A Guide To Succession Planning For School Facility Teams

The impact of retirement on school facility teams can be tempered when building information is easily available to multiple parties, including newcomers, administrators, teachers, and staff members.

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School Facility TeamsBy Jack Rubinger, ARC Facilities

School facility teams face constant change. With the pandemic contributing to retirements and furloughs, facility teams are left with a knowledge shortfall. A recent ARC Facilities survey revealed about 40 percent of facilities managers planned to retire by 2025.

At virtually every school people are retiring. They’ve been at the job for 20+ years. They’re ready to kick back and go fishing.

Training newcomers has traditionally been a matter of shadowing experienced team members, but when people give notice newcomers have about a month to learn the locations of every shut-off – some obvious and some not so obvious. With so many older schools in the U.S., facilities teams have their work cut out for them in terms of maintenance, repairs, and renovations.

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On the job training is intense. There’s a lot to learn and absorb and it’s not just technical; it’s relationships and communications, too.Succession Planning for School Facility Teams

Schools are also subject to inspections. School building safety inspections are tough and thorough. In one year, more than 100 schools failed inspection in a major U.S. city. Inspections examine everything from general cleaning measures and pest control to food and garbage storage. Critical needs for school facilities include roofing, masonry, and mechanical systems. Also important are water infiltration and heating/cooling systems.

At non-facility jobs, newcomers can sit next to supervisors and watch what they’re doing, go to meetings with them, start with small projects, then grow into the role.

Facilities can’t afford these types of luxuries. Each day presents new, sometimes urgent issues to explore. “Fires” are put out every day.

Often when emergencies strike, the memories of the most tenured teammates are relied upon to react when it counts. Also, reduced hours and fewer staff members can dramatically impact preventive maintenance. How do you decrease the impact of team losses quickly and seamlessly?

One way to minimize the impact of retirement is through capturing information before long-time employees leave including locations of shutoffs, all historical as-builts, O&M’s, equipment locations, and emergency plans.

The problem is most school facilities haven’t figured out a way to search, share, and update these documents because the bulk of these documents are scattered throughout facilities, stored in messy plan rooms, or on hard drives with limited access – not available to technicians in the field.

Traditional record keeping methods create problems no matter what the employment situation. When staff doesn’t have immediate access to critical building information, minor emergencies quickly develop into major catastrophes.

With fast access to facility documentation, both new hires and legacy employees are on equal footing when dealing with daily maintenance and emergencies. Valuable time isn’t lost explaining how and where to find things. This helps teams be proactive vs. reactive when it really counts while also providing more time to complete work orders and speed up training new staff.

Building owners and occupants depend on school facility managers to ensure buildings and their systems remain safe, comfortable, and sustainable.

When something goes wrong, the facilities manager gets a call. However, 86% of facilities managers ARC surveyed don’t have instant access to emergency information. Most of that information exists only on paper, tucked away in cramped storerooms. The rest of it exists on desktop computers or saved to DVDs and thumb drives. When building information is difficult to access— either because someone has to search hundreds of files or because the facilities manager is on vacation—building safety and function become compromised.

Instant access to critical building information is needed if we are to avoid the escalation of simple accidents into catastrophes.

In 2020, more than a dozen schools reported burst pipes in cities like Greenwich, CT; West Fargo, ND; and Asbury Park, NJ. While the causes of these incidents vary from freezing temperatures to difficulty finding the correct part to make repairs, burst pipes cause major internal and external damage, interruption to all school activities and are a major headache to clean up. Having inside building knowledge about pipe locations is often a matter of experience, but when school facility team managers retire or are furloughed, that may go out the school door never to return.

HVAC system failures, water leaks, and power outages keep school district facilities teams up at night. If one of these incidents occurs in a building without emergency staff, it creates devastating delays and damage. Power outages in schools are disruptive and frightening. A leak in an older building could destroy equipment and the building itself.

Clearly, the impact of retirement can be tempered when building information is quickly and easily available to multiple parties, including newcomers, administrators, teachers, and staff members.

With building plans and other info accessible via mobile devices, both newcomers and veteran school facility team members can react quicker, be more efficient, and save massive amounts of time searching for info needed ASAP.

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