Preparing For Higher Ed Staffing Challenges

There is an impending talent gap in the facility management profession, and higher education facilities are no exception.

By Pete Zuraw

As facilities professionals retire or move to new positions, they typically take with them years of information about the inner workings of the buildings they’ve managed. Even with a plan in place for training new individuals on your processes, these personnel losses can still lead to significant gaps in valuable knowledge that has been gained through years of on the job experience.higher education facilities

This approach also fails to take into account the staffing challenges that many higher education institutions are facing. It is becoming increasingly difficult to fill positions throughout the facilities department, leaving some roles unfilled for far too long.

Solving these personnel challenges must go beyond planning for training, to include changes in the way information is managed and how labor is hired.

Challenge 1: Stopping the loss of facility management knowledge
Knowledge loss due to personnel changes is particularly problematic in the higher education arena, where the buildings are historically diverse. If key details about the widely varying systems, components, and unique demands of your facilities are encapsulated in the memory of senior personnel, it is critical to put a more solid plan in place for sharing this knowledge with new hires.

The key to preserving the knowledge in place today, and leveraging this too often trapped insight to inform future planning, is data. While there’s no replacing the ingenuity of skilled personnel, most of the facilities details they’ve gathered can be transferred into work order tools, CMMS systems or information management technology for operations and maintenance.

Systematic documentation will not only preserve this data, but also allow access for new employees, strengthening the department as a whole. To maximize this data, however, it is important to have a plan for regular maintenance of this data. Data must be updated consistently to account for ongoing maintenance, as well as larger renovations.

Challenge 2: Filling positions when skilled new recruits are scarce
The encapsulation of facility knowledge within information management systems can potentially make it easier to train new hires. In fact, this data is a significant advantage within an industry that is facing a shortage of skilled labor. Facilities management is not only struggling through a shortage gap as employees retire; higher education institutions are also struggling to hire custodial and housekeeping workers, who are often attracted to other industries that are better known and provide similar pay scales.

Certainly, there will always be a need in facilities management for hands on work, but the industry is rapidly becoming more digitally oriented. An increasing number of facilities professionals are responsible for managing digital interactions with systems and the tools that control them. This shift toward data-based, digital work opens the industry to an influx of a new generation of employees who speak “digitalese,” and may not have previously considered facilities management as a fit for their future.

Taking advantage of this opportunity will demand new levels of flexibility from facilities managers, as they will need to recreate their approaches to both hiring and training. But adapting to these new processes can lead to better employee fits and greater levels of efficiency.

Let Data Stop the Talent Gap

Buildings across higher education campuses are becoming more high-performance and maintenance funds are increasingly competing with other funding needs. As a result, it is of particular importance that all facilities employees have at their fingertips the information to rapidly solve, or prevent, problems. While there is no replacing the need for solid training, the talent gap can be somewhat stemmed by hiring for the right fit and filling knowledge gaps on the job with up-to-date data.

higher education facilitiesZuraw is vice president, market strategy and development with Sightlines, a Gordian company that provides higher education facilities with services in facilities benchmarking and analysis, capital planning, space management, and sustainability. Zuraw is responsible for leading the company’s thought leadership efforts and programming activities at various professional conferences and events. Before joining Sightlines, he was assistant vice president of facilities management at Wellesley College.