Solving the FM industry’s generational problem
While there’s been a definite push in recent years to get more eyes on facilities management as a profession, the generational gap remains an industry issue. Newer generations still have difficulty understanding what FMs really do and the result is an overall lack of young talent in the industry.
Yvet Brummelhuis, Owner of The World of YES, is working hard to solve this issue. Her company specializes in development and educational programs for FMs worldwide and she wants to use her experience to help fill that generational gap so the industry can thrive in the future. We talked to her about what can be done to help.You spoke at IFMA World Workplace last October about how to engage more young people into the FM field. Why do you think this has become such a pressing industry issue?
Brummelhuis: One of the things that concerns me most is the fact that between now and 10-15 years from now, half of all FMs will be retired. The average age in the FM sector is already pretty high.
We’re going to have such a large gap to fill. We have so many amazing and experienced people in the industry right now that are going to walk out the door. We have to make sure we retain their knowledge and experience, but somehow replace them as well. That’s why we need the next generation to come in. How else do we fill that gap? This is why I think this topic has become such a pressing issue.
We have a lot of people leaving the industry because of their age, but also simply because they’re moving on to other sectors. On top of that, we do not have enough young people moving into the industry to replace them. That’s an issue that we want to address through the work that we are doing.
You mentioned the lack of young professionals entering the field. How do you think the FM industry could be branded to make it more enticing to young people?
Brummelhuis: I think there’s several things we can do to brand facilities management differently. The overall image of our sector is not that attractive to young professionals and we somehow have to turn that around.
For a lot of companies, FMs are still seen as those people who make sure you don’t run out of toilet paper or sandwiches for lunch. We have grown to be so much more than that. We need to be showing and communicating that growth not only to younger generations, but to people in general.
A lot of people in my family still need me to explain what facilities management is. If you’re a doctor, it’s very easy for people to comprehend what that is. Something we struggle with in the FM industry is that there isn’t one clear definition of the occupation that everyone can easily understand.
There are few things that could help. One is the transition to “workplace management.” I know there’s been a lot of discussion about that and the definition behind it. This transition can really help us explain what we do because as you say the words “workplace management,” people will have a clear visual in their mind. I think that can make a big difference in terms of branding.
We also have to open up different channels of communication if we want to brand ourselves differently. We need to be on channels that younger generations use, for example: YouTube. Leveraging these platforms will allow us to connect with the right people through the right channels.
Once those communication channels open up, what can more seasoned FMs with years of experience do to help young people see how interesting the industry really is?
Brummelhuis: I love that question. In fact, we get this question a lot from people that want to make an effort and I think it’s important that we realize we have to make that effort.
For more experienced FMs, it’s so important that they pass on their knowledge to the next generation. If you’re in a management position working with younger people, I think the number one thing you want to do is keep them in your organization or at least the industry. We see a lot of people rolling into facilities management and we want to make sure they stay in the industry. As someone in a management role, it is key to understand the different backgrounds of newer FMs and how you can manage them, as new generations are very different from others.
It’s super important to be a mentor and to engage and enable millennials and Gen Zers in their development. Not only will that be a step forward in engaging them, but you’re also passing along your knowledge to these next generations which will drive the standard forward. That would be a win-win situation on all ends.
We also encourage more seasoned professionals to be involved in educational programs. When I started doing facilities management in Holland back in the day, we had a lot of guest speakers who were more experienced and telling us about the daily duties of an FM. I remember going to the World Trade Center in Amsterdam and the FM showing us around. I wanted to become that person. That’s how you can really make a difference and inspire young professionals.
Education and experience are obviously at the core of bringing young talent into the FM industry. How do you think international FM experience can help develop young talent?
Brummelhuis: This is a normal thing for us in Holland. During our studies, we did two different mandatory internships. Once you get out of school, you already have one full year of actual work experience because you’re working during your studies. You still have that support system of being in school, but you also gain full-time work experience. Doing this internationally will broaden your horizons and teach you about the similarities and differences in facilities management in another country.
The World of YES offers these types of international internships as well. During your studies, we make sure that you’ll have access to an international internship position in a country of your choice. Besides the fact that it’s an important step in engaging talent, the next generations are very eager to learn what’s happening outside of their own country’s borders.
I think it’s important for all students to take a look at what’s out there and learn from other cultures, teams, and other ways in which facilities management is carried out. It’s incredibly different in each country and continent. It can really benefit students to get that wider perspective.
It also helps organizations get a different outlook on talent. We even have a student who is working for a large service provider in San Francisco right now and the company just launched a hospitality program. In Holland, the emphasis of facilities management is very much centered around hospitality. This student already happens to know a lot about that. He really got involved in this new hospitality program and helped them. Despite being a student, his knowledge, different perspective, and their willingness to listen to him actually ended up adding value. I think that’s the beauty of these types of internships.
What would you want young people to understand about the FM industry? How would you pitch them on it?
Brummelhuis: The thing I love about our sector is that it really feels like a family. I think that’s because most of the people in the industry are very social people and very hospitable. That’s one of the things I love most about this sector. We always look out for each other and help each other. That's a great environment to be part of on a daily basis.
I would also say any young professional coming into this sector has so many opportunities right there in front of them. It doesn’t matter what part of facilities management you want to specialize in—you can do it. Whether you want to specialize in employee experience, sustainability, maintenance plans, or workplace design, you can do it all as an FM.
There’s such a wide range of opportunities for young professionals and I think that’s one of the most important things to share with people who are curious about facilities management.
Find out more about The World of YES and the many educational programs and resources they offer at their website.
How do you think the FM industry can help make the profession more enticing for young talent? Join the conversation and leave us a comment below.
Photos: Pashminu Mansukhani, Canva Studio, Monica Melton, Pixabay