The IFM community — Intelligence for Maintenance was founded to bring FM and maintenance professionals together and provide them with valuable insights that could help them improve. It was with this in mind that we conducted research to produce our new FM & Maintenance Compensation and Salary Report. We decided to launch a series of interviews to compliment the research.

In this interview, we spoke with Simon Barlow. An experienced Workplace & Facilities Recruitment Consultant, he shares some insights on challenges and opportunities for hiring managers.

Tell us a bit about your professional journey. Why did you decide to join the IFM community?

Since the 90’s recession and my time at University, I’ve been involved in the built environment. I started as a Construction Site Manager, then became a facilities manager at Mitie in the early 2000s. There, I oversaw the Head office for SSL Medical (Durex, Marigold, Scholl, Calpol), bringing together their Northern offices’ staff in a new building. I then moved on to Mitie’s General Electric (GE) contract in Manchester.

Before working as a facilities manager, I had a stint in temporary construction recruitment. However, I decided to return to recruitment and specialise in permanent headhunting and search, particularly within HVAC and facilities management. Over the past 18 years, I’ve always sought to stay involved and updated with developments in facilities management, including the emerging concept of “Workplace.” I’ve attended numerous CPD events annually, not just at FM Shows and events, but also as part of BIFM/IWFM North. Moreover, I’ve been actively engaged beyond recruitment, becoming a STEM ambassador and regularly supporting FM North through attendance and sponsorship.

In the last year, I became actively engaged with the IFM community. I was invited to and attended the IFM Summit in London earlier this year. I find the collaborative approach to addressing FM challenges in maintenance and the broader sector very appealing, and I wish to be part of it. The IFM network fosters idea sharing and development within the FM community and is at the forefront of innovative advancements in the sector.

Why do you view this report as important and why did you decide to participate?

I strongly believe in sharing knowledge rather than holding onto it. Distributing directly sourced data from a source like this report will contribute to the sector’s continuous growth. It will also assist progressive employers in understanding how the wider community compensates their staff and caters to their needs.

Examining how other organisations incentivise their employees may prompt outdated employers to reconsider their hiring strategies and focus on retaining staff. Furthermore, they can explore additional staff benefits beyond just salary that should be implemented.

What challenges have you faced in your career regarding compensation and salary benchmarking? How did you overcome them?

As a recruiter, my primary responsibility has been to collect up-to-date information and recent trends on salaries and benefits. A significant aspect of my role involves guiding my clients on the current benchmarks for their roles both before and during the search process. The sector’s salary landscape can change rapidly, making it crucial for my clients to know what their competitors are presently offering to retain their top talent. This knowledge plays a vital role in making successful and informed hiring decisions.

It’s a common misconception that recruiters are paid solely for finding the right candidates. In reality, approximately 80-90% of our time and effort is dedicated to screening out unsuitable candidates for our client’s roles. A crucial aspect of this process revolves around salary and remuneration benefits, which include considerations for holidays, pensions, sick pay, car allowances, shares, and more.

For instance, in one of my early headhunting assignments, we were tasked with creating a salary report for a client who had been struggling for nearly 12 months to hire bridge engineers across the UK. Every recruiter they had engaged previously had faced difficulties in filling the role, leading to staff being poached away during that time. The detailed salary report played a pivotal role in addressing the challenges and eventually helping our clients find suitable candidates for their vacancies.

Upon meeting the client, we initially focused on creating a comprehensive report on salaries and packages rather than immediately recruiting for the positions. During this process, we conducted an extensive industry headhunt, reaching out to candidates at each of their competitors. We interviewed over ninety engineers and made a significant discovery: our client’s salaries were 20% below what their competitors were offering, and some competitors were providing additional benefits like five extra days of holiday and more substantial pensions.

This revelation was a major eye-opener for the UK board of the organization. Until then, they believed their salaries were competitive across their business units, but they had unknowingly fallen behind the current market standards. Upon our advice, they quickly increased their base salaries by 35% to attract the right talent. Prior to implementing these changes, their service level agreements (SLAs) regarding bridge assessments had cost them dearly in financial penalties and damaged their relationship with their clients.

Our report and subsequent actions proved invaluable for the client. With the new competitive salary structure, we were able to swiftly reengage with the candidates and fill all the vacant roles that had remained open for 12 months, accomplishing this within just two months. The information we provided was genuinely worth paying for, as it not only helped them find the right staff but also prevented further talent loss. Moreover, it aided in retaining a major account where they had been struggling significantly, thus easing day-to-day projects and alleviating numerous headaches for their client.

During the last Facilities Show in London, hiring was mentioned as one of the main industry challenges. How do you believe this salary and benefits report could help address this issue?

A report on salaries serves as an eye-opener not only for the FM community but also for the wider business community, highlighting that FM is an industry worth investing in. It also showcases lucrative career opportunities within FM for talented individuals.

The FM workforce is vital to the UK economy, as we ensure the smooth operation of various buildings, including everyday domestic properties. However, many people remain unaware of the existence of FM; the phrase often draws blank stares as it remains unnoticed by most and is often associated only with cleaning roles. This lack of awareness hinders people from understanding the diverse range of roles within the industry and the competitive salaries it offers.

Spreading the word far and wide, providing information, and showcasing facilities management / building services maintenance as an industry with competitive base salaries for many roles can encourage more people to explore job opportunities in this field and transfer their skills. The report will highlight how skilled engineers are now earning more than their managers due to supply and demand challenges. This should attract young individuals leaving schools and colleges to consider apprentice schemes in building services maintenance engineering, rather than opting for construction trades or factory/industrial maintenance roles.

However, despite the industry’s potential, the number of apprentices being trained remains significantly lower than the number leaving the sector each year for various reasons such as unfavourable work environments, Brexit, and retirement. Addressing this apprenticeship gap will be crucial to sustaining and growing the workforce in the future.

It will take many companies to start to change their mindsets of how they price work and how they look after staff, a survey like this sheds light on the problems and kickstart action.

In your opinion, how do you think this report can benefit other professionals in the FM and maintenance sector? What impact do you believe it will have on the IFM community as a whole?

This report will help the maintenance contextualise a continued rise in engineers’ wages in their contracts and pricing. Engineers’ salaries have been stagnant for years, but now they are increasing every year. In just three years, some engineers in the South East of England have seen their salaries rise by a staggering 70%. This has brought their earnings to a level comparable to what the construction industry has been paying their certified and qualified staff with similar experience and qualifications for many years. Understanding and adapting to these salary trends will be essential for the maintenance sector to stay competitive and attract skilled professionals in the future.

This report should drive discussions within the wider FM community about the pay disparity between perceived skilled (hard services) and unskilled (soft services) roles. It will also shed light on the pay and remuneration gaps between managers in operational or other roles in the two separate types of businesses (Cleaning & M&E) who essentially perform similar tasks in managing clients and staff, handling SLAs, P&L, etc.

Bringing about these changes will require open-minded senior managers and directors who are willing to embrace new management reporting systems and AI. By integrating various processes and forming better partnerships, they can collaborate more effectively with their supply chains and align everyone on the same systems. Automating tasks like pricing, quoting, and tendering for jobs can be taken further, and using data to gain greater efficiencies will play a significant role in this transformation.

We thank our members of IFM for sharing their valuable perspectives and experiences on this FM & Maintenance Compensation and Salary Report. Together, we strengthen the industry towards a more robust future for all FM and maintenance professionals.