FM In The Education Sector Brings Several Challenges

Karthikeyan Ragothaman, General Manager, bfm talks to REM Times on catering to the education sector
Megha S Anthony | UAE | Facilities Management

Education Establishments offer a number of challenges for FMs that would not be found in other sectors. And even within this broad sector, there is much variation between different types of establishments, dependent on the type of education and the nature of the building portfolio.

REM Times talks to Karthikeyan Ragothaman, General Manager, Bloom Facilities Management (bfm) about the approach they have taken to tackle this sector.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q1. When we talk about Facilities Management in the education sector, how different is the approach?

Facilities Management in the education sector brings several challenges that may not be found in other sectors. At bfm, the facilities management arm of Bloom Holding, our facilities managers customise our soft and hard services plans to ensure optimal service delivery is achieved in this different environment, taking into account the fact that each school or college will generally have several large buildings, with varying functions. A typical mix might include teaching spaces, laboratories, office space, auditorium/theatres, sports facilities, libraries, and outdoor spaces, which are not generally found within an average complex elsewhere. Effectively managing all these different facilities relies on effective communication with the school’s faculty and education institutions management team. This type of customer-centric FM, where clients’ needs are anticipated and effective communication is maintained at all times, ensures the effective day-to-day running of schools or educational institutions is maintained. At the end of the day, the most important objective is to ensure students face no interruption to their timetabled learning routine.

Q2. Post the pandemic how has maintenance evolved in the Education Sector? (what is being done now that wasn't very important pre-pandemic).

Prior to the pandemic, facilities management was generally an invisible operation, only dealing with reactive costing and scheduled activities. Now, Facilities departments are seen as a designated source of expertise for implementing strategic space planning and virus prevention strategies to create a safe work environment for students and staff. FM companies’ importance has increased over the past three years in the eyes of many educational institutions’ management teams and our work has become more visible and welcome.

Q3. Are clients in this sector more aware of the need to have dedicated service providers to maintain the facilities?

Yes, they are aware of it. They generally choose an IFM service provider that can provide fully integrated services and, in the tendering process, tend to favour IFM companies that have experience in the education sector. Having an effective IFM partner means that a school's management team can focus on its core strength which is education. That is our ultimate goal at bfm.

Q4. What are some of the challenges one still faces in this sector?

The pandemic placed unprecedented demands on all businesses and institutions - both workplaces and academic institutions. It has forced the evolution of the unbending, traditional learning and working environment into a new, more flexible concept. Maintenance teams must now manage a student experience both inside the institution and also outside. Facilities managers have provided excellent leadership during COVID-19, displaying a fearless and flexible attitude and a determination to learn and evolve alongside the changing needs for facilities during the pandemic period. bfm has worked hard to reduce the effects of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns on our clients in the educational sector, evidenced by close to a 100% customer satisfaction rating recorded from our clients in the sector.

Q5. What kind of innovations/steps bfm has incorporated into making its services more efficient in this sector?

Of course, schools and colleges are the learning centres for our future leaders, so we need to ensure their comfort in the classroom and outside in the recreational and sports areas as well. At bfm, our focus is on innovative and sustainable service delivery. Energy-saving ideas, such as retrofitting LED lighting, are implemented in line with our sustainability service. Key areas where volumes of recycling and waste material could be reduced are also important. Recently, we started a new policy with a zero landfill target. Detailed benchmark reviews which analyse documentation, policies, and procedures, as well as cleaning standards audits are also conducted at academic institutions managed by bfm. Internationally recognised BICSc standards have further increased the efficiency and consistency of our service delivery to clients throughout the entire UAE. Senior management at bfm has also invested in staff learning and development, as well as effective daily mentoring. Cross-training in other roles which delivers built-in cover is also important, as well as service streams set up to react to changing site demands

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