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Overcoming the Facilities Management Talent Shortage

Over the centuries, buildings have evolved from a means of shelter to an active participant in our daily lives. As technology advances, we expect our spaces to work for us, not against us. We expect the buildings we occupy, whether it’s a building in which we live, work, learn, or play to be safe, functional, and comfortable. There’s a lot that goes into making that happen, which is why facilities managers can be such an important job function. Yet, facilities management is not a widely-known career path. 

Now that COVID-19 has essentially expanded the scope of a facility manager’s responsibilities, demand for facilities managers is only going up. But with the Great Retirement just around the corner, now is the time for the facilities management industry to make its presence known to younger workers looking for a rewarding career.

Admittedly, “facilities management” is more of an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of different roles, but each are essential to building and occupier operations. Traditionally, maintaining a building for the benefit of its occupant was the facilities manager’s responsibility. The managers would design the building’s interior layout with things like safety, noise levels, humidity levels, or temperatures top-of-mind. Nowadays, facilities managers must give their whole attention to building functions and employee satisfaction. From HVAC systems maintenance, to emergency planning, to energy consumption, to overseeing all modes of communication in the building, to project and move management, and on and on and on. 

As the facilities manager role has become even more essential to the functionality of buildings (and dare I say of society as a whole), the demand for facilities managers is on the rise. However, facilities management isn’t exactly well-publicized as a viable career option for young people who are trying to decide on a career path. “Many college students are not exposed to the facilities management career path, if ever, until they are already years into their respective majors,” wrote academics Roscoe Hightower, Jr., Ph.D. and James Highsmith in a paper for the International Journal of Facility Management. “Unfortunately, without proper marketing programs in conjunction with high quality undergraduate and graduate degree programs, the United States and other western hemisphere nations may never produce enough [facilities managers] to meet industry demand.” 

The lack of marketing for the position becomes very apparent when you begin talking to people in the industry and find out that many facilities managers end up in their careers through word of mouth and happenstance. James Eason, a Facilities Project Manager for Stewart Title, a global real estate services company, got into his role like most other people in the industry: he found out about the job through a friend. “I was working as a machinist after high school, then a friend pulled me into the job. It all fell into place after that,” he told me. That was 10 years ago. 

Like many others, Eason never set out to become a facilities manager himself, but according to him, he loves the job. “Facilities management is great for people who don’t want to be stuck at their desk for hours on end,” he said. “I wind up walking almost two miles a day just handling whatever needs to be handled. I’m never bored because it’s never the same thing every day.” When I pressed him about any other favorite perks of his, you could hear his smile over the phone. “Golly, I’m usually the first person that finds out something cool is coming to the office!”

If what Eason treasures about his job does not sound terribly exciting to young people transitioning into the workforce, perhaps the average salary of a facilities manager will. As of September 26, HR-reported data shows that the average facilities manager in the U.S. earns $105,056. Now obviously that number varies by region and certification level, but even on the low end, facilities managers are looking at over $75,000 a year. 

Facility management was already considered to be a specialized process-and-services-based profession, but after the pandemic crept in, facilities managers graduated to a highly-specialized role that’s at the epicenter of both building and business operations. When the initial lockdowns swept through, facilities managers found themselves at the center of the chaos. After all, facilities managers were charged with keeping buildings habitable and safe. Space and health issues rose to the top of the agenda for every corporate occupier, making facilities managers crucial to the decision-making process. They transitioned from being the commonly overlooked component of an office to essential ones thanks to the push to “return to work” in hybrid mode. So it’s unsurprising that companies have recognized this shift and demand for facilities managers have surged. In 2021, the global facilities management market was valued at $42.2 billion. By 2028, that market is expected to explode to $109.05 billion at a compound annual growth rate of 12.6 percent. Enhanced notoriety and demand sound like great leverage for the sector’s workers, until you realize that most of them will retire in just a few years. 

One in four of America’s workforce is of the Baby Boomer generation, a statistic that has given economists pause. Companies are already aware that they need to adequately replace their workforce when their staff enters retirement age, but the industries that attract older labor units will ultimately face a bigger hiring arms race than others. As of September of this year, the average age for a working facilities manager is 50 years old, which means that the facilities management is in for a scramble to both replace employees and train them. Twenty three percent of facilities managers have worked in the industry for 20 or more years, so there’s ample concern that veteran knowledge will retire along with the retirees. Not to mention, facilities managers are also increasingly more concerned about the growing threat of cybersecurity as cybercrime rates keep rising, meaning that new facilities managers will naturally require additional training on top of what their older mentors can teach them. 

The job of a facility manager has become more all-encompassing, and concentrated on increasing worker productivity rather than merely addressing workplace requirements. With integrated services and enhanced settings, facilities managers now place a greater emphasis on the health, happiness, and productivity of their staff. This shift is the result of an increased emphasis on workplace technology thanks to the rise of hybrid work. Facilities managers must ensure that they create the necessary connections for the hybrid workforce and that the tools used at work benefit on and off-site workers alike. So a prospective labor shortage is not only going to hurt the facilities management industry, it’s going to hurt the function of the office as a whole. 

Facilities management teams are responsible for the entire wellbeing and functionality of a building. From the corporate occupier’s perspective, equipment lifespans, digital connectivity and workplace comfort are dependent on the facilities management department, which means that if the building is in less-than-stellar shape, the quality of the occupiers products or services can suffer. Today’s facilities managers have more to handle and will require more training than ever before. As older facilities managers step into retirement demand for trained facilities professionals is only set to get higher. With more positions opening up, it might be time for the industry to increase its visibility and do a better job of showing prospects how lucrative, challenging, and rewarding a job in facilities management can be.

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