training.

“Improving learning effectiveness is a challenge, as is expanding the library of content and training programmes,” he explains.

“Reducing development cycle times, increasing product knowledge consistently amongst employees, and enhancing technical courses to keep employees abreast with newer initiatives in the FM domain” also feature in Othman’s list of challenges to watch out for while delivering in-house FM staff training.

Speaking on the eve of fmME’s 10th anniversary in October 2016, Othman agreed that the right training programmes would help FM outfits attract and retain GCC national employees in the future: “One of the major drivers behind our successful internal Emiratisation efforts is our Elham programme, launched as a pilot initiative in 2014.

“Elham, which means ‘to inspire’ in Arabic, features highly competitive compensation packages and professional development programs geared towards cultivating strong and diverse skill sets,” Othman added.

In that vein, FM leaders preparing their delivery programmes and budgets for the year ahead may do well to remember the mutual – and long-term – benefits of staff education initiatives.

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