Leadership, inclusion and coordination across public and private sectors are needed to resolve the challenges faced in healthcare estates and facilities, writes Greg Markham

The estates & facilities teams across the NHS (both directly employed or from outsourced providers, such as Serco) include over 100,000 staff, plus the many thousands more employed by specialist service partners and providers. Yet despite this sizeable workforce, there is a known recruitment and retention challenge within healthcare estates and facilities disciplines.

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Typically, estates and facilities staff fall into one of two broad categories, Soft FM (including cleaning, security, portering, catering, waste management) and Hard FM (including estates maintenance, pest control, grounds and gardens).

As with many industries, Hard FM suffers from a lack of diversity. A recent survey held by HEFMA (hefma.co.uk) showed that whilst 50 per cent of employees working within estates and facilities management are female, only 20 per cent occupy senior positions. In addition, only 20 per cent of the workforce are from a Black, Asian, and ethnic minority background.

The need to diversify

If we are to continue to provide our clinical colleagues and patients with safe, compliant and ever more complex healthcare estates & facilities, we need to diversify our workforce and attract from a wider pool of resources where gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical attributes and other differences are celebrated and welcomed.

Clearly, there is a need to recruit and develop staff and the associated opportunity to diversify the workforce is evident. Healthcare estates needs to be seen as an attractive profession and a career, where empathy and care are key attributes. We should highlight the impact our services have on patient care and their experience.

Alongside this is the sustainability agenda, with climate change a key priority. The opportunity to drive the low-carbon agenda within the healthcare estates should be shared as we strive to meet the net zero carbon targets for the NHS.

Serco in Healthcare are committed to recruiting 20 advanced level apprentices across our nine Hard FM sites this summer and alongside recruitment of a new cohort of team members, we are continuing to develop a career pathway and offering. We must open up and demonstrate the potential routes to becoming an estates healthcare professional, the progression available, whether through apprenticeships or graduate opportunities to ultimately become a future chief executive.

Despite being a very technical discipline, the development must incorporate wider skills such as leadership, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and more. For the estates & facilities service to be successful, the director should form part of the executive board and they should be able to interact with their Executive colleagues in a meaningful and relevant way.

To overcome the current challenges will require leadership, inclusion and coordination, not just within the NHS, but also across the private sector providers, and the recently published IHEEM/HeFMA Healthcare Estates and Facilities Joint Workforce Strategy is a welcome start, although there remains much more to do.