FM Frequency: Career Day

By Charles Carpenter
Published in the February 2010 issue of Facility Executive

It is rare for a facility manager (fm) to have time to watch a television show. It might be rarer for an fm to enjoy a show that uses facility management (FM) topics in its plot lines.

With facility related topics such as malfunctioning occupancy sensors, individual cubicle decorating standards, shared workspaces, and something known as “the ridiculously tiny office,” ABC’s Better Off Ted is just such a program. And based on my attendance at a recent high school career day, the only workplace exposure some students may get will be through TV shows like this or The Office on NBC.

During a presentation on FM, some students were able to take a reasonable guess as to what the built environment was. But when asked about the FM profession, students’ responses were a far cry from IFMA’s standard definition (“a profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality of the built environment by integrating people, place, process, and technology”).

This is far from a glamorous profession. Given the option of spending a day working with an fm, many students might opt instead to sit in the library. However, Career Day did offer the opportunity to discuss other professions integral to FM— engineering, architecture, construction, and real estate—as well as trades like plumbing and HVAC.

As the discussion drifted to these other professions, some students (those still conscious) actually gained interest. But when it went back to FM, only certain subjects attracted attention. Showing a blueprint of a facility remodel was interesting; janitorial service contracts was not an attention grabber.

And when high school students were asked what “sustainability” meant in relation to the built environment, only one was able to provide a sufficient answer. Students had better answers when “green” was used, but did not have a grasp of being “green” in relation to the built environment. (The difference between sustainability and green is a topic for a different column.)

Don’t despair, fms. All is not lost. A few days later, I ventured to a college campus to gauge FM perceptions. At the meeting of the Facility Management Industry Advisory Council (FMIAC) at Texas A&M University, undergraduates and graduates from many disciplines attended. Instead of spending their Friday afternoon at Duddley’s Draw (a local watering hole), aspiring students from architecture, construction science, hospital administration, environmental design, and other majors came to talk to the fms in attendance and listen to a discussion of FM issues at NASA.

Why should those of us in the FM profession even care about Career Days? For starters, fms will not be able to advance within their organizations unless someone qualified can fill the void. And considering how strongly most fms generally feel about their buildings, sustainability, and the future of the built environment, most will hope someone qualified will be there to take their place down the road.

Looking at the college options available to a high school student, IFMA currently lists only five accredited bachelor degree programs in North America. But this is where groups like FMICA come in handy. By setting up meetings like the one I attended, these groups are able to engage students in discussions about FM, advise the faculty on what is relevant to the FM curriculum, and present guest lectures and tours that offer experiences that textbooks cannot. (And while A&M does not offer FM as a major, FMIAC has taken up the cause of making a minor available in the near future.)

When students asked about career paths, did I tell them to stay as far away from FM as possible? Of course not. But with college FM programs so few and far between, I suggested a major in mechanical engineering with a minor in business, architecture, or even psychology as the foundation for a variety of careers that might include managing facilities or working in the built environment. I also advised them to get some work experience, because there are many parts of FM that cannot be learned from a textbook. With some background in the built environment, students could find it to be a great career move. And for those more daring students, the built environment in terms of sustainability could be the way to go. As the built environment changes, fms will need the ideas and solutions to change with it.

So when Career Day comes to your area, consider finding a way to get out there and explain what you do. And if you can’t get away, think about whether or not someone qualified could fill in for you—even for just one day.

Carpenter is a facility manager in Austin, TX and has been in the profession since 1995. He is preparing to receive his Masters Degree from Texas State University and will be presenting “Standardization In Facilities“ at NeoCon this June.

For past FM Frequency columns, visit this link. To share some of your personal experiences in real time, com to FacilityBlog.