Crimping on facilities upkeep is shortsighted
The business of facilities management requires a major skills upgrade. But do businesses have the funds to make it possible? (Image is for illustrative purposes only.) Image Credit: Pixabay

Technology disruptions, margin battles, increasing regulations, and complex labour dynamics are pushing facilities management businesses to seek out-of-the-box solutions to maintain their viability. These changes are also making the sector vulnerable and compelling it to explore alternative approaches to sustain growth.

Upskilling has to be the primary driver that can counter many of these issues. Hiring people with requisite skills is also becoming a daunting task.

The FM industry, in particular, has labour complexities to contend with. Fewer people are opting for field jobs, especially millennials. There is a visible challenge specific to skillsets needed for entry-level positions as well as attract experienced resources across all levels.

In technical roles, this deficit is increasing alarmingly. A majority of FM recruiters face the issue of a low number of applicants with apt credentials. Data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) support these concerns with regard to skilled jobs.

According to BLS, demand for technical job openings has been increasing against availability and creating massive talent shortages for companies. FM companies are unable to recruit the right candidates with proper knowledge as per their needs. Or they need to put in substantial resources to provide for skill development of new recruits.

No one is prepping the talent

The talent deficit is surprising as the industry is on track to be among the fastest growing. Most college curriculums do not factor changes in building and construction technologies. Even vocational institutes are not geared for new automation needs and have not upgraded their programmes.

Graduates passing out from these institutions remain unemployable and need incubation environments to uplift their skills to be job ready and to perform to optimal productivity.

Automation is also transforming the industry with the introduction of a new set of tools that requires definitive training. In the context of the blue-collar workforce, here too is a mammoth challenge. There is extreme pressure due to labour migration and a rising demand for casual and handy jobs elsewhere.

These days fewer people are joining vocational jobs as these need a minimum set of skills before one can start a career. The other factors attributed to this situation include high school dropout levels, inadequate industry-needed skills and vocational education, and negative perceptions towards skill-acquiring processes.

Besides, hiring these candidates without basic skills needs time and training, which also contravenes commercial considerations.

Drag on financials

The continued pressure on margins and current pay scales are also not helping attract skilled resources. Another critical factor posing a challenge in the Gulf is the restriction on work permits and the cost of nationalization. There is an urgent need to look at options for building sustainable alternatives by attracting more nationals into technical jobs.

It is time to build a wider strategy for upskilling as this will address issues at the macro level. However, the industry is at the crossroads because costs associated to mitigate the challenges needs a robust operating environment.

The FM company also has to provide for continuous learning and development for its existing workforce to be in step with the fast pace of industry transformation. In essence, most of these steps require immediate capital injection and ongoing financial support.

I agree that investment is critical to any upskilling initiative, but all should understand that this serves as a truly competitive advantage. Given the state of the industry with its cash crunch and limited profitability, it is indeed difficult. The industry has to continue seeking out tactical approaches to come up with a solution.

- Tariq Chauhan is Group CEO at EFS Facilities Services Group.