Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, Helbling & Associates is a retained executive search firm specializing exclusively within the construction, facilities management, real estate, and engineering industries. Representing contractors and developers, public and private colleges and universities, healthcare entities, public agencies, engineering firms, and corporations throughout the U.S., the firm attracts and secures individuals for positions that range from executive to financial administration, from facilities management to construction oversight, and from marketing to human resources. From this vantage point, three executives at Helbling recently spoke with Sami L. Barry, director of marketing at the firm about their view of the facilities management hiring for 2016.
Managing directors James Lord and Wes Miller, and senior managing consultant Joseph Wargo share their insights here:
What do you expect the hiring activity to be within the Facilities sector in 2016, and what are the major challenges and opportunities that organizations are facing with regards to talent?
Lord: Facilities management has become a very complex environment, and owners that have significant real estate assets look to execute strategies to maximize their budgets, reduce operating costs, and integrate sustainability advancements. They have to manage their portfolios in the most efficient and streamlined manner. That said, I foresee the hiring activity within the facilities realm to continue being extremely active. The majority of facilities professionals are approaching retirement, and there is a significant shortage of talent. At the same time, organizations are looking to bring in fresh, innovative talent that can leverage the many advancements that are transforming this market.
Today’s progressive organizations command facilities professionals who have strong financial aptitudes and business acumens, those who understand how to effectively manage large capital programs, and who are well informed of the latest technologies and advancements within energy management, sustainability, and alternative construction methods. Sure, candidates need technical skills, but organizations seek individuals who have strong business instincts, who are financially savvy, and who understand how to analyze life cycle operating costs, and return on investments. And, let’s not forget the intangible skills that are always in demand —strong communication and presentation skills; ability to build, manage, and empower a team; and the skill to lead an organization through major changes.
What’s interesting about facilities today is that individuals who are entering this field are coming from more of a white-collar background: property/asset management and computerized systems. This creates a lot of opportunities for organizations to take advantage of the high-tech experience these professionals have and partner them with a more seasoned individual (maybe nearing retirement) to get an appreciation of the hands-on, trades side of the business.
Miller: I believe we will continue to see robust hiring activity within this sector simply because there are so many opportunities for organizations to improve upon their facilities management programs in this environment. Utilities management, sustainability, and evolving construction methods, such as green building, BIM, prefabrication, and modularization — all of these are opportunities to be creative and strategic. While the aforementioned is true for all organizations, these initiatives especially pertain to the healthcare, higher education, and corporate communities. Take the construction activity within the institutional sector as an example. Universities, hospitals, and cultural institutions are investing in significant capital programs. With those types of plans comes the need for executives to oversee the entire construction process, monitor budgets, implement cost-saving measures, and employ other strategies to make sure projects are successful and have a high return on investment.
Capital programs are just one example. Organizations are also focusing on sustainability and energy management initiatives. Organizations understand that, to be successful in their initiatives, they need to secure qualified talent to drive these strategies. The issue is, while there are facilities professionals who have the necessary skill sets, there’s not enough of them. This demands that recruitment be well-planned, aggressive, and strategic.
Wargo: I see the level of recruitment continuing as it’s been for the past several years. Most organizations have come to realize that they need to significantly enhance how they manage their facilities operations. They understand that they need professionals who understand trends and best practices, and who have demonstrated success in maximizing limited budgets, while also focusing on advancements, efficiency, and sustainability. Candidates who have strong financial and technical aptitudes, change agent mindsets, high emotional intelligence, and inclusive and empowering management styles are in high demand, and most cannot be found and acquired through traditional recruitment methods.
What insight are client organizations expecting from executive search consultants to address these issues?
Lord: Due to the opportunities that exist to improve facilities management, it is critical for organizations to identify, attract, and secure talent. The upper tier professionals are not looking for new opportunities, and therefore, they have to be aggressively pursued — but in a highly strategic way. It’s not surprising that most clients want a “renaissance person” — someone who is great with people, highly technical, and who has good business savvy and financial aptitude. In all honesty, people who have all of these qualities are very rare. It’s the role of a search consultant to partner with clients and help them to be more realistic about the available talent, their compensation structure, and the strengths and weaknesses of their organization and staff. An experienced search consultant who understands the facilities management realm will have the ability to think “outside the box” regarding the sources for talent.
Since there is such high demand, it is often wiser to take a chance by lowering the technical requirements in order to obtain the talent that fits into the culture and is within the salary constraints. Technical components are often the most easily trained. Personality, drive, collaboration, and leadership are often much harder to develop. Clients expect search consultants to consult with them through the process of making these tough decisions. We are often asked to assist in making the final hiring decision. I try to guide that process, but I cannot make the decision for my clients. When necessary, I provide them ranking matrices to objectively evaluate the candidates and support them in making the right decision.
Miller: Organizations want transparency regarding market conditions, the talent it can bear, and the type of skills that would be most beneficial to have for their organization, department, and its objectives. They want analysis of their compensation structures, position descriptions, and internal people who should be involved in the interview process to understand the recruitment strategies needed to attract the best candidates. They also like to see a diverse slate of candidates, which is understandable. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for candidates to be presented who don’t have all of the necessary skills but who could grow into a role and fit in well with an organization’s culture and structure. After all, the cultural fit is the most critical element of a placement.
Wargo: Clients are more consistently relying on an executive search consultant to help them set up and manage the interview process. In recently working with a few higher education clients, they requested that we submit 15 to 25 resumes so they can have their search committees review the resumes, rank the candidates, and then choose who they want to invite for first round interviews. I think it’s important for a search firm to include themselves in that step to ensure that the right candidates are chosen for interviews. Many search committee members have a limited understanding of facilities and/or construction, which can result in the wrong candidates being chosen for interviews.
Additionally, clients frequently request that a list of potential interview questions for use during the first round of interviews. They want suggestions on who the interviewers should be for round one, round two, etc. and how long each interview should last. They realize that leveraging the expertise of a well-regarded search firm can result in a smoother and more efficient interview process, and ultimately the best candidate being chosen.
What does the active facilities market mean for experienced and highly qualified executives?
Wargo: Because the facilities management sector is advancing so quickly and has become a valuable component of organizations with large real estate portfolios, there are an abundance of opportunities for facilities professionals of all levels — from energy managers and sustainability director to chief facilities officers. Organizations are beginning to ramp up their hiring in order to develop their strategies for 2016 and reach their objectives. Because of this, I believe there is a favorable job market for any facilities professional who is adept at what they do, who is at the stage of their career where they are prepared to take on more responsibilities, and who has the soft skills that organizations desire.