Nadia Mitchener is a Contract Manager for ABM UK, a leading provider of facility solutions. The company has over 100,000 employees in 300+ offices across the globe.
How did you get into the job – and what were you doing for work beforehand?
I was studying for a media and cultural studies degree at university when I broke my leg and couldn’t get to my lectures. My confidence took a total knock. Once I recovered, I decided to get a job and managed to get a role at Westway (now part of ABM UK). My experience and training grew from there, as did my confidence, and I have since become ABM UK’s first female junior contract manager.
What does a typical day involve?
It’s very varied – there’s no typical day. Yesterday I was in the office doing invoicing and today I’m at three different sites ensuring we’re providing top notch service levels.
I oversee a range of technical services, from boiler installation and air conditioning maintenance at a variety of sites including pubs and shopping centres. I have to ensure they’re running smoothly and that issues are dealt with quickly.
The competency training on everything from water hygiene to electrical safety gives me the technical knowledge that is essential for what can be very hands-on job. Customers expect you to know what you are talking about!
What kind of qualities do you need?
You need to be organised and have great time management skills, because no two days are the same. You also need to learn to deal with pressure because generally, clients call you when things need fixing. You need to keep your head to get the problem solved quickly.
You also need to be great at building strong working relationships with clients, engineers and technical staff around you. While I have a technical understanding, I have to rely on the specialists for specific problems and they need to respect and trust me.
And any specific qualifications?
ABM UK takes training really seriously and we’re lucky to have our very own training center where you can constantly top up your knowledge. Although they’re not essential to get a job in the industry, helpful qualifications are:
- IOSH – Working and managing safely
- Water Hygiene – L8
- Asbestos awareness
- ILM level 5 – Institute of leadership and management
What are the best things about the job?
There’s a great sense of accomplishment when everything comes together, when the problem is solved and your clients are happy.
It’s also good that people can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I enjoy challenging people, asking questions and learning something new on a daily basis. People are often surprised about my knowledge when it comes to getting my own boiler fixed at home.
And what are the most challenging?
Managing people’s expectations is a challenge because we’re dealing with equipment that doesn’t always do what you want it to! So, you have to ensure that you’re constantly providing comfort that you’re doing everything you can to get the job done.
Why would you recommend the job to others?
This job is unique because it challenges a broad range of skills, both technical and organisational. I’d love to see more women in the industry for that reason, because despite it being a traditionally masculine world, enjoying variety and multi-tasking is a major advantage.
It’s great that you’re not in an office everyday and can manage your own time. You also get to see some really beautiful places and meet some great customers.
Have you faced any specific challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
There are so many challenges that I face on a day-to-day basis, but for me, I think managing people – engineers and customers alike – stands out, as everyone I encounter is different. I’m always striving to understand people better, which helps me to nurture strong relationships with them. Everyone has different abilities, and I believe it’s particularly important to understand where people’s strengths and weaknesses lie.
Managing customers’ expectations is also very challenging as you can get some customers that are hard to please. It’s about understanding them and really paying attention to what they want and expect, and building rapport is something that I have had to focus on doing in these situations. It’s also important to not beat yourself up when things don’t go according to plan.
Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?
We have mentors who we meet once a month to discuss any challenges that we might be facing. We are given advice about how to deal with certain situations, and next week I’ll be speaking to my mentor about commercial and financial training. We’re also encouraged to join our mentor at some high level board meetings to prepare us for the future. I’ve always been impressed with ABM UK – everyone has continually been really helpful day or night.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
I’d like women to be increasingly encouraged to consider technical and vocational opportunities, including contract management roles within technical services, as opposed to taking the all-too stereotypical route and focusing purely on administration. However, being administratively adept is also an advantage in this industry, as everything is governed by KPIs and compliance, stats and reports, rather than just signing-off a job on a duplicate pad at the end of the day like the engineers on the road used to do.
Generally, there seems to be a stigma attached to women learning trades or being a leader in a ‘man’s world’, and I’d like this to eventually be eradicated. I feel equal working opportunities need to be taught to women when they’re at a young, formative age, particularly at school and college. I would never have expected to excel in a technical industry, but I actually really enjoy it and think others would too.
If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?
Without doubt becoming ABM UK’s first female junior contract manager in technical services – it’s an achievement that I’m incredibly proud of, and I hope I’ve managed to inspire other young women in the facilities management industry. I’m also really proud that I’ve managed to achieve this while bringing up my four-year-old son – it goes to show what hard work and determination can do. I never expected to be given a chance, as most contract managers I have come across have had a technically biased background and that was always strongly regarded. I am grateful to ABM UK for believing in my gutsy determination.
And what advice would you give to people who want to move into the industry?
People are completely unaware of how much effort goes into creating and maintaining the environments we work and play in. Start being inquisitive about the environment you’re in. How are the lights on in your office everyday? What goes in to making it safe, clean and warm? Also networking on social media platforms can give you a great insight into the industry.
Is there anything else you’d like to get across to those considering moving into the industry?
I wish people were more excited about the facilities management industry – especially women. I’m a really girly girl, but I find my job exhilarating and challenging.
Tell us about your plans for the future?
I’m so busy that I haven’t had a chance to really reflect on my future plans! I just want to be the best that I can be, and I always want to be given the chance to progress – that’s really important to me. I think it’s important to set goals and continually challenge oneself, and with this in mind, being a contract manager isn’t where I still see myself in five years’ time. I will strive to be an account manager, and one day even a director, and I would also like to inspire and mentor other women around me.