Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

So You Want a Career in FM?

I recently generated a column that was focused almost purely on technology and the corresponding requirement for higher education facility professionals to be aware of the need to train our employees in the effective use of leading-edge technologies available to our profession. I will always be committed to training and continued education. It is not only a waste of money to procure a new technology and not train; it is also a source of frustration and possibly employee discontent when we don’t train.

At this point, though, I am changing focus to our employees: what makes them “our employees” in the first place? I think we can all agree that there is no single, right answer to that question. Yet, some informal and unscientific research has shown that most people “fall” into a career. Let’s face it: how many of you woke up one morning, while still in high school, and as you were yawning and stretching exclaimed, “Jeepers, I really want to be a facility manager!” It is more than likely that many of us ended up in this business because (a) we had a family member or acquaintance who got us a job in FM, or (b) we landed a parttime job in FM while going to school and stayed with it. That’s how it happened with me. It was comfortable and very rewarding, even with its frustrations. Most of us adopted FM as a career. Or, perhaps FM adopted us.

How Did We Get Here, Exactly?

Whoa, wait a minute. Did I say career? That suggests that I am over 50 years old. Back in the 1950s, our parents (probably mostly our fathers) didn’t select a career because it was rewarding psychologically. That generation ended up in a job, sometimes any job they could find, because it put bread on the table and clothes on their (our) backs. The security of having such a job was what most adults sought. People in my generation, the traditionalists and the baby boomers, have largely inherited that need.

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? He had “physiological” and “safety” as foundations of his hierarchy. This meant having a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and a reasonably secure life. That is why many workers from that era (including me) remained in the same job (with minor variations) if not the same career for 30, 40, 50 years. That’s one reason why so many individuals are angry today: their “hierarchy of needs” pyramid was hit by an economic earthquake. That is frequently identified as one of the main reasons that many baby boomers ultimately, yet reluctantly, change careers.

What Do the Youngsters Want?

Do the Millennials and the “GenZ” generation look at a job/career the same way? I doubt it. When I talk with my students about a “career in facility management,” they look at me like I’m from another planet — and most of them are GenY! I believe that Millennials and GenZers are not looking for a career; they’re looking for a path to something that may not even exist yet. What’s more, they may not end up hunting for bricks-and-mortar and MEP jobs. They’re looking for more exciting positions that are data-driven.

Mike Walsh, a self-described “futurist,” predicts that “the next big shifts in how we manage and communicate…will be shaped by the data-driven experiences that your kids now have daily.” He suggests that, “the future will be faster and driven by the next generation of consumers, [who] are growing up in a data-driven, cloud-enabled, mobile-centric world of experiences.” Those consumers represent the next generation of facility professionals. Even more challenging, they will also be our customers on our campuses!

Walsh also suggests that Millennials are only the warm-up act. Is that a matter for concern? How many of us traditionalists and boomers don’t quite know how to motivate, involve or relate to the Millennials that already work for us? In fact, we’re not quite sure how to recruit them and then retain them! If you have young grandkids, study how they function and relate. Their relationships and methods of socializing/communicating baffle most of us “old folks.” Our universe is not the same as theirs. They won’t look at buildings as bricks and mortar and steel and glass. They will look at buildings as places where people hang out for a while, on occasion. They may not even need offices and classrooms as we know them. Their universe, as suggested earlier, consists of data and virtual technologies, which can make it more fluid for them to progress from one career to another.

We must start thinking of our employees with that understanding. Just maybe then facility management as a profession can continue to evolve.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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