The FM Professional

Closing the Generational Gap through FM Education

Patrick Cwiklinski
October 13th, 2017

Anna ThurstonKristen Hurtado

Arizona State University (ASU) Facility Management educators talk to us about FM education, theory, and how to engage the industry’s future leaders.

Getting young people excited about pursuing a particular profession is a challenge many industries face in trying to recruit new talent and FM is certainly not exempt from that plight. Often seen as a behind-the-scenes field, does the FM narrative need to be shifted in order to bring more young professionals into the industry?

Two experts from Arizona State University (ASU) may have the answer to that question: Anna Thurston, Educational Program Manager, Simplar Institute at ASU, and Kristen Hurtado, Assistant Research Professor and Director of Organizational Analytics, Simplar Institute at ASU.

Together, Anna and Kristen lead the Facility Management Certificate Program, Facility Management Professional (FMP) Online Prep Course and Building Information Modeling (BIM) Certificate Program at ASU. They are helping the next generation of young FMs hone their craft by giving them the necessary education and theory they need to succeed in the industry.

In a joint research paper you co-authored examining “Student Engagement in the Facility Management Profession through Mentorship,” a 2008 nationwide survey found that 85.7 percent of the FM population was over the age of 40. Why do you think that number was so high at the time and have you seen any changes in that statistic since then? 

Anna: Historically, FM has been a very trade-focused industry. I think a lot of times people would come out of a custodial or architectural field and then come into the role of being an FM. A large percentage like that really stems from the pathways into the industry, which have historically been through other professional paths and different types of trades.

I do think there is a trend towards having more student engagement and younger generations coming into FM through business fields and opportunities as they come up. With a lot of the older generation retiring, you’re seeing a lot of people in their 30s within the industry, and some even younger than that, who are choosing FM as their profession of choice. I definitely think there has been a demographic change, part of that is due to a large number of retirements and with those retirements, you’ll see people backfilling those positions.

The more that we focus our recruitment and educational efforts towards those newer people coming into the field who don’t have 20-30 years of experience and a professional background in architecture that a lot of the previous generations brought to the field, it’s more and more important that we focus on education and close that knowledge gap as retirements happen.

facilities and building management workplace unplugged

What adjustments should the FM industry make to attract younger talent that might not have enough knowledge of the field to consider a career in it?

Anna: There needs to be more of a focus on the “why” of an FM. You have economic impacts, environmental impacts, the impacts on people you’re responsible for in a building. It’s a dynamic field and I don’t think we do a good job of marketing ourselves or really telling the story of what an FM does. A lot of times, the younger generation is like “I’m not interested in being a janitor or mechanic” or something like that. It’s about changing the story of what being an FM means and really broadening the FM industry as a very business-driven industry and I think if we were able to show that a little bit better, we would attract a lot of younger talent.

Kristen: Something the student group here in Phoenix has done a really good job of over the years are mentorships and internships. They really help people understand what FM is by experiencing it, shadowing someone in the field, it helps young professionals envision what that career could look like and all the opportunities in it. Giving them those opportunities versus just taking classes will help attract young professionals. The closer we can get young professionals to actually experiencing what it’ll be like when they graduate, the more we’ll be able to attract them to pursue it.

Anna: I think one interesting low-hanging fruit for companies to attract younger talent to their FM group is to look at their hiring practices. There’s a barrier in that you have to have a certain level of experience with a job description and hiring requirements catered towards that older model of people. They have sole experience from an architectural or trades field and more and more you just don’t have that in the marketplace to be able to pull that type of talent. It’s about diversifying what those structures for bringing in new talent look like. If you are looking at attracting younger talent, make sure that you have those pathways for them to enter your company.

Group of happy young facility managers workplace unplugged

What are some of the primary differences between FM education now versus 10-20 years ago?

Kristen: I think as a whole FM education is a lot more established now as an actual field and has a name to it with professional associations and designations behind it versus 20-plus years ago. People imagined a janitor or someone in custodial and maintenance and didn’t understand the other core competencies that filed under it. I think as an industry, it’s a lot more organized into disciplines and competencies and now you have accreditation standards. IFMA has requirements for what it takes to have an FM Master’s degree or undergraduate degree, so it’s definitely a lot more regulated and formalized than it was previously.

Anna: When I think about where the FM industry was 20 years ago in terms of education, the reality was that you would fall into your position. I’ve heard that as a theme, many people feel as though they fell into the job and they just kind of had to figure out with working experience how to function within it. The benefit of having a lot of structure around FM education now is that you don’t have those barriers of figuring it out from scratch, you’re able to tap into that knowledge body and be able to pull the best practices and apply them straight to the job.

coffee laptop learning education facilities management

How much have new technologies bled over to FM theory and education with an emphasis on students understanding them?

Anna: Technology is a huge part of the competencies and it’s actually one of the 11 core competencies of IFMA. It is now a part of FM life. Technologies like IoT, building automation and sensors, while fantastic if implemented in the right context, can be hugely helpful or hurtful. You don’t install it and it just functions, you have to have people trained to operate them. You have people managing and maintaining complex systems because it can be a whole job in itself.

You have to think about it a little bit differently, but it’s definitely an integral part of theory and education and we try to keep current on those types of educational offerings because technology is ever-evolving. Technology in itself is a tool, so you need to focus on the theory of why you’re implementing technology rather than technology trends. You want to make sure you’re up on that as well, but it’s more about getting a student to research and evaluate technology effectively so that in practice they can select something that’s going to work for them and their organization.

What are your predictions for the future of FM over the next five years? What sort of skills are going to be increasingly in demand in the field?

Anna: With more retirements coming over the next five years, that can be a huge opportunity for people coming into the field with professional certifications and training, you’ll have a higher calibre of industry and people functioning in it. You’ll probably see a trend towards higher education, if you don’t have a Master’s degree, you might need a Master’s degree in FM in the next five years. Understanding and predicting those things will be critical for people coming into the FM industry and for those who are in it already as well.

Kristen: It’s so broad that the need for education is almost never-ending. Like Anna said, it’s not enough to just have the basics. People are going to need to get continually educated and have flexible education so they can understand new technologies or how an automated system is going to affect their O&M procedures and practices or how to get the best people to deploy different types of automation. It’s interesting how there’s so many topics and it’s so broad that it almost necessitates on-the-job training as well formal training and the continual process of learning.

If you have anymore questions, please feel free to get in touch with Anna or Kristen directly at FM-ED@asu.edu.

How do you think the FM industry can make istelf more attractive to young professionals? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photos: Samuel Zeller, Shutterstock, Shopify