In an exclusive interview with iFM, our CEO, Matt Chapman, explains how the Evolve initiative is opening doors for those who may have missed out on opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive in well-paying permanent roles – be it in FM or beyond.


Recruitment is on every FM’s problem list, especially if you are a supplier of labour-intensive soft services.


What if there was a solution that could help solve the problem – and contribute to both individual development and wider social value at the same time?


Matt believes there is one – and we will happily share it with anyone in the industry, competitor or not.


Our Evolve programme was unveiled last month. In quick summary, this initiative is designed to increase the earning potential of low-income workers, while at the same time widening the talent pool for UK businesses by diversifying the workforce.


The idea behind Evolve emerged about 18 months ago with our People and Culture Director Kelly Dolphin looking for ways to maximise ‘temp to permanent’ opportunities amongst our workforce of roughly 6,000. There are models for that in other sectors – why can’t we do something similar in FM? she wondered. 


She raised the question at board level, which led to Matt and Kelly coming together as a project team to look at possible models for use in the FM sector. Matt explains that this soon evolved (it’s a useful word) into a target of creating more opportunities than just what we could provide. “Limiting the scope to the FM company limits the opportunity as there’s inherently a limited number of job openings,” he says. “So how could we reach beyond that limit, opening up the field to more opportunities for good, well-paid jobs?”


In explaining the concept development process, Matt also cites the examples of several present and former colleagues who started at the bottom, as cleaners, and rose to senior roles as supervisors and managers due to their own abilities – but in each case over a very long period of time.


The ‘system’ is generally not geared up to identifying and supporting such people to develop, he notes. There are obstacles thrown up by low expectations, language limitations, and the fact that the contract management focus is elsewhere etc. Soft FM is often not geared to the concept of career development. Matt describes the rare exceptions, the successes, as “hidden stories.” 


“These people with the potential are out there in the workforce,” he says. “How do we find them, how do we give them opportunities, how do we help them develop?” And more than that, “If the opportunities here [with the FM company] are limited, how do we work with our clients to expand the possibilities? Most client companies have some recruitment issues, most have ESG goals – how can we help with those?”

Evolve Evolves

So, this is how we arrive at Evolve – not a panacea for the chronic FM recruitment challenge, but a door-opener to opportunity for people who might otherwise never get the chance to learn, develop and progress into well-paid permanent jobs, whether in FM or beyond. That must be good for FM, for the individuals involved, and for business and society more broadly.


“The concept is built on the foundation of our learning & development programme and our technology systems that capture information on employees’ experience and performance; plus, we and everyone else in the industry have jobs to offer,” Matt explains. The next challenge, then, is how to attract people into the programme. Word of mouth is a nice idea, but it would be too slow on its own, Matt says. As a supplement, we have recruited Impact Partners, organisations that work with people with diverse backgrounds, who are under-represented, who struggle to get into employment. 


“These include ex-offenders, care leavers, the long-term unemployed, refugees, disabled people and those experiencing homelessness. The Impact Partners helping to tap into this resource include social purpose organisations The Timpson Foundation, Ingeus and Shaw Trust, the New Futures Network (a part of the Prison and Probation Service), and even Leeds United where some academy footballers who don’t make the grade can find themselves at a loss about what to do next.


“We are attracting candidates from our Impact Partners now,” Matt reports. “Not everyone wants to sign up to Evolve – some people enjoy being cleaners: it’s a good, structured job with its own rewards. The ones that do want to be involved are already getting comfortable working in a client environment.” 


He cites PureGym as a good example of an Evolve Partner, as companies on the ‘receiving end’ are known. “PureGym jumped at the opportunity to be involved,” he says. “Our cleaners are seeing how the client business operates, meeting people who work there and seeing new opportunities: PureGym has agreed to provide complimentary gym memberships for all cleaners, in return for consistency, along with offering Evolve candidates training to become a personal trainer. So, someone with the right attitude and commitment can develop into a new role with this leading organisation.” 


Looking at the wider situation, Matt comments: “In my opinion, our industry has been too focused on protecting the workforce: ‘I have a cleaner who’s doing a good job, and I don’t want that person to leave.’ At the same time, all companies face the problem of attrition. In addition, it’s not unusual for clients to recruit the best workers from FM companies. Evolve celebrates this and makes it a more structured and inclusive arrangement. I believe it can inspire more people to enter our industry, too, to progress and grow their career and earning opportunities.


“So, it benefits us as the FM provider, and certainly it’s doing the right thing in terms of social value. If we can demonstrate that we have helped people to develop and move on to a better paying role, then we’ve done a good job.”


How have clients reacted to the concept? “All have said ‘we love it’,” Matt replies, with clear satisfaction. “They can’t necessarily offer up job vacancies, but we have created a menu of the ways in which we can work together. As the services provider, we tend to interface at two or three different client points – procurement, finance, FM or sometimes property. The people we are dealing with get it, but they are not connected to their HR departments. So, they have to bring in HR and then we can talk about the options. These include access to their apprenticeship levy funds, permanent or interim roles for work experience, help with learning & development and mentorship. We’ve got a number of people really wanting to get involved in mentorship, in particular.”

Into Application

Summing up, Matt describes the Evolve process as ‘recruit, develop, progress.’ The crucial stage in the middle includes pastoral support, full access to our learning & development platform, mock interviews and CV writing clinics, free legal advice, an employee assistance programme. We have created a new team, known as Unity, to provide in-house support for people joining and then progressing through the process, whether they are our existing employees or those introduced by Impact Partners.


All this is publicised internally through a multi-pronged awareness campaign that includes explanations and reminders – with the same messages cascaded down via contract managers and site supervisors, as well as through outreach.


So, the programme is up, running and beginning to prove itself. The ambition now is to encourage other FM companies to take up the Evolve idea.


Matt’s pre-FM background is in marketing. There’s no question, he says, that programmes like Evolve offer some competitive advantage these days, with ESG becoming a part of the bid scoring process. But he believes the FM industry needs to change in any case, and the Evolve blueprint is available for anyone to use.


“When I speak to my contacts in other industries about ESG and ED&I in FM, they often say ‘wow, we’ve got nothing like that in our business’,” he recounts. “FM often works in challenging environments, and despite that we are often leading on these sorts of issues. So why can’t FM share what we’ve learned more widely? And at the same time, if you are an FM company that hasn’t moved forward on these sorts of issues, then have our model and adapt it to your own needs. We can be allies on this, not just competitors.”


Matt’s hope is to have at least two Evolve allies in place by the end of the year – not necessarily in FM, though that would be nice. But any other company that says ‘yes, we like the idea, and we’ll implement it here’ is welcome to the blueprint and our support in applying it.


Evolve is fundamentally about doing the right thing – a business principle that is close to Matt Chapman’s heart. “Even competitors should be able to come together on this,” he says. “There’s no risk of losing business – it’s about giving people an opportunity to develop and move forward in better paying, career-oriented jobs.”


Matt is hugely enthusiastic about this initiative. Our conversation was largely one-sided – that’s not a bad thing: he has thought a lot about the issues, and he has a lot to say.  He is also proud of what’s been achieved so far and what everyone involved has done to make it a success. You can’t help feeling it deserves to be a success, too, for us and for the FM industry.


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