Maintenance: Staffing, Methods & Practice

The Next Generation

university campus facilities managersEvery college and university campus relies on a special crew of employees to keep things looking their best. Each wall, floor, sidewalk and signpost bears clear evidence of their hard work, of their striving to make the best first impression on visitors and a lasting impression on all students and faculty. Who are these detail-oriented miracle workers? They go by many names and titles, but are generally known as facilities managers. It is their training and education that could define the curb appeal of your campus for years to come.

Most facilities managers enter the profession with either years of related experience or with a college degree that adequately prepares them to maintain a campus. As campuses change, however, so too must the training of anyone that hopes to manage their day-to-day operations. These new demands are being met in a multitude of ways, including reformatted degree programs and extracurricular training programs that address the challenges of modern-day facilities management.

According to Richard Katz, the founder and owner of Richard N. Katz & Associates, a change-management consulting firm in Boulder, CO, “The gold standard [of facilities management] today is student success…facilities managers must prioritize their resources and efforts towards those activities that have the most direct impact on the student experience.”

Taking It Digital

What are the reasons for this change in campus management style? One cause could be the “virtualization” of the modern campus. As brick-and-mortar institutions meet the online classroom, maintaining a campus means more than merely performing repairs and maintaining a physical space. Now, facilities managers must understand the changing face of a campus as well as the changing needs of its students, and treat both with the utmost understanding and urgency.

One of the greatest shifts in the facilities management arena is the retirement of veteran managers, leaving openings for a younger generation of professionals to take over. These new facilities managers are being taught that a great campus consists of more than just a physical campus. The digital space will be the area that new managers must be the most comfortable with, notes Katz. “Facilities managers of the future need to become even closer to their colleagues in information technology. The goal would be to find and develop synergies in the on-ground and online environments,” he says.

As a result, the training programs, both in colleges and in other settings, must give their students a basic understanding of trends in technology and how those shifts are impacting caring for the physical campus and its students. For some, like long-time facilities manager and director Mike Steger, the presence of technology is changing almost everything in the profession. “The integration of technology into historically non-technical items is changing what we have to manage,” he says.

According to APPA (www.appa.org), although there may be new trends and technology currently gripping the facilities management realm, the main aim of the profession remains the same: to meet their customers’ most pressing needs. Although this aim may remain unchanged, there are several new elements of FM training that must adapt to the changing land-scape, and the change is occurring rapidly.

Learning by Degrees

For young facilities management hopefuls, a college degree has become a prerequisite for career success. As the educational requirements change for campus management professionals, so too do the training methods utilized both in and out of the classroom, which has necessitated in-depth degree programs and a new host of courses for students.

What do current practitioners think of all these changes to the curriculum? Mike Steger is a bit skeptical, based on his years of experience in the field. “We get our jobs done first through people, and only asking for an engineering/architecture degree [or training] culls out many that have a much better handle on how to manage the people that maintain our facilities,” he says.

As Steger points out, aside from all the necessary engineering tools and knowledge imparted to young students of facilities management, a great deal of interpersonal communication is needed to truly excel. Communicating with professors, staff and students can give a budding facilities manager the necessary knowledge to effectively meet the needs of a campus. By listening and learning from the campus community, a new facilities manager can quickly and easily build trust, and go from being merely good at his or her job to being a great asset to the college or university.

In a similar vein, belonging to collaborative training groups, especially as a student, can be an invaluable way to network and learn about the challenges facilities mangers face in the everyday campus world. Giving students an early view of the needs and challenges of the career can give them more time to consider them and come up with innovative solutions that meet the needs of a campus, Steger notes.

Organizations such as APPA place a firm emphasis on the value of leadership in the facilities management profession. The organization offers the option of taking a comprehensive Leadership Academy track of courses, with each track building upon the previous set of courses. The program’s courses include seminars on interpersonal, individual and managerial effectiveness in the workplace.

Given the skills a facilities manager needs, it would seem that the perfect method of training future facilities managers would be a blend of college engineering coursework melded with a series of leadership seminars, right? Mike Steger agrees wholeheartedly. “[In the leadership seminars] new facilities managers will be able to draw upon what they were taught, and those more experienced will look upon those scenarios and either know they’ve been doing it right or learn how to do it more efficiently.” The mix of technical and interpersonal training is critical, he notes.

The Right Credentials

With the technical and interpersonal sides of facilities management demanding equal attention, the question of accurate credentialing arises. Sure, a college curriculum in structural or civil engineering can teach a student how to handle any technical challenge, but will it teach that student to effectively negotiate or manage a team? The inverse is also true: a leadership seminar will rarely tackle the complicated technical matters a facilities manager may face. Is there a realistic way to ensure that students are getting a balanced diet of facilities manager training?

Ensuring that a quality supply of facilities managers is being trained properly and in a balanced manner is of great importance to both professional organizations and employers. Part of APPA’s mission is to create a standard sequence of training courses that provide instruction across a large variety of scenarios that facilities managers will face in the workplace. Both Richard Katz and Mike Steger agree that there will be a demand in the future for managers who can run “smarter” facilities programs, and that proper training is one way to reach that goal.

The idea of a smarter campus signals a shift in traditional facilities management practice. This includes the use of analytics and specialized software to track changes in structures and the ability to model campus facilities in a future state, so as to catch possible problems early. Such advanced methods will no doubt require more in-depth and continued training. But for Steger, the real change will also need to occur outside the facilities management department of a college.

“The vision of the maintenance technician as a ‘bumpkin’ with a rusty pair of pliers and a greasy rag hanging out of their pocket is one that we [facilities managers] have been trying to shake for many years now,” says Steger. A rethinking of the facilities management role must occur in order to effectively meet the needs of parents and students, both in the FM department and by other departments around campus.

Collaboration

A strong sense of collaboration between the facilities management department and other academic and operational departments around a cam-pus can make life easier. Can such a sense of collaboration be taught?

APPA clearly thinks so, and many colleges and universities are following suit, offering management electives along with their technical engineering curriculum. As Mike Steger and Richard Katz both suggest, however, management and leadership must be more than just mere side notes in any training program. What is important is that the facilities management education is evolving, much like the profession itself.

Eleven Core Competencies of Facilities Managers

According to the International Facility Management Association (www.ifma.org), in 2009 a global job task analysis (GJTA) defined 11 core competencies of facilities managers. The GJTA included responses from facilities managers in 62 countries. Those competencies are:

  1. Communication — Communication plans and processes for both internal and external stakeholders
  2. Emergency preparedness and business continuity — Emergency and risk management plans and procedures
  3. Environmental stewardship and sustainability — Sustainable management of built and natural environments
  4. Finance and business — Strategic plans, budgets, financial analyses, procurement
  5. Human factors — Healthful and save environment, security, FM employee development
  6. Leadership and strategy — Strategic planning, organize staff and lead organization
  7. Operations and maintenance — Building operations and maintenance, occupant services
  8. Project management — Oversight and management of all projects and related contracts
  9. Quality — Best practices, process improvements, audits and measurements
  10. Real estate and property management — Real estate planning, acquisition and disposition
  11. Technology — Facility management technology, workplace management systems

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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