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From oily rags to riches

Published 25th January, 2018 by Neil Nixon

From oily rags to riches

Oily rags, overalls and ‘no prospects’ have become synonymous with engineering and facilities management professionals, despite offering a pathway that promises no university debt and fantastic earning potential. With a skills gap already a headache for FM, one company has taken matters in-hand, launching a pilot programme and media campaign aimed at attracting new talent.

ABM UK recently welcomed 36 West London schoolchildren and their parents to the launch of its first-ever Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (JEEP) at its employee training centre in Greenford, Middlesex. At the event, Kate Bellingham - in her role as an advocate of the campaign, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ambassador, and former Tomorrow’s World presenter - spoke to children and their parents about the unique opportunity the initiative offers.

The move recognises that despite government initiatives like the Apprenticeship Levy and the introduction of T levels, businesses also have a responsibility to safeguard the future.

The programme's vision originated from ABM UK's group managing director, Andy Donnell, who started his career as an apprentice electrician when he was 16-years-old. Donnell successfully worked his way up the career ladder to oversee the acquisition of Westway Services (now ABM UK) by American services giant, ABM, and now holds the chief role at the company. He said: “This industry has an image problem that we need to change. People either don’t know about the opportunities that facilities management and engineering offer or they think it’s about oily rags and no prospects. This couldn’t be further from the truth - in fact, these technical roles are in such high demand that graduate apprentices are earning between £26,000 and £30,000 just a year after qualifying… and they have no debt! As an industry, we have a responsibility to start attracting fresh, young talent, and we believe that the JEEP is a fantastic first step towards doing that. But it can’t be a flash in the pan - making the industry appeal to the next generation of talent is a monumental challenge, and changes won’t happen overnight, which is why we see this as a long-term, industry-wide campaign."

At the end of the programme the children will be awarded a certified qualification from the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), which will work as a credit towards an apprenticeship or further course should they decide to pursue a career in the industry when they leave school.

Linda Hausmanis, chief executive of BIFM, said: “BIFM is absolutely delighted to work alongside ABM UK on this initiative. For many years the demographic time bomb facing FM has been much lauded and finding ways to encourage young people into FM as a career of choice has been a long-held ambition of the Institute. I wish the 36 young people every success with the programme and, who knows, one day one of them may be heralded as the ‘FM Newcomer of the Year’ like Conrad Dinsmore was at the BIFM Awards 2017."