Driving FM education through industry involvement

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Jay Christofferson, Chair of the Construction and Facilities Management program at Brigham Young University (BYU), chats with us about the state of FM education and how the industry needs to be more involved.

Meeting someone with a university or college-level degree in facilities management doesn’t happen all that often—but the industry is changing. As it continues to grow and mature, there are department heads at major universities and colleges that have recognized its untapped potential.

One of those leaders is Jay Christofferson, Chair of the Construction and Facilities Management program at BYU. The Utah-based university offers one of the most comprehensive facilities management programs in North America, but Christofferson believes there’s still a need to raise awareness and bring more attention to the industry.

What can a freshman student entering the BYU Facilities Management Program expect to learn in their first year?

Christofferson: Here’s the reality of almost all facilities management programs: students don’t actually get into facilities management in their freshman year. It usually happens in their later sophomore or junior year. They find out about facilities management programs after they’ve been at the university doing undergraduate studies for about a year or two. It’s really a crash course in that they take all facilities management classes in the last year or two of their undergraduate studies. You can’t look at it as a four-year degree, they’ve usually done another major or other general studies before they get into facilities management.

There are no high school counselors that will look at you and say “I think you really ought to go into facilities management.” They don’t even know about it. A lot of information comes from word of mouth or sometimes we’ll have a few booths set up at a major fair to tell people about the different programs they can take.

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Speaking of getting the word out, and with regard to marketing and promotion, what do you think could be done to make facilities management a more enticing career path for students coming straight out of high school?

Christofferson: Most of them don’t even know it exists. Just for students to know facilities management is even out there and an option is a big thing. Most counselors, teachers, and students haven’t really heard about it. 

There are some real positive aspects of facilities management for all types of students. You’re still hands-on, but you’re also meeting people. It’s also more stable in comparison to something like construction, where you live near a site 2-3 years here and there.

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Despite the industry still being relatively hidden, the BYU Facilities Management Program has an impressive 95% job placement rate upon graduation. How much of that can you tie to the quality of the program itself versus the need for young FMs in the field?

Christofferson: There’s so much demand for FMs because there’s a big pool of them that will be retiring in the next 5-10 years. Here’s the thing though: a lot of companies aren’t even looking at facilities management graduates because most of them don’t even know they exist. Most candidates are coming from construction managers who have helped with a project or somebody who was already in-house.

I’m surprised how relatively few facilities management programs there are in general. BYU probably has the biggest program that I know of and it’s a fairly long-term program that’s been very successful. There’s obviously a huge need for FMs, but I’m surprised the industry itself isn’t pursuing more college-educated FMs.

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With that said, why do you think there is such a shortage of facilities management programs out there when the demand is clearly there?

Christofferson: I think the industry isn’t pushing it, first of all. If the industry required a four-year degree then we’d obviously see it more commonly. I also think facilities management, as a post-secondary discipline, is where construction management was about 10 years ago.

When I started teaching 30 years ago, people asked “why would you need a construction management degree?” When they started seeing the computer skills and management skills that these graduates had — the industry started requiring a four-year degree. Now we have those four-year construction management degrees everywhere. Facilities management is starting to get there, but property owners still need to see the benefit of a four-year degree. When the industry starts requiring those kinds of degrees from new hires, then you’ll see it blossom at schools.

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Networking and internships are also significant components of the BYU Facilities Management Program. Why do you think these are so important to the success of a facilities management professional? How do you help facilitate those opportunities? 

Candidate: We try to get our students to go to IFMA conferences and all the other major conferences for FMs. We also tie them in with our industry advisory council, who are industry professionals that come in and advise the program. We try to get all of our students involved in these things.

With that mind, internships are the big thing. If companies hire students for internships, it’s a win-win. First of all, the company is getting pretty good and inexpensive help. There’s no long-term commitment either. They can really check the student out to see if they’re going to be a fit for the company and what kind of assets they can bring. It’s also beneficial for the students. They can intern at a company and say, “this is a culture that I enjoy and I feel comfortable here.”

There are a few companies that have figured out the benefits of internships and they get some great employees because of it. I don’t see a lot of them doing it though. There are a few companies like Sodexo that have figured it out, but there aren’t that many companies that do it yet.

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When it’s all said and done, what kind of skills will a student have by the time they graduate from the BYU Facilities Management Program? What would you like to see added to the curriculum in the next few years?

Christofferson: Students graduating from the program understand a variety of trades, not just one or two that they worked in. They also get some hands-on experience in some of these trades. They learn management principles as well as certain safety and legal aspects of the job. Another important aspect of the program is learning computer skills, students become very proficient in Excel along with financial and real estate principles as well. It’s a wide background, so once they get into the field they have different experiences they can draw on. 

One of the places that we’re also hitting pretty hard right now and into the future is building information modeling (BIM). Students get a pretty good background in that as well. If you’re looking at a remodel or addition for a tenant, they can design it and walk them through it using virtual reality and then the tenant can decide what they like and don’t like based off that.

Visit the BYU site to get more information about the facilities management program and find out what it can potentially do for you.

How do you think the FM industry can better facilitate post-secondary education? Join the conversation and leave us a comment below.

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