Over 17,000 people leave the military every year and many of them choose to go into Facilities Management (FM). Why is this? Even in recession hit Britain, FM services have borne up very well due to the adverse impact that poorly managed FM has on the corporate profitability. For some ex-Service men and women, their chosen new career path in FM appears to bear no relationship to their service career – perhaps having previously experienced roles in intelligence or in munitions; however, most ex-service personnel who move into FM do so as an extension of their military career, often without realising the link.
For example, a quartermaster is essentially the barrack’s facilities manager – in charge of security, fire, health and safety, environmental issues, post room, car parks, cleaning and catering contracts, maintenance, energy, waste and refurbishments. Even looking after a helicopter landing pad, which would once have been a military-specific role, is now becoming common in the private sector. I was once invited to judge the competence of an NHS Trust Hospital FM team, as part of the British Institute of Facilities Management. Excellence in FM Awards, where the correct support of the helicopter-landing pad was mission critical to the core competence of the hospital. Whilst the length of nearby grass might be of cosmetic importance to the CO, it is life threatening to the helicopter borne patient competing for the same airspace as a flock of birds practicing a ‘survival scramble!!
As service personnel start to consider resettlement, it is very easy to see how many of their skills, perhaps taken for granted in the pub or mess bar, easily translate into the basic FM requirements. These include organisational skills; a can-do attitude; project management skills; the ability to meet tight deadlines; fleet management and logistics skills; and experience of other countries and cultures. The Service discipline of looking at a problem from different angles, strong presentation and project management skills are all qualities widely welcomed in FM. The military gives you confidence and leadership qualities which can be put to very good use in your new career as a commercial FM.
Clearly, whilst some core skills are transferrable, there are still some challenges to overcome. Coming from a structured Service environment into the commercial world was always going to be ‘interesting’ but hopefully you will enjoy the freedom. Again, whilst the budgets and finance are going to be very different in the detail, the principles of corporate accountability will remain the same. Whereas in the Service, you would be given a budget which was fixed, in the commercial world much can be changed at a tactical level, and quickly, provided the commercial goals are achieved.
Some of the delivery issues you might have faced in the Service were as a result of national contracts that were imposed from above and which didn’t necessarily work in local situations. As an FM, you would have the authority to change the operational detail of the contracts if you feel it’s going to be beneficial. You will have that authority which perhaps you do not currently enjoy. Some, things get done quicker in civilian life than in the military. For more senior ex-service personnel, the FM is far more ‘hands-on’ than in the military where you might have had more staff to do things - but perhaps commercial FM is all the more enjoyable for that reason.
So, what is it like to be an FM in the commercial world? It is true to say that many potential employers are wary of ex-service personnel for a variety of reasons, not least the stereotypical perception of disorderly squaddies and disciplinarian officers. To be fair, however, some employer concerns are quite understandable. Military budgets, for example, may be around £25 -£30 million whereas the FMs budget may only amount to £5 - £10 million. CVs, which may be focused on your military experience, may leave potential employers feeling that you are not ideally qualified for an FM role and, at interview stage the reverse might occur as potential employers might feel that you are over qualified for the role. However, you should draw on your wider experience to neutralise any concerns and highlight how transferrable your skills really are.
Ex-Service personnel tend to have a much broader base than the traditional FM. Whilst the civilian FM may understand a single aspect such as mechanical and electrical engineering and know all about the way a building works, the ex-serviceman or woman will more likely have a broader spectrum of the other disciplines such as the softer services including catering, security and disaster recovery. As a result, the ex-service man or woman will be a far greater acquisition to the employer after a short ‘civilian conversion’ experience.
It is not unusual for ex-Servicemen to be offered a higher grade, after interview, than that previously on offer as their additional capabilities are recognised and ‘grabbed’ rather than lose the opportunity to acquire exceptional skill sets. A word of warning however: if you will soon be enjoying a pension, please be wary of the ‘cost conscious’ employers who would like to take your military pension into account and believe that you would accept less salary due to your pension than your civilian counterparts – as you surely need to acclimatise!! You will have paid your 2% of salary into your pension pot over the years and it is your money! Equally, you should be considering your current salary as the starting point to climb higher up the salary pole, not the position to achieve in five or so years. Remember that you have skills the employer needs so don’t undersell yourself!
The military increasingly recognises that roles such as a quartermaster in the Army are essentially FM jobs and (all) you have to do is to make sure that this expertise comes across to potential employers in CVs. Ex-forces personnel come with a pre-set reference! Most know how to be a team player, which is essential in FM. Servicemen and women are independent at an earlier age, they are easy to vet and used to a disciplined environment which often means that many end up going into the security side of FM. However, remember that your skill set opens up a much wider range of opportunities than simply security – both in your mind and that of potential employers.
On the positive side, there really are many pro-Service employers. These employers are genuinely aware that ex-Service personnel have integrity; are healthy and are highly mobile. Ex-military people are also used to being deployed at a week’s notice, so they can rapidly get involved in the mobilisation of contracts. Service personnel have a can-do attitude; strong social skills; and are adept at problem solving as they do it in the field under pressure. Above all else, they are loyal, having worked for the same employer for sometimes 25 years.
In comparing military life to a civilian FM role, the ex-service person has regularly experienced roles with a very similar timescale to the FM contract. In the Military there are three-year postings, where service personnel spend three to four months learning the role and then are productive for 2.5 years. That’s very similar to the FM cycle of a three to four-year contract
The move from service life to a career in commercial FM is helped by the military’s resettlement programme which allows service personnel leaving the forces to retrain for civilian life. Under the scheme you can complete a number of facilities management training courses such as NEBOSH and IOSH at a tactical level. In first line management terms, you could complete the recently launched British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) FM courses at Level 3. Middle and senior managers could consider undertaking the relatively new BIFM qualifications offered at Levels 4, 5 & 6. Also, many universities are now offering Foundation through to Masters Degrees in FM. By undertaking formal FM qualifications, you will be 50 per cent better qualified than most other FM people in the industry. But of course formal FM training is just the start!
In summary, FM firms recruiting staff need to start thinking less about stereotypes and start looking at the reality of today’s ex-service personnel. Who wouldn’t want a superbly trained, enthusiastic and disciplined FM who’s been managing all aspects of a multi-million pound facility for one of the world’s most demanding clients?