By Richard Christiano
Published in the October 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
There is a metamorphosis taking place in the world of facility management (FM). The growth of the profession is exploding, higher education is responding to industry needs, and the next generation of workers is further elevating the FM role as a core business function. Current undergraduate and graduate students are realizing the exciting and rewarding opportunities that exist in this field.
Traditionally, most facility managers (fms) entered this profession through the “back door” of an organization where they were running the physical assets, energy management systems, and critical equipment. These responsibilities were vital for the functionality of the facilities and the business, but oftentimes operated independently and not integrated into a larger strategic plan and vision.
In most cases, those skilled enough to ascend to management positions within an organization already had many of the qualities it takes to be successful: multi-tasking skills, confidence, a high comfort level with responsibility, and an ability to not only understand how buildings and organizations function, but how to make them work reliably and efficiently. It takes a special person to be able to handle the job requirements needed to make the physical environment a location where employees can be productive. That person possesses a combination of skills in engineering, designing, and negotiating, as well as a competent working knowledge of all trades.
The shift to recognize FM as a key strategic business unit that can impact an organization’s bottom line is no longer in doubt. The next generation of fms needs to have a broad skill set and knowledge base in space planning, long-range planning, real estate negotiations, business continuity, sustainability, operations, and project management. They must look for opportunities to save money and cut costs by implementing innovative solutions, as FM is typically the second highest cost to a business behind labor. For example, energy and utility costs as well as the continuing growth of outsourcing contract services are key areas of focus for fms that could potentially result in six figure savings.
Recognizing the industry need and student demand, higher education institutions continue to develop undergraduate and graduate programs. Academic credentials are gaining momentum and are fast becoming a requirement for entry into the profession.
The demographic is changing as well. Females are entering the profession and achieving the same level of leadership positions in what was once a male dominated profession. The attraction lies in the variety of disciplines involved—and securing a strategic seat at the executive table.
It’s no surprise that technology is at the center of the evolving FM profession. As young people today have been raised using technology, they have strengthened their technical abilities. This is beneficial to undergraduate FM students as they become skilled users of computer applications for fms like Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM), Autocad, and Revit, as well as business computer applications like Excel, Access, and Microsoft Project. The result is a generation of technology savvy professionals who can make an immediate impact for an organization, as well as assist more experienced fms who need to deal with the steep learning curve of new technology and software.
There are many examples of how colleges and universities align curriculum to the changing needs of industry. As office spaces are being updated to create more efficiency and greater collaboration, students learn how to analyze space and identify efficiency opportunities to reduce square footage per employee and lower real estate costs. With the growing awareness of global warming and the need to reduce traditional carbon based energy costs, the new fms are prepared to tackle energy reduction while investigating cost-effective alternatives for renewable energy sources. [To read more about renewable energy, read “Double Vision For Green Power” in the October 2012 issue of TFM. To request a copy of the issue. send an e-mail to [email protected].]
Students are also learning how to manage operating budgets and create capital improvement plans. This knowledge will enable them to speak the language of business and finance and have input into their organization’s long-range planning.
The collaboration between industry and higher education will certainly play a role in shaping tomorrow’s workforce. As students participate in cooperative education and internship opportunities to gain experience, network, and test drive their chosen field of study, employers will be able to identify tomorrow’s FM leaders. And the real value proposition is graduates are finding jobs.
It will not be very long before the word spreads and the competition for students who choose FM as a career path becomes more intense. When that happens, everyone wins. Not only will the profession continue to garner the level of recognition and respect it deserves, but some of our best and brightest will be ready to take the reins. The future of FM looks bright indeed.
Christiano is an assistant professor of facility management and planning in the College of Arts and Sciences at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA. He has more than 30 years of facility management experience.