Ask building service industry leaders to name the biggest challenge currently facing the M&E sector and they will most likely lament the shortage of trained technical engineers.
The problem surrounding the recruitment and retention of skilled operatives in the sector is well documented and often presented as nearing precarious levels.
Research last year by not-for-profit organisation Engineering UK reported that the UK needs an additional 1.8 million engineers and technically qualified people by 2025 to meet demand. Philip Greenish, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, recently told Director magazine that while engineering can play a critical role in driving future UK prosperity, this is dependent on â€œattracting a diverse range of young people to what is undoubtedly an exciting, varied and rewarding profession, as well as ensuring they are well equipped with the knowledge and skills needed by the industries of tomorrowâ€.
In reality, recruitment and training are just two of the issues that are driving the built environment sector toward an inflection point. With the recent collapse of Carillion, a host of other construction and support services companies in financial trouble and the economic uncertainty forming round Brexit, this substantial corner of UK PLC is beginning to question whether the status quo is fit for purpose.
That status quo is largely typified by a number of dominant service providers that have grown and diversified into different sectors in recent years. Yet a level of dissatisfaction has emerged with these companies that often cannot provide the skill and intimacy of service that customers require, which is presenting an opportunity for medium sized competitors.
Many integrated or total facilities management companies, for example, claim to offer a complete range of facilities services. The reality, however, is that these organisations often do not possess the knowledge, skill or infrastructure to self-deliver specialist M&E. Repeatedly, these providers have to subcontract specialist services like fire safety or access control to expert building services providers.
Companies like ours are in a strong position to capitalise. Our engineers are not only experts in their field but they have also bought into our values. This can only enhance consistency and productivity.
While expectations are rising, however, costs are decreasing. Customers want more for less; they want high levels of technical and customer service for a fraction of the cost. Todayâ€™s customers desire faster turnaround on reports, better reporting software and more regular face-time with customers.
So the market is demanding providers that are skilled yet culpable, dependable and personable. It wants a service that bridges the gap between cost, specialism and service.
The future of services like M&E, then, is in the development of long-term partnerships in which regular face-time between organisations becomes common practice. Meanwhile, as these new market demands turn customers away from integrated or total facilities models and toward the managing agents who will choose best-in-class services, specialist M&E providers stand to benefit.
While the challenges are not easy, there is an opportunity for a new breed of service provider in 2018 that prioritises customer and employee value.
By Neil Whealdon