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Utilising the Talent Pool of Ex-Military Personnel in Facilities Management

Utilising the Talent Pool of Ex-Military Personnel in Facilities Management
20 August 2020 | Updated 25 August 2020

The Career Transition Partnership recommends facilities and workplace management as a suggested career path for ex-Service personnel. 

ThisWeekinFM spoke to Deborah Longstaff and Russ Forsdick, who have both worked in the Royal Navy and are now leaders in the FM sector, to explore why this is such a natural fit.

Deborah Longstaff entered the FM arena in 2002 as Operations Director and headed up an executive search and selection business, managing campaigns to recruit and place FM leaders. She is currently Associate Director at Eden Brown, specialising in recruiting for soft and hard FM services.

Previously, she had served in the Royal Navy and her last posting was as a Recruiter for the Royal Navy & Royal Marines in London & the SE of England. Longstaff is passionate about the “hidden FM talent” within the Armed Forces & works with IWFM & the CTP, coaching & supporting the resettlement of the ex-forces people in their next career move into “civvy street.”

Russ Forsdick also served in the Royal Navy, starting as a mechanic and progressing to Chief Petty Officer Marine Engineering Artificer. Forsdick spent over twenty-three years in the military, before starting his civilian career, initially with Amey Business Services as a Project Manager. He has been with CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, for just over twelve years and holds the position of Business Unit Leader. 


“It may not be a role that you particularly notice day-to-day, but when something goes wrong in a building or something needs fixing, it’s the facilities manager who’s called upon.

–Deborah Longstaff

Associate Director, Eden Brown


Discipline, Loyalty and Camaraderie


The Career Transition Partnership’s (CTP) FM sector guide positions facilities management as offering “a huge variety of opportunities as well as the possibility of early responsibility, rapid career progression and good pay and benefits.” It also focusses on character traits such as discipline, determination and a high level of organisational aptitude.


Building with man walking in front

Picture: Photograph of a large glass-fronted building with people walking outside. Other skyscraper buildings can be seen in the buildings' reflection.


Both Forsdick and Longstaff echoed the idea that the personality type needed to excel in facilities and workplace management is not too dissimilar from the characteristics that military people hold.

“The skills required of an FM are hugely diverse, and this has been further highlighted during the pandemic,” Longstaff told us. “It may not be a role that you particularly notice day-to-day, but when something goes wrong in a building or something needs fixing, it’s the facilities manager who’s called upon.

“This requires a certain professional attitude and the ability to ‘think on your feet’. For ex-Forces staff, this is just built into your working day from the get-go. Even things like punctuality, when you’re used to being fined or disciplined for lateness, this will not stop once you’re on civvy street. Personally, I still retain a lot of those habits in my career today.”

Forsdick added: “When you’re working in the fleet, even when you’ve ‘clocked off’ for the day, you will still be ultimately responsible if you’re needed in an emergency and this just becomes part of your working life. With FMs being responsible for the safety and wellbeing of people in a building, it’s a similar scenario except it’s a hotel, shopping centre, office building or data centre rather than a ship or submarine.”

Both Forsdick and Longstaff agreed with the importance of camaraderie and people-skills in both the Navy and within FM, with the ability to communicate and “get on” with people a central part of both.


FM as a True Meritocracy 


“I have found within the FM industry and definitely at CBRE there are no glass ceilings, you choose how far you want to go with your career and if you have the correct aptitude and attitude, the opportunities are there."

–Russ Forsdick

Business Unit Leader, CBRE


The skills required in facilities management encompass the whole range of asset and built environment knowledge, whilst also embracing often significant change management and mobilisation programmes. 

Forsdick spoke about how he found the transition to working an FM a positive experience:

“What you find when you leave the military is that you have been previously working within the confines of a very rigid structure, based on an age-old class system and all of a sudden you have a whole world of choices and options but with the added requirement to self-motivate and manage yourself. 

“I have found within the FM industry and definitely at CBRE there are no glass ceilings, you choose how far you want to go with your career and if you have the correct aptitude and attitude, the opportunities are there. CBRE has a very well supported armed forces network across all of its business sectors and I am not alone in highlighting the benefits of bringing ex-military into the CBRE business”.  



Barriers – Civilianisation of CVs and Managing the Transition


In 2019, Longstaff was honoured with Freedom of the City of London and works closely with the Pattenmakers Livery in their quest to raise funds. One of her current projects is in collaboration with the Defence National Rehabilitation Centre (Stanford Hall), building what is likely to be one of the world's best clinical rehabilitation centres for the armed forces.

Both Longstaff and Forsdick have spent time with ex-Forces staff, helping to civilianise their CVs, to remove any military jargon and make them more palatable for a corporate environment. They’ve also offered other support such as helping them to access the right training courses, to bridge any skills gaps. 

Longstaff admits that not everyone who leaves the Forces is lucky enough to get the support they need for a smooth transition to civilian life:

“I feel like there’s such a huge talent pool in ex-military personnel, and businesses are beginning to recognise this and are more educated in the transition process.

“However, for many individuals, adapting to ‘civvy street’ isn’t an easy process. What you have to consider is, for that period of time in the military, you don’t have to worry about paying bills, your own accommodation, your food, managing your own appointments. So losing that comfort blanket that you’ve become accustomed to can be very traumatic.

“The loss of status and dealing with having to re-train and effectively start from scratch can also be a barrier for people.”


The White Ensign Association


Longstaff and Forsdick are both supporters of The White Ensign Association, a registered charity founded jointly by the Royal Navy and the City of London in 1958 who offers guidance on personal finance, second careers, business start-ups, and personal administration.

The Association is now firmly established as one of the prime links between the Royal Navy, the City, Commerce and Industry. 

You can find out more about their work here

Picture: A photograph of some Royal Navy Officers, a Chief Petty Officer and Ratings of the Royal Navy on parade in No. 1 dress uniform. Image credit: Ronnie Macdonald

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 20 August 2020


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