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Peter Brightwell – University of Cambridge Facilities Manager on Upskilling at Portobello Institute


Peter Brightwell – University of Cambridge Facilities Manager on Upskilling at Portobello Institute

Peter Brightwell – University of Cambridge Facilities Manager on Upskilling at Portobello Institute

When working for one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, you might be forgiven for feeling satisfied with your level of knowledge and experience.

However, this is not the case for Peter Brightwell who is following his passion to upskill in his role as Principal Building Services Technician for the Biomedical Services department at the University of Cambridge.

Peter originally trained as an electrician and worked as an Electrical Maintenance Engineer for the University of Cambridge in their Department of Engineering for three years before moving to their world-renowned library as a Maintenance Electrician.

After a brief stint in a building services company, Munro, in 2015, he returned to Cambridge in his current role, which he has held for over six years.

While he is now working in the facilities management space, he never held any formal qualification in FM beforehand, relying on his experience as an electrician and learning on the job to get up to speed.

When he re-joined Cambridge, he undertook a Higher National Cert (HNC) in Building Services Engineering, which offered modules in management and building planning.

Not satisfied still, Peter began searching online for further qualifications he could do in order to progress in his career. That is when he found the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM), and Portobello Institute.

“I found Portobello through the IWFM website.

“I was looking at where I could do some extra training, specifically in FM. I went through the portal for their courses and there were only three places actually taking the course, and Portobello was one. It was also the only one doing it on an off-site basis,” he said.

While many people who go to do FM-related degrees and qualifications are encouraged by their employers, Peter himself was the main driving factor when looking to upskill.

“I didn’t have any previous education specific to FM. I did the IWFM course of my own volition.

“I’m part of the University of Cambridge’s biomedical services. We provide a service in that we look after all the housing and all the licensing for biomedical research in the university. That’s our core business.

“What I do was left to one side. There was no one else doing it before I was. Myself and my team tend to be left to our own devices.

“I fancied doing something specifically in FM, especially because I didn’t do much of the finance side. Seeing that on the course was a big plus. The module in risk planning was very useful too,” he said.

For Peter, the IWFM course has been extremely useful in his role now. Like most FMs, his day-to-day responsibilities are incredibly varied.

“In my role, I look after four engineers. They line manage others. In total, I manage about 16 people, security, porters, goods in, procurement, and building services engineers.

“We come in, usually get a coffee with those four managers. A little bit of firefighting in checking the emails first. If there’s anything particularly pertinent, I go off-site and into town and see what the issue is there.

“I am department based. The fabric of the building is looked after by our estate management team centrally. We might have an hour speaking with them about issues across our bit of the estate.

“We use a system to look after all the predictive and reactive orders. We check that and see what’s outstanding, see what jobs have come in. We’re quite a small team so I tend to do the approvals on there.

“We look at what jobs are coming in, approve them, and then send them on to the engineers.

“I speak to the guys in procurement about items needed. Usually, I’ll get one or two requests a day about very odd items. If you’ve ever worked with researchers, you’ll know what they’re like. They need very specific things like a stand for a particular piece of test equipment.

“There’s lots of reactive work just because of the way that research works. They can be completely different from each other too. They’re in the same room but need different things.

“I love the variety. The fact that every day and every task tend to be different.

“There’s a law of diminishing averages to some degree but when I started, because it was a new role, there were so many differences to make so quickly and so easily. I’ve been able to see that happen.

“Going to sites that might have had one engineer there for 40 years. One, in particular, didn’t even have a trade, he had just learned it all through experience. To see all of that improve and see all of the reactive jobs come in drop, I’ve been lucky to see everything improve,” he said.

The IWFM course is designed so that what the learner studies can be directly applied to their professional roles, something Peter has found to be particularly helpful.

“One of the tasks that I was given during the course was to look at what a centralised facilities management team would look like in the department. I didn’t really know before. Writing that has been so much easier.

“Being able to use what I did in the assignments has been great as well. There’s a section for adding a bit of work-based stuff to it.

“To some degree, I was writing our FM strategy through the assignment. Just knowing the layout, what’s got to be in it, an element of risk assessment, knowing how to calculate our tolerance of risk. Knowing how to differentiate risk between buildings. That has made it a lot easier to talk to management teams in our estates’ department.

“I always knew what they were talking about but having actually now done it and studied it, when they use specific management terms, it makes it a lot easier,” he said.

Peter’s Portobello journey has not yet come to an end as he is hopeful of enrolling in the BSc in Facilities & Workplace Management.

If you are like Peter and looking for the right FM qualification to follow your passion and progress in your career, you can check out the full list of courses on offer at Portobello Institute by visiting the department page here.

If you are interested in any of our Facilities Management degrees or qualifications you can book a consultation call with our expert FM advisor Brandon McLean here, email [email protected] or call 01 892 0035.

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