Redefining the facilities management engineering skill gap

June 23, 2023 28 Minute Read

By Conrad Dean Michael Bentman


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The world of work is changing and there is a widening skill gap that we need to address. Not only did we see great changes to all industries post-pandemic, but we are also now seeing a sharp rise in digital transformation and the associated deployment of smart buildings, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), automation, mixed reality (MR) and spatial computing.

As a result, the role and expectations of the Facilities Management (FM) team is also evolving. Facilities Managers are keeping building operations running smoothly, dealing with ageing assets, whilst also analysing building data and driving an organisation’s culture and values. There’s a need for both hard and soft skills. For these reasons, talent attraction, training and upskilling have never been more important in facilities management.

Most organisations now have a net zero target and facilities management is playing a central role in the delivery of the associated decarbonisation plans. This means that carbon counting and understanding the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impact of assets are now primary activities for facilities managers and engineers, where it was lower down (or not part of) the job description in the past. In CBRE’s 2023 Client Care Survey, there was a notable increase in the number of clients requesting data literacy as a core skill of facilities managers working on their sites.


The changing nature of buildings mean the basic skills now needed for facilities engineers now range from understanding archaic, mechanical plant systems in heritage buildings, to working on complex building automation systems in state-of-the-art high-rise buildings. The remit of a facilities engineer skill building, has widened considerably, and the industry is facing a shortage of skilled engineers and a large skill gap as a result.


Before examining the detail behind the skill gap challenge, here are the six CBRE solutions for how the facilities management industry can, and is already working to, close the engineering skills gap:

  1. Apprentices, graduates and next generation: increase engineering’s attractiveness
  2. Focus on retention to address the skills gap
  3. Double down on upskilling
  4. Improved career pathways and better incentives for more responsibility
  5. Increase diversity in engineering workforce
  6. Embrace innovation and new technologies

The changing nature of the workforce

Our workforce is evolving. A study carried out by The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board predicts by 2026, nearly 20% of the current UK Engineering workforce (91,000 engineers), will have retired or be just about to.

The UK requires 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills per year. The current annual shortfall of 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians (47%) to fulfil these roles. This leaves a long-standing skills gap and a chronic failure to encourage enough young people to become engineers and skilled technicians. 

Stephanie Baxter, Senior Policy Lead for Innovation and Skills at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), said: “Workers are in high demand, but we don’t have the readily available recruits with the right skills to fill the labour market – something we have been reporting via our skills survey for over 15 years. Frustratingly little is changing. Engineering employers are generally reporting a lack of applicants for roles causing more difficulty in recruitment, meaning companies across the UK must look to improve profitability and productivity with fewer staff than before.

To solve this skill gap there needs to be deeper engagement between government, employers and the education system to produce a talent pipeline that can sustain a thriving UK economy. The IET has already started engaging with government by calling for the embedding of engineering in the existing science, technology and mathematics learning in the curriculum.

According to research from Frost & Sullivan, the UK facilities management industry is predicted to grow by 18.43% by 2027 (versus 2022 size). This growth will inevitably generate many new job opportunities for skilled facilities professionals.

Not only does this leave a sizeable skill gap that needs to be filled by new engineers, but it also leaves large skills shortages as retirees take specialist knowledge with them. These factors present both a risk and an opportunity for the facilities management industry; one that the industry needs to collaborate on to solve.

Macro trends

There are also significant economic factors that have exacerbated the challenge over the past few years. According to the IET, the COVID-19 pandemic caused long-standing issues from the effects of ill staff, furlough, redundancy and the requirement for working from home.

Brexit has also impacted the industry’s ability to import and export skilled labour from other countries and has increased bureaucracy in this space by 40%. When you add the requirement for businesses to decarbonise into the mix, there are big challenges for the industry to overcome. 38% of businesses think it’s unachievable for their organisation to be net zero by 2050 with 81% of those with a sustainability strategy thinking they need additional skills to be able to deliver on their commitments.

Facilities management's (FM's) image problem

Facilities management is not always an obvious career choice for those starting out their career. The issue in many cases is the lack of understanding of what facilities management is and which formal route to take through schools or university to enter the FM workforce. Furthermore, when working in facilities management, employees often prefer to seek affiliation directly with the client’s organisation, rather than with the FM provider.

With some education, many realise that facilities management offers unbridled variety, exposure to different industries and the ability to make a substantial difference to hospital patients, museum visitors or office workers. Though there was some exposure during the pandemic for FM’s indispensability when it comes to keeping people safe and businesses running, industry-wide collaboration is required to promote the innumerable benefits of working in FM.

For it to continue to attract and retain diverse talent and drive exceptional outcomes for clients, the facilities management industry must work together with government and education bodies to position FM as a career of choice.

Attracting talent to fill the skill gap

It can be challenging to attract young talent into technical delivery roles to support the current population of technical engineers, but there is also a need to have new skills to provide non graduates and other candidates coming into the industry as facility managers with new skills and tools to meet changing client demands. It is crucial for the industry to increase its investment in next generation talent.

The focus should be on employing more graduates, apprentices and school programmes designed to develop younger talent to bolster the future workforce. Not only this, but providers should also look at implementing programmes that entice people from alternative and diverse talent channels, such as ex-military, to work in facilities management.


Training, upskilling and skills gap analysis 

Training and upskilling are important tools and are already becoming a competitive advantage for facilities management providers. Clients want to see the investment facilities management companies are making to develop the skills of their teams. As part of this, it’s relevant to recognise that incentives for taking on additional responsibility are currently too low. Being an Authorising Person (AP), for example, is not appropriately incentivised as part of client contracts in many parts of the industry.

Steve Bovingdon, Associate Director Asset & Facilities Management at Turner & Townsend Consulting Limited said: “We have been continually watching a worrying lack and continued diminishing number of competent persons in all aspects of client’s safe systems of work, right across the industry. We believe that the key underpinning causation has been the continued erosion of wage improvements for employees being formally appointed into these roles.

Facilities management providers need to identify the current skills, soft skills and gaps in their organisation via a skill gap analysis and design a workforce development strategy that aims to develop the required soft skills.


The challenge is undoubtedly daunting, but here are six ways that the facilities management industry can, and is already working to, close the engineering skills gap. 

1. Apprentices, graduates and next generation: increase engineering’s attractiveness

To solve the shortfall in young people choosing engineering and technical services as a career path, more energy must be focused on reaching potential candidates at a younger age. This means showcasing engineering and facilities management as an attractive career path and presenting apprenticeships on a level-pegging with other post-school routes.

Apprenticeships offer hands-on skills training and are an attractive prospect compared to university routes towards vocations.

At CBRE, we are currently supporting 139 technical apprentices in our UK facilities management business and are constantly looking to grow the intake to support our current and future business goals.


Not only do apprenticeships need better promotion among young people, but so does facilities management. Young people are generally not choosing facilities management as a career path, and this is contributing to the widening skills gap. According to the Facilities Management Journal (FMJ), the average age of an FM employee is 50, so there’s a real and pressing need to improve the image and understanding of facilities management among young people to replenish the industry.

Facilities engineering can be an extremely rewarding career path and it’s noted that job satisfaction is generally high in the industry. Collaboration among industry leaders and with associations like the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) will be game-changing for improving FM and engineering’s image. By working together cross-industry, we can achieve so much more. 

In addition, FM should look at new ways to reach the ideal audience. Recruitment strategies need to encompass digital advertising in spaces where potential recruits are spending time (aged 10-15). This means branching out into TikTok and ploughing more energy into school outreach programmes.

Promotion of the opportunities for growth and advancement in non-typical professions, like facilities management, in schools can be a catalyst in creating talented feedstock for the future. Not only this, but facilities management providers should be able to show that choosing an apprenticeship, internship or graduate programme can lead to many positive career outcomes. In fact, cite that one in five companies have a former apprentice at board level.

Kevin Lynn, President UK & Ireland at CBRE Global Workplace Solutions said: “I started my career as a technical apprentice and have been able to progress through the business, now leading our UK facilities management organisation. There’s no doubt that my experience as an apprentice still has an impact in how I run the business today.

A solid technical background has been an invaluable part of understanding our client needs and the future needs of our business. At CBRE, we are heavily investing in next generation programmes and nurturing our talent to ensure we are able to close the existing skills gap.

The industry should focus on continuing to work together to deploy more creative methods to replenish the shortfall in engineers and cement engineering and FM as an attractive career route.

2. Focus on retention to address skills gaps

For the industry to address the growing skills gap, there needs to be a sharper focus on retaining existing employees. Not only is it more cost effective to retain than hire and train new employees, but it takes time for culture and behaviours to be embedded within a workforce. Employee turnover lowers morale, decreases productivity, is costly, has a negative impact on culture and contributes to loss of institutional knowledge. 

When looking at apprentices, on average in the UK, apprentice outputs surpass the costs associated with training, ultimately delivering a net benefit to employers during their training. Apprentices ensure employers can develop the necessary new skills and the soft skills that they need to match the industry’s current and future goals which means it’s an investment in the future of facilities management.


Retention should be a central part of the any apprenticeship programme and a sharp focus on nurturing apprentices and creating an inclusive environment for all employees is crucial. At CBRE, we place emphasis on creating an environment where everyone is valued for who they are, recognised for their contributions and given a chance to grow. Initiatives include an apprentice-led Three Peaks Challenge and our annual support of International Women in Engineering Day. 

Facilities management is unique in that Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (TUPE) regulations apply when contracts transfer from one provider to another (or in first time outsourcing situations). This can often lead to client organisations retaining the contract’s best employees during the transfer and talent loss occurs for FM providers. Facilities providers can be more assertive in retaining top talent during contract exchanges.

The shortage of candidates to fill positions means the most qualified professionals will seek roles with the best pay, making it challenging for facilities providers to retain top talent. A sharper focus on retention and appropriately nurturing talent will go a long way toward closing the skills gap. 

3. Double down on upskilling

Open job roles for facilities engineers currently far outnumber the volume of applicants. Training employees and focusing on professional development is a smart way to start backfilling the gap. However, there are many challenges associated with large-scale implementation of this tactic; the cost of courses and travel is often prohibitive and there’s often a need to complete overtime to catch up on time lost due to training because of tight contract commercial models. Online learning is relieving the pressure on this challenge, but this can’t be implemented in every case. Frequently, Contract Managers are tasked with balancing the need to upskill colleagues with the need to keep the contract profitable.

A trend of non-technical managers leading contracts is causing a knowledge gap between the types of tasks and engineers required on-site. There’s a need to upskill these managers from non-technical backgrounds too.

Outsourcing is designed to generate cost efficiencies and to improve service delivery for the purchasing organisation, which by design means that margins on delivering will be tight. As a result, there often isn’t enough allowance in the commercial contract to fund upskilling and training for employees. Facilities sales teams need to be aware of this and build the costs into new contracts to support closing the skills gap, educating clients about the benefits along the way. Not only this, but FMs should be educating clients to focus on value and whole lifecycle costs of assets (as found in Total Cost of Ownership [TCO] models), infrastructure and talent.

Technology and digital transformation is causing a paradigm shift in engineering at present and the landscape is rapidly changing. FM providers need to adapt to embrace this and use it as a lever to attract and retain talent. Businesses can use the Apprenticeship Levy allowance funds for training employees to meet the business needs associated with this rapid digital transformation and to support lifelong learning.


Currently, there is a shortage of high-quality engineers, like reliability engineers. Therefore, the industry has a big need to train existing talent to fill these gaps. Some facilities providers are overcoming these challenges by creating their own in-house training academies and partnering with education organisations to meet the demand and overcome course availability challenges.

Upskilling is undoubtedly a fast route to closing the widening skills gap and it's evident that there is a suite of solutions that can support building the required talent pipeline. It’s up to the facilities management industry to collaborate so it can overcome the existing barriers to wide-scale upskilling. 

4. Improved career pathways and better incentives for more responsibility

Incentives for taking on additional responsibility can be low and are therefore often not an attractive option for engineers. The more qualified and skilled talent can choose the best paid jobs, leading to a trend of losing good engineers to different industries.

Contract commercial models often don’t provide enough renumeration for good talent and are not competitive enough. These pressures can lead to a shortfall in skills and loss of talent. Equally, engineers’ time is heavily focused on reactive works and maintenance, leaving them less time for specialist works and learning new skills on the job.

To overcome these challenges, facilities management providers can focus on investing in mentoring and training. There’s also an argument that FM sales teams should work to educate clients during the tender process to drive a trend towards better contract commercial models. That means, being solely price-driven affects the quality of people and therefore service is likely to be impacted throughout the lifecycle of the contract.

5. Increase diversity in engineering workforce

Engineering stereotypically has a lack of diversity, though this is slowly changing. Diversity supports progress by providing different skills, expertise and perspectives and faster resolution of problems, but there’s a challenge in attracting a diverse range of people into engineering and apprentice roles.

In the past decade, there has been a strong trend of facilities management providers investing in improving their general diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. This now needs to be amplified to support the need for greater diversity in the FM engineering workforce.

Facilities management companies need to invest in specific teams that specialise in talent acquisition for these roles. These teams can focus their expertise on developing creative strategies to find candidates with the required skills and that specifically meet the requirement to find diverse engineering talent. This isn’t just increasing gender and ethnic representation, but also looking at inclusion across the whole spectrum of diversity like people from different social backgrounds, cognitive and neurodiversity. Not only this, but organisations need to implement inclusive recruitment processes and upskill hiring managers in unconscious bias to ensure the correct hiring decisions are made and the development of inclusive environments is prioritised.

At CBRE, 53% of our 2022 next generation intake of apprentices, interns and graduates were women and/or from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. CBRE is building the workforce of the future by driving initiatives that develop employees and create a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive.


Career fairs and school leaver sessions can be another successful way to increase diversity. There’s also an argument for focusing on digital employer marketing strategies to promote the attractiveness of engineering to young people when they are still in secondary school. Couple this with schemes that encourage science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and these become strong propositions for improving diversity in the engineering workforce.

There has been an evident rise in representation of STEM ambassadors within facilities management over recent years – this is a powerful way of improving diversity as ambassadors act as positive role models for new talent.

Professor Alexandra Knight CEng FIMechE FWES, Founder & CEO of STEMazing commented “To build a stronger and more diverse talent pipeline in FM, we need to sow the seeds of change at a much earlier age. Gender stereotypes about certain careers start young, with research showing that children aged 3-5 years old already show less support for counter-stereotypical career choices like a girl wanting to be an engineer. STEM role models are vital to challenge these stereotypes. You can’t be what you can’t see.

We need more children aspiring to be our future innovators and problem-solvers in STEM careers. Let’s open their eyes to a world of possibility for them in STEM.

6. Embrace innovation and new technologies

Even if facilities management providers do deliver in all five ways listed so far, the industry would still not quite meet the skill gap and engineering shortfall. That’s because there are not enough new people entering the industry to breach such a delta, nor are there enough trainers to upskill the employees who need to learn new skills. We instead need to consider rely on innovation and new technology to get the industry over the final hurdle.

For example, more experienced technicians who perhaps no longer wish to work in the field can offer guidance to new employees from remote locations via mixed reality and spatial computing. Using mixed reality devices, schematics and guides can be superimposed onto physical assets and, with an experienced technician communicating via a headset, young technicians can receive the kind of on the job training they need to gain the necessary skills needed for their role.

75% of field technicians report that products have become more complex and that more technical knowledge is needed to perform their jobs now compared to when they started in their roles. With older people naturally being more resistant to change, this creates a situation where younger employees and older technicians can share knowledge for the betterment of both.

Furthermore, embracing innovation and deploying new technologies as part of its core delivery will contribute to making facilities management a more compelling proposition and will naturally begin to attract more young people to the industry. This will be of paramount importance if the industry is going to ensure Gen Z, Alpha and Beta consider facilities management as their career path.



It’s clear to see that there is an abundance of fantastic work ongoing to address the skill gap, but facilities management providers need to do more to close gaps in this completely.

Through implementing world-class training, robust talent marketing and recruiting strategies and collaborating on building costs into contracts for upskilling current employees through training, skills up, renumeration and for hiring apprentices, the industry can close the skills gap. Here are the CBRE conclusions on how the industry can have a significant impact on addressing the skill gap today:

1. Understand your current workforce needs: 

  • Invest in upskilling as a priority
  • Have a workforce development strategy
  • Leverage apprentices and next generation talent

2. Gain skills

  • Be prepared for future needs and build resilience
  • Champion multiple areas of diversity in the workforce
  • Train and develop employees throughout their employment

3. Embed skills for sustainability

  • Embed sustainability within workforce planning
  • Include sustainability in recruiting and training

4. Look to the future

  • Address the future skills needs now
  • Include next generation funding in budgets
  • Work more closely with educators to improve the skills pipeline
  • Embrace new technologies and innovation

Find out more about apprenticeship, graduate and next generation opportunities here.

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