Industry Insights: Ray Breen

Insights of the Industry: Ray Breen on a blue background, paired with a black and white headshot of a mature man

Ray Breen is the Property and Procurement Manager at Brightwater Care Group. Being in the aged care industry for over 15 years, he’s amassed incredible experience in the sector and understands what is required to successfully manage a portfolio of care facilities.

A high degree of empathy and natural curiosity inspires Ray to find new ways of working to better support the wellbeing of clients.

In January 2023, we sat down with Ray to gain his insights into the industry.

Why is facilities management important to your organisation?

Most of our clients are unable to live independently and are required to live in facilities other than their own home. Our facilities exist to support them to live comfortably, in a dignified manner that supports their wellbeing.

How does the facilites team support client care?

Through planned maintenance and asset lifecycle management, we ensure assets are consistently fit for purpose and reliable. When unexpected failures do occur, we support sites so they are able to maintain focus on delivering quality care to our clients.

Our team exists to manage the vast array of FM responsibilities that sites would otherwise need to oversee.

How does the facilities team interact with the rest of the business?

We have a tiered communication model which ensures conversations are conducted at a level that optimises outcomes. We regularly meet with senior executives and managers regarding organisational matters and work closely with other corporate teams including, IT, OSH, Finance, Care services to deliver expected outcomes.

We work with new developments and initiatives and over the past several years have been involved in the design, construction, and finally occupation of our newest facility in 2022. This building now unites our ground floor corporate office with a 128-bed care facility on levels 1 and 2 providing far greater interaction than ever before.

What's been the impact of that increased interaction?

We have a dispersed property portfolio of just over 25 sites stretching 100km across the greater Perth metropolitan area. For the first time many of our corporate staff can witness and become actively involved in the services they are employed to support. On the flip side the care staff and management team are able to meet and talk with corporate staff on a regular basis breaking down a perception of “us and them” and increasing empathy and greater understanding for all.

How did you get into facilities management?

Like almost everyone else in the industry I pretty much fell into it. 

I guess though that I have always been interested in the “built environment” and understanding how things work ever since building cubbie houses as a kid.

In 1987 I travelled to the UK on a “gap year" and soon found myself working in building demolition and refurbishment. I enjoyed it immensely and as they say the rest is history.

What has your journey in facilities management looked like?

Returning from the UK I worked at a sugar refinery and over those 9 years developed an understanding and appreciation of the value of process, structure, and procedure.

When the refinery closed, I moved to a role at a university, started writing maintenance plans, improving maintenance processes, and gaining significant “hands on” experience in FM.

In 2006 I joined Brightwater as a maintenance co-ordinator, visiting sites, providing advice and assistance and supporting site leadership teams in the daily management of their facilities.

Several years later I moved into a new role at our corporate office, developing and enhancing data management, asset management plans, planned maintenance programs and project management methodology.

In 2022, I was appointed Brightwater Property and Procurement Manager.

What are the core skills needed to succeed in FM? 

Patience may be a virtue but in FM it is an absolute necessity.

You need to be a good communicator, demonstrate empathy and understanding whilst balancing these attributes with the confidence and assertiveness to ensure performance and quality attributes are maintained.

What I love about FM is that you don’t need to be an architect, tradesman, engineer etc to be successful. What you do need is a passion for the built environment and a desire to continually learn and grow your knowledge base.

Most importantly, you must have self-belief. Have the courage and bravery to have a go and try something different in seeking continual improvement.

What have been the major learnings from your career so far? 

You can’t do it on your own, you need to build an exceptional team. People will join a journey where teamwork, and a common sense of destination is provided.

Identify and listen to people who know what they are talking about, whether they be engineers, cleaners, electricians etc as they are the subject matter experts.

Keep people informed and explain why you’re doing things or thinking the way you are. Let people know what you’re thinking, what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re going to go about it.

Finally, be brave enough to try new things, to grow and become better. Playing it safe won’t advance your cause. Sometimes your ideas will work, sometimes they won’t, but pursue ideas in the name of progress.

What have been the biggest changes you've seen in FM? 

Technology, specifically those that provide an ability to easily share information.  We have moved from a “hard copy” world and seen growth in online collaboration, accelerated by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

In practical terms an FM is now seen to be more than a guy who organises maintenance activities. Encouragingly the “guy” is increasingly not necessarily male, with a more diverse cohort filling the ranks.

What's been the biggest challenge you've faced in your career so far? 

In aged care, the biggest challenge is feeding the increasingly hungry compliance monster. The number of auditing and assessment agencies appears to grow by the day with repetition and duplication of effort a constant theme.

The challenge is to continually modify your processes to ensure the volume of work linked to compliance activities does not overwhelm and affect overall team performance. There is no silver bullet with solutions often difficult to identify.

What have been some of the biggest highlights over your career? 

A personal highlight has been developing and implementing Brightwater’s strategic maintenance plan. Over the past 15 years we’ve been able to significantly mature our asset lifecycle management processes, with support from the organisation, resulting in facilities that are safe, efficient and reliable.

I am also proud of the structures and conventions we have applied to our software database over many years that underpin our reporting capacity. Building a reliable and structured database isn’t easy and takes time, dedication, and patience to achieve and further requires continual attention. It sounds hard and is, but not as hard as the alternative!

How do you see your work changing over the next 5-10 years?

There is no doubt delivery of aged care services will increasingly be provided to people in their own homes. To support this move, providers will need to continue to incorporate the structure, conformity and consistency applied to management of care facilities.

Our team will need to shift our thinking, accepting that a different model of service delivery will need to be applied, where we will often be supporting an individual person in their own home as opposed to large numbers living in one of our facilities.

Fortunately, I believe we can find correlations and similarities that will streamline services and limit duplication of effort. 

Technology will again be of primary importance, with collaborative and welfare support software solutions enabling delivery of efficient services.

What changes would you like to see in aged care?

I’d like to see compliance obligations applied proportionate to performance, in preference to the existing application of “boilerplate” regulation, which might then increase the amount of funding that finds its way “onto the floor”.

We need to establish aged care as a career destination. Too many good people are working far too hard under very difficult circumstances and need greater support and encouragement to enter the industry.

What changes would you like to see in facilities management? 

Historically, FM has been viewed as an expense centre without consideration given to the benefits delivered.

I’d like facilities management to be acknowledged as a profession in the same manner as we think of plumbers, hairdressers and architects. I feel this would generate greater appeal and encourage younger people and a broader range of skills into the field.

Whilst organisations like the FMA do great work creating pathways for young people wanting to get into facilities management, we need a structured educational accreditation process to build the reputation of the industry.

What will be the biggest challenges in FM over the next year? 

There’s a real unpredictability over the next 18 months with tight labour markets and supply issues and remerging from Covid-19 to the “new normal” needing to be managed.

Increased inflationary pressures may lead to job losses in the industry and will certainly cause organisations to review expenditure which almost always ensures a reduction in FM spending.

What do you love about working in facilities management?

The variety, working across so many different fields, and constantly challenged to think broadly and laterally. I enjoy the challenge of seeking continual improvement and locking in those achievements to improve services.

Every day is different, and you never really know what you’ll be doing tomorrow.