Breaking into Estates & Facilities: Experience vs Qualifications?

Bekah Pauley

L&D Consultant

Jul 27, 2022

When you google Estates and Facilities you pull up 133 million results, but no results on page 1 actually tell you what it is. The results instead focus on University Estates Departments.

Now for me, that is really quite useful, I work a lot with universities and it’s good to know who’s who in the departments. But, for someone thinking about Estates and Facilities as a potential job route, well, the results suddenly become less useful.

Refining the search criteria to ask ‘how to get into Estates and Facilities’, the same search results come up again, with the occasional Job site thrown in. So, how do you find out how to get into the Estates sector?

Well, this is the question I posed to 3 of my contacts, Adrian, Tom, and Nigel.

My first question… What’s your Story?

For Adrian, the journey into Estates was a bit different. He came from a financial background, spending 20 years working in accounts. Making the move wasn’t without its risks but finding a job in Finance and Resources for an Estates department, kept a foot in the door of the financial world just in case.

Luckily, he did not need it. Gradually Adrian took on more responsibility for cleaning, portering and the post-room, becoming Head of Estates and then Deputy Director of Estates within his University.

Tom took a different path, he found Estates and Facilities while living in Australia, though an Office Management type role. This led him to find a similar role when he came back to the UK, starting out as a Facilities Manager in a Finance company, moving into building & property management, he also worked for an airport before landing as Head of Estates & Campus Services at a University.

Nigel came up through a Design route. Having a background in Engineering, he has spent the last 25 years within a university, rising through the ranks to become Deputy Director of Estates, focussing on the Maintenance & Design side.

As can be seen just through these 3 examples, there is no ‘traditional’ route into the Estates and Facilities world and although they took different routes, all 3 are now at the top of their profession.

When it comes to any role, especially at a management level, experience counts, but how much?

I have recently been finding that more organisations when recruiting are looking for specific qualifications over experience, leading me to ponder about the qualification vs experience debate. I was interested to know if this was across the board, so I asked my contacts, as hiring managers, what they look for in their candidates.

The answer?

It’s role dependent…

This makes sense when you think about it. Obviously, if you’re a Health and Safety Manager, a qualification is necessary for you to do your job, you need to have an IOSH, if not a NEBOSH.

Another job that is becoming increasingly prevalent is within the Environment and Sustainability sector, both Tom and Adrian said they’d look for a degree or post-grad qualification for those roles as again, they need a specific skill set gained through the related qualification.

Having just recruited a Sustainability manager, I have to agree, most who work in the sector have the degree and definitely have said it’s helped them in their chosen profession.

Adrian mentioned that within Soft Services, he more often than not would look for experience over qualifications. A lot of the roles are based on stakeholder management and knowing your field, you don’t always need a degree or further education to move up the ranks.

Adrian started in accounting with an apprenticeship and came into Estates with no related qualifications, he was able to do a business degree while working at the University and also did a Post Grad in Facilities Management, he also has qualifications such as an IOSH. I asked whether he needed these qualifications to become a Deputy Director and he thought that yes, he did.

Adrian mentioned that he thinks that if you want to rise through the ranks, gaining the qualifications become more important, mainly because the role becomes so strategic. Tom agreed with the sentiment.

Tom started out with a Degree in Business but has since gained further qualifications while working, gaining a Post Grad qualification in Facilities Management before moving into his position with the University.

He again needed this level of qualification for his job at the University, he does however think that for smaller Estates, getting to a Head of Level without degree qualifications is very possible. And I agree, we have smaller organisations who look for ‘Heads of’ or Director level roles and candidates who have the experience won out over those with the qualifications.

I haven’t yet mentioned the Hard Services. This is a slightly different ‘kettle of fish’, because if you’re working within the Mechanical & Electrical sector you need to have the qualifications behind you. For example, you wouldn’t want me to rewire a plug, let alone a whole University plant room (as a wild example).

Often people on this side of the fence have to go through apprenticeships or qualifications in order to do any part of their role but would still need a degree, Post Grad or chartership (MRICS, MCIOB) to get to that Director level.

Nigel came up on the Engineering side, he is a Chartered Engineer and also has a BSc in Building Service Engineering. He agreed with the others that he needed these qualifications to be in his role, again he is in that University setting. In this way, he is similar to Tom, and thinks that outside of Higher Education, you can still become senior in an organisation without qualifications.

Nigel has also been quite instrumental within his organisation when trying to get hiring managers to look at ‘equivalent experience’ rather than qualifications for new staff. Also offering ‘on the job’ learning and courses to aid development.

On the topic of qualifications, I was interested to know if those in a senior position would recommend any courses to those just starting out. Tom’s answer was 2-fold, firstly focused on Estates and then looking at wider qualifications.

Estates & Facilities Qualifications:

  • IWFM (any of the levels, or work your way up)

General Qualifications:

  • Finance or Business courses
  • People Management courses

How is the world of Estates changing?

Continuing on, I was interested to know whether any of my contacts thought the world of Estates was changing and if so, how it was changing? And all the answers I got touched upon sustainability and business becoming Carbon Neutral.

Most Universities have now made promises to be carbon neutral in the next 10 to 20 years, and Nigel made a fascinating point, that this focus on the environment may bring in the younger generation and more women into the sector.

The idea of bringing in more and younger people was also mentioned by Adrian, he indicated that Estates & Facilities as an industry, is still in its infancy and only getting bigger, as it gets more well known as a sector, naturally, it will draw people in.

There are great benefits to a career in the Industry, Tom mentioned the variety, suggesting that anyone coming into the sector needs to realise that like any profession, the basics may need to be learnt in a smaller environment; But you can make your way into complex Estates with a variety of buildings, which makes the job challenging and exciting.

This was echoed by Nigel, who mentioned that there is good progression in the role, it’s also an industry that has very tangible results, you can see the impact you’re having on people’s lives daily.

So, unfortunately, there is no clear answer, yet again, to the question of qualification vs experience. It seems to depend on where you see yourself in an organisations structure, or what path within Estates & Facilities you choose to go down.

What has become apparent, is for Director level roles within large organisations such as Universities, the qualifications do matter. But whether you want to do qualifications or not you can still have a career in Estates & Facilities and progress up the ladder.

It’s a career that provides variety and doesn’t discriminate against those who are more practical rather than academic in nature. So, although there is still no clear ‘route’ into the sector, hopefully as Adrian said, people are starting to recognise it for a viable and impressive career to be in.

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L&D Consultant

Bekah Pauley

After spending a year in Hong Kong teaching English, Bekah returned to London and joined Oyster in 2020. Bekah proved herself to be a successful recruiter, but after 2 and a half years as a billing consultant within the Estates and Facilities team, Bekah chose to combine both her passion for teaching with her recruitment experience by joining our L&D team. Bekah now trains our Perm Academy, and they couldn’t be in safer hands.

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