The facilities management workforce continues to face several major challenges as the world attempts to return to normal following COVID. While attracting and retaining people in the facilities management profession have always been difficult, the worker shortage has gotten worse, and the skills gap has widened since the pandemic began.
Lesley Groff, Senior Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds at UGI Utilities, Inc., joined Alana Dunoff, Strategic Facility Planner and Instructor at AFD Professional Services, in the recent Facilities Management Advisor “Town Hall: Challenges and Opportunities Facing the Facilities Management Workforce” as part of the Facilities Management Now: Virtual Summit 2022 to discuss these issues.
The five biggest challenges facing the facilities management workforce are:
1. Role Changes
Professionals in the facilities management field were previously known as janitors, engineers, or boiler room workers. Today, more of their positions are in the board room and have titles that include manager, coordinator, strategist, and analyst. Now, more have a management background rather than one in the trades.
This is a challenge because fewer workers entering facilities management are interested in the trades, and those who work hard in the trades often move up to management positions. However, those in management positions usually are not interested in learning the trades, even though they are doing work that is equally as important.
The positions are “high level: energy efficiencies, sustainability, running LEED buildings. We have to be high-functioning leaders as we are doing it all. We have to build a building, talk to the trades, and talk to the executives all at the same time,” Groff said.
The speakers agreed that professionals in both the trades and management play important roles in the facilities management field. Some of today’s facilities management professionals often have college degrees or certifications in facilities management or a specialty like business, finance, or project management. Others started as janitors or as boiler room workers and were able to find mentors to help them gain the education necessary to move up to the board room.
2. Experienced People Left
During the worst days of COVID, many experienced facilities management professionals left the industry either to try new jobs or to take early retirement. Some who were eligible for retirement before COVID and were previously going to work for a few more years decided to instead retire during the worst days of the pandemic. Dubbed “The Great Recession,” this exodus created issues for almost every industry. As a result, the facilities management workforce is now struggling to fill gaps in leadership and institutional knowledge that suddenly walked out the door.
“Write the scope of your work down,” Groff suggested to facilities management professionals, adding that even putting it into a spreadsheet or writing it down is helpful for those who will take over those responsibilities.
Some of that knowledge includes advanced skills and various passwords. This was especially problematic due to a lack of cross-training between those new in the field and the experts.
3. Attracting New People
To get new professionals into the facilities management field, there must be more opportunities for them to learn firsthand from experts who want to see new people succeed. But these experts also must have the time to provide that kind of help.
The pressure for facilities management professionals to be on call 24/7/365, especially for smaller companies that might only have one or two facilities managers, could also discourage people from entering the field.
Facilities management departments need to work more closely with HR departments to determine what education and experience are necessary for vacant positions. Specifically, position titles should be carefully considered. Companies should also look from within to see if there are professionals who like buildings, design, or the environment who would be a good fit, and applicants should consider applying even if their experience doesn’t meet the description.
4. Retaining Employees
More needs to be done not just to recruit new people in facilities management but also to keep them in the field through opportunities to grow in their careers and for them to be recognized for their achievements.
Dunoff believes that cross-training from colleagues on other shifts and in other roles can be helpful for retention. This will allow people to learn new skills from people they normally wouldn’t otherwise see. This cross-training would need to be built as a priority into the schedules of facilities management professionals, many of whom have very busy work days.
Additionally, employers should consider financing educational programs for employees and provide mentors so they can keep learning, allowing them to get promoted and receive appropriate compensation.
5. Remote vs. On-Site
The facilities management workforce has become divided since COVID began, with some wanting to, or being required to, come into the workplace and others wanting to work from home.
“With the past 2 years being remote work and not having those folks in the office with younger people, that knowledge transfer, I think it’s a huge challenge facing us right now,” said Dunoff.
Dunoff added that this is especially problematic because younger people are more likely to come into the workplace than older people, who would rather work from home.
However, some facilities management professionals are required to report to the workplace every day and often were the only people in office buildings that closed during COVID.
To watch the entire Facilities Management Advisor “Town Hall: Challenges and Opportunities Facing the Facilities Management Workforce” session, please click here.