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Building confidence

Published on Saturday, 16 Aug 2014
Photo: iStockphoto
Low Hon-wah, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Facility Management (HKIFM)
Patrick Balfour, manager Property and Construction, Robert Walters Hong Kong


Multi-skilled facilities managers are in demand as companies look for greater property efficiencies, writes Wong Yat-hei.

Two recent incidents in Hong Kong have highlighted the need for well-trained and diligent facilities managers. Tenants at The Centrium in Wyndham Street, Central last month were not warned after a fire broke out in a car park as the management company, Sino Group, felt the fire was not a threat to them. Although nobody was injured, the tenants were alarmed and annoyed by the incident. Sino Group has promised to improve its procedures and step up training.

More tragically, on Wednesday, a pregnant woman was crushed to death by a falling tree outside a residential block in Mid-Levels and her baby left in critical condition after it was delivered by caesarean. 

Barrister Albert Luk said the management company, Hang Yick Property Management, and even the flat owners, could be sued for damages by the victim’s family. 

Such incidents can be avoided by proper facilities management (FM). The discipline has existed in Hong Kong’s professional engineering institutions for more than a decade, but it was not until recent years that companies began to recognise the importance of managing facilities in the most cost-effective way. 

“More and more big organisations like developers, banks and universities are seeing the benefits of FM,” says Low Hon-wah, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Facility Management (HKIFM). “The field covers a lot of different areas. In principle, it might be said that all services to the built environment supporting the ‘core business’ of an organisation might be classified as FM.”

 While FM has a bright future, it is also a demanding job requiring appropriate qualifications and experience, Low says. “Right now, Hong Kong has many infrastructure projects giving lots of opportunities for people in construction and FM. But even when there are less new construction projects, the demand for FM will still be strong. 

“Existing buildings need to be maintained and property owners will always be keen to find ways to more effectively manage their built assets and more efficiently achieve their strategic objectives. The growth of demand for FM is therefore consistent in the long run.”

FM requires many years of experience in disciplines related to engineering and construction. “Presently in Hong Kong, most of the FM professionals come from an engineering or surveying background. But with experience in only one discipline, they won’t be well-qualified for jobs in FM,” Low says. 

“The 11 areas of core competency for FM defined by HKIFM [see panel], such as real estate portfolio management, space planning and design management, are a good reference for the required coverage. To be eligible for membership, you need to prove you have had exposure to at least four of these areas.”

Low adds that the requirement for diversified knowledge and comparatively longer working experience for the FM profession might be one of the obstacles to young people joining the industry.

 “One needs to gather years of experience in various fields to qualify for the job. However, this could be considered one of the advantages of joining the FM sector, as the job may be more secure in the long term and the work involved is comparatively more challenging.”

The FM discipline is well-recognised and a number of professional institutions, such as The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and Chartered Institute of Building, also have a FM-related stream. “Part of the major goals of HKIFM is to promote the discipline and provide training. FM provides great prospects for engineers and surveyors and the institute will continue to get that message across. The institute offers various continuing professional development events and certificate courses related to FM, such as legal issues and energy management to help enhance the knowledge of our professionals,” Low says.

Low says people might be confused about the roles of FM because they seem to overlap with the functions of maintenance, operation or property management. “It is not a simple task to explain the difference, but ‘objective orientated’ might be used as the key words for differentiating. 

“For example, say there is a regular barbecue party proposed for a building. A FM manager would need to review its feasibility, locate the most appropriate venue location, and arrange to set the output temperature to a lower and comfortable one at the venue during the period. Concerns about fire services, safety provisions and access control, special requirements by the attendees, provision of temporary electricity and lighting, PA system, signage, means of waste disposal, and even furniture and equipment would have to be taken care of by the FM manager, all with the objective of meet the intended requirements,” he says.

“This can be further illustrated by the definition of FM given by HKIFM, where facility management is defined as “the process by which an organisation integrates its people, work processes and physical assets to serve its strategic objectives”.

Patrick Balfour, manager for property and construction at recruitment firm Robert Walters Hong Kong, agrees that the demand for facilities managers will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. “It is a relatively new discipline in Hong Kong and there is a shortage of quality staff for the industry.

The demand for talent is across the board – [the sector] is short on operation staff and people at senior level. Demand mostly comes from large organisations such as banks, financial institutes and developers,” he says. 

He adds that FM can meet one of the main goals of all companies: to add extra value to their business. “As organisations grow, they need specialised services to help them better manage their businesses. For example, corporates are well aware of the importance of bringing energy-saving policies to add value to the business. Facilities managers who specialise in the area are able to manage energy consumption in the most cost-effective way possible.” 

The FM market in Hong Kong is made up of international consultants and local developers. “It is a growing trend for big companies to outsource their facilities management to consultants,” Balfour says. “This contributes greatly to the growth of the discipline. Local developers also employ in-house facilities management teams to help manage offices, shopping malls and other properties.”

FM can be divided into two main sectors: the hard service that involves technical expertise and the soft service focusing on hospitality. “The scope of facilities management is diverse, and so is its talent pool,” Balfour says. “For hard services, workers tend to come from engineering backgrounds and provide expertise on how to manage and improve the various facilities in the property. They can be surveyors, engineers or come from construction or project management backgrounds. Soft service requires staff to have a customer-centric approach – they tend to come from a background related to hospitality and property management.” 

For staff at the senior level, Balfour says people with military backgrounds are highly sought after. In Britain and Australia, there are senior managers in the discipline who come from a military background,” he says. “Facilities management requires management of a large team of people and that fits in well with what the military does.”

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