More than half of today’s facilities management workforce is expected to retire within the next 5 to 15 years, leaving a major talent gap to fill. Carolyn McGary, the national director of FM Pipeline Team Inc. and self-proclaimed Wonder Woman of FM, to the rescue! Here’s her superhero origin story.
With nearly 20 years of experience, McGary is an educator who joined the FM Pipeline Team as co-director shortly after it launched in late 2014. In the last year, she moved into her current role, taking care of the operations side while Founder Jim Zirbel transitioned to chairman.
The nonprofit organization is dedicated to fostering the next generation of facilities managers and helping fill the FM talent gap. It coordinates groups of volunteers in several states and runs the Facilithon program, which includes a competition designed to introduce high school and technical school students to careers in FM.
McGary said, “I’m probably supposed to say that I’m captaining the ship and leading it towards that lofty goal of a sustained pipeline of FM professionals, but the truth is I’m just a great cheerleader for the cause, and the crew is helping us stay the course. The crew being our national operations team, our state champions, and our volunteers.”
In addition to her nonprofit role, McGary is a part-time professor teaching facility and construction management at Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver, as well as business at the Community College of Denver. She is also an IFMA-qualified instructor for several industry credentials.
Of course, McGary has earned several certifications of her own, including FMP, SFP, CFM, ProFM, and PBD (Professional Business Developer).
“The more I learn, the more I can apply to activities and anecdotes for my students,” she said. “I want to prepare them in the best ways possible for their future success.”
In her “Faces of Facilities” interview below, McGary discusses her career and key industry issues. In honor of Facilities Management Advisor‘s Healthy Buildings Week 2023, she also chimes in on the importance of healthy buildings.
How did you get your start in the field?
I fell in love with facilities management in college, where I found a small degree program for FM. It was closed about the same time I graduated, and I’ve had a bee in my bonnet to get another one started ever since. It only took me 15 years to follow through—I started teaching Introduction to Facility Management at MSU Denver in the fall of 2020!
My student membership is what got me my first internship and then first job out of college. I worked for a Pikes Peak Chapter member, who had just started a new role with his company. Throughout my career, I’ve been in a lot of different roles, from in-house FM to outside contractor. I’ve worked in public and private sectors, and I’ve been just a lowly coordinator all the way to a director of facilities and real estate.
I really love the variety I’ve been able to experience, and I think it feeds well into my current teaching roles.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry, and why?
I would actually say that IFMA as an association was the biggest influence for me. When I fell into the FM program in college, it was only a semester before they asked me to be student chapter president. I had to of course join the association to do so, and I took full advantage of being a member. I attended leadership conferences as a student, earned scholarships to help with school, and overall found another family. I truly don’t know who or where I would be today without IFMA’s developing influence on me.
I only have two other families that are longer lasting: my biological family, and my sorority that I joined three years prior.
What are some of the biggest issues at your organization?
We talk to high school teachers about facilities management, and so the biggest issue we run into is them saying, “We don’t teach that.” Our solution was simple: We tell them about the typical soft skills students may be good at or like, and how those students would make great facilities managers! Students like people, buildings, action, variety, problem solving, and thinking on their feet. I’ve also been working on a project to help provide teachers with free educational resources so that won’t be an issue in the future.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?
The people. I meet so many interesting people working in the industry, and even across organizations and industries, I find others experiencing similar issues to mine! This ties directly into the changes I would like to see in the industry.
What changes would you like to see in the FM industry?
More collaboration with each other. We seem to work in silos, and it makes it harder for us to adapt to changes. In particular, there are around 100+ organizations and associations related to facilities and the built environment. Those are just the ones I found on a Google search! Think of the power those associations would have working together to solve the current talent gap.
I mentioned previously that even across organizations I’ve found that we are experiencing similar issues—if we were able to break down our silos and collaborate, we would solve our collective issues faster.
Let’s talk healthy buildings. What do you think are some of the best ways FMs can help provide a healthier environment for occupants?
Every building is going to be a bit different, depending on the occupants and the processes within. The best advice I could give would be to talk with and listen to your peers and discuss what is and isn’t working. You aren’t alone, which means you don’t have to come up with the answers on your own.
Watch for those benchmark reports from reputable companies. Industry publications like Facilities Management Advisor are going to post articles diving deeper into specific topics to help improve your building environment.
Stay well-read and well-connected!
As someone who’s helping recruit and prepare the next generation of facilities managers, do you think healthy building technology and strategies will play a large role in the future of FM?
If COVID did anything positive with its presence, it was to shine a spotlight on building health and how it impacts employee and visitor wellness. It also helped highlight the facilities manager’s role in maintaining a healthy workplace.
For these reasons, I think healthy building strategies and technology will play a stronger role in the future of FM. As we continue to work through various solutions, we’re gaining more knowledge and understanding through case studies and research of what truly works and what doesn’t.
For new and transitioning FMs, it is important to remember that we’re a community, and that there is good information either developed or being developed that you can reference to help you make good decisions for your facility.
How can company leaders make facilities management a value within their organization?
I think it could help if leaders viewed facilities as more of an employee experience and productivity-increasing function than solely a cost function. Just changing it to a more positive view for the bottom line would go a long way to helping facilities managers thrive. COVID did help this viewpoint a bit—at least from the understanding that facilities teams are essential. There’s so much more that can be done, though.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Are you noticing any major trends?
We’ve been talking about the skills gap since a wonderful study done in California back in 2014. In it, the survey backed the idea that in 5-15 years approximately 50% of our FM workforce would be retired, and demand would have greatly increased for FMs. Guess what? We’re 10 years in on that prediction. I can tell you right now that a good portion of that 50% has retired, and the gap keeps widening. We have not yet made great enough progress to narrow the widening gap.
What are you most proud of?
I’m super proud of two things:
One was playing a part in helping in the formation of Facility Management as a National Apprenticeship. I think this is going to be huge for FM in the future, as there’s lots of workforce development opportunities out there to help upskill and move workers into the field to fill the gap faster. Most probably don’t know that we are approved as an apprenticeship. What makes this big is that workforce groups can provide funding to help train and upskill workers, making it much more appealing to employers. Approved training providers that follow the model can help train the next generation of facilities managers.
The second was applying for the National Demonstration for our Facilithon Competition for FM Pipeline. This is helping the program gain national recognition with students and educators so we can further spread the word about this awesome industry. It’s a three-year status, and we’re in year two. At the end of three years, we can become an official competition with SkillsUSA.
This is huge because SkillsUSA is a nationwide group that focuses on career technical development of mainly high school students, but also middle school and college/post-secondary. They have nearly 400,000 members. Think of all of those members learning about facilities management in a fun way and competing to be the best at solving fun facility-related problems nationally. SkillsUSA is also a part of WorldSkills, which is a possible future expansion globally for the Facilithon.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Ask tons of questions, follow your gut, and don’t be afraid to speak up.
Facilities managers are great people. They’re knowledgeable about a variety of things and always willing to help mentor others who ask.
I’ve had some experiences when I knew in my gut that something was up and I wasn’t sure what to do. I asked questions and didn’t quite get the answers I was looking for, but I kept speaking up and trying to work a good resolution. I found a good resolution for my company as a result.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Advice for people who’ve been in the industry for a while—find ways to give back to your profession! Really think about what change you want to see in the industry, and make incremental changes to move the needle in a positive direction.
Volunteer with and donate to nonprofit organizations that seek to further the future of FM and the built environment. I’m not saying it must be FM Pipeline Team, but it could be!
Become an adjunct professor at a local or online university and help cultivate the next generation! Most universities require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and community colleges need education and experience in your dedicated field.
I’m always looking for people who can help me develop my course materials or point me in good directions for content to share with my students.
Be a guest speaker or have your company do support at local colleges or universities. They are always looking for connections to “business and industry” to help their students really see what is out there and what potential opportunities they have in career paths.
I’d also recommend taking advantage of some free access to programs that will help students better understand certain FM technologies. For example, DCM gave me access to their Echo system with some sample drawings that I use to help my students understand how to read building drawings. It is one of their favorite activities!
Are you or a colleague an FM professional interested in being profiled for the “Faces of Facilities” series? Please contact Editor Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com.