Many Paths To A Facility Management Career

With the occupation set to be recognized by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics beginning in 2018, will the path to a facilities management profession become more defined in the coming years?
With the occupation set to be recognized by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics beginning in 2018, will the path to a facilities management profession become more defined in the coming years?

Many Paths To Facility Management Career?

With the occupation set to be recognized by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics beginning in 2018, will the path to a facilities management profession become more defined in the coming years?

Many Paths To A Facility Management Career

The age of the “accidental facility manager”… Is it winding down? That paradigm through which so many in the facilities management profession have traveled as they establish their careers? There’s the carpenter who’s worked his way up to be vice president of facilities. And the office manager who’s now the director of facilities and real estate for her organization. As you probably know, there’s not often a clear path to a career in facility management — but that may be changing.

Is a new era of facility management on the horizon? One that’s characterized by a more defined path compared to the traditional paradigm.

facilities management profession
At Facility Executive Live! in Chicago on October 3, 2017, four panelists discussed the future of facility management, during a “Next Gen FM” panel. (From l to r) Jerry DiCola; Jim Lord; moderator, Anne Cosgrove, Editor-in-Chief, Facility Executive; Judie Cooper; and Randall Niznick.

This was one of the questions discussed on October 3, 2017 in Chicago at Facility Executive Live!, a new conference and networking event held by Facility Executive magazine. During the closing panel discussion, “Next Gen FM”, a focus of the talk was the pending shortage of new talent coming into the facilities management profession. As Baby Boomers retire, who is taking their place? How can we make the profession more visible to the younger generation as they consider their higher education and career options?

One of the Next Gen FM panelists was Judie Cooper, associate director of organizational development, office of facilities management and reliability at Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Cooper made it personal when she visited her daughter’s high school one year during Career Day. She took the students on a tour of their school to highlight what facility managers do and how the job impacts the building those students occupy daily. Today, Cooper and her colleagues at Smithsonian work extensively with interns, both in college as well as in technical training programs, providing them with paid opportunities to work in a facility management organization. During the discussion in Chicago this week, she also shared insight into the succession planning framework at Smithsonian facilities department. They invest in the training of high performing staff so those employees have the opportunity, if they wish, to move themselves to the next level.

Jim Lord, managing director of Helbling Associates, an executive search firm based in Wexford, PA, provided during the panel discussion an example of an avenue one of his facility management clients uses to find new talent. This client teaches welding at a local college and keeps an eye out for star students who he might bring into the facility department within his organization. Specializing in securing executives for roles related to facilities management, construction, and real estate development, Lord has experience working with healthcare and higher education institutions, public agencies, design firms, contractors, corporations, and non-profit organizations in attracting talent for critical needs.

Meanwhile, panelist Jerry DiCola, director of facilities operations at Horizon Pharma, a biopharmaceutical company with U.S. headquarters in Lake Forest, IL, pointed to a number of reasons why a shortage exists. These include lack of training opportunities; facility management not recognized as a professional career; and that the general view of the facilities industry is dated. As such, the facilities industry has not adapted to the current generation, and appealing to that potential talent. And like the other panelists, DiCola asserted that partnership with higher education is one way to promote the facilities management profession to the younger generation as well as older job seekers.

Randall Niznick, facility manager for a Fortune 500 construction and building services company and retired US Navy Seabee, brought another perspective. In the military, he advanced from the HVAC and plumbing trades into maintenance and facilities management. Since his transition from the military several years ago, Niznick has worked in several facility management positions. He sees many parallels between Seabee skillsets and those required in facility management and speaks to veterans about the career opportunities. He notes many correlate facilities management with maintenance management — not realizing the potential career growth available in the field.

During the Next Gen FM panel discussion, DiCola, who is also a past president for the Chicago chapter of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), shared that in 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will recognize “Facilities Managers” with a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code 11-3013.facilities management profession

Until now, facility management workers have not had their own SOC code to claim, and rather may have been grouped under related codes — 11-3011, Administrative Services Managers; or 49-1011, First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics, Installers, and Repairers, to name just two relevant listings.

In 2014, IFMA released a document describing the need for a dedicated SOC for facility management. One section reads: “A stand-alone BLS SOC designation not only reflects the reality of the occupational landscape, but it is a critical component of attracting appropriate talent to the profession to fill the labor gap. When educational institutions — from secondary school guidance counselors to post-secondary educators — consider vocation-based curricula, they often look first to the BLS SOC for relevant data. If facility management is not found as a separate occupation, they dismiss the need to train students to pursue the profession.”

In September 2016, BLS closed the public comment period on revisions to its 2018 SOC list. The final approval for the requested “Facilities Managers” SOC was passed in early 2017, and the 2018 update of the SOC code is scheduled to include SOC code 11-3013.

With the new SOC code and an increasing number of formal education and training programs, is the age of the accidental facility manager winding down? Is a new era of facility management on the horizon? One that’s characterized by a more defined path compared to the traditional, and more common, scenario of “many roads” leading to a facility management career? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and comments below.

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  1. I thank Facilities Executive for the follow-up with this article from our most recent Live event. The BLC SOC is scary-vague, minimal at best, in in no way reflects all that today’s Facility Executive encounters. For this particular reason, we can attempt to narrow it down with matching degree programs, but they can in no way fully prepare the incoming personnel to the field.
    Thus the reason you will have many entering the field from business, engineering, architecture, construction, trades, military and even those with law degrees.
    No matter what the background, those with high energy, self-motivated, a capacity to learn, great organizational skills, understanding how to strategize & prioritize, and natural leaders…..those are you most successful facilities executives. Why….because they will learn and execute most anything in which they are challenged with.

  2. Personally, I fell into the role of Facilities Coordinator. Although I did not directly supervise people, the responsibility to manage vendors, projects and maintenance was still there. I have a Bachelors in Industrial Engineering Technology and Logistics and have worked in Industrial settings. So planning and working with machines and tools were relevant to my current position. Also growing up, I worked with dad on building projects. My college coursework was heavy with planning, processes and understanding mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. It has been a great opportunity to adapt some of my coursework to actual real world problems. Currently I work for RPM Pizza, the largest franchise of Domino’s Pizza in the US. I personally look after the facility maintenance, projects and regulatory requirements of 190 stores across 5 states. The experience has been great and would not trade it for anything. Facility managers are so dynamic. From learning how to manage people to executing projects and all the little things between, Facilities professionals are Awesome!

    This is a great article. There is a need for Facilities professionals. Of course I’m only in one sector of the vast areas where Facilities managers are needed. However, with the change in how multi unit businesses are ran, and the need to do more with less, well trained Facilities managers are worth their weight in gold and can reduce headaches for those in Leadership.

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