There are many reasons why the facilities management workforce is scrambling to fill positions and attract new talent. And there are just as many ways the industry needs to change — and indeed, is changing — in order to successfully fill those jobs.

Let’s take a look at this shortage as a coin with two sides. If we as an industry can understand how the shortage of qualified professionals happened in the first place, we can come up with solutions that are long-term. 

That way, this problem doesn’t reoccur down the road.

The FM Shortage is Well Documented

The International Facility Management Association trumpets the problem in no uncertain terms: “Facility management is facing a critical shortage of professionals and urgently needs to attract new talent.”

Based on research conducted by the IFMA and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in which 2,500 facility managers from around the world took part, the report calls for the profession to transform its “Cinderella image.” The average age of the workforce, at 50.9 years, certainly adds urgency to the need for new talent.

Called Raising the Bar, the report identifies 5 key challenges and actions:

  • The need to recognize the value and ROI of effective facility management.
  • The need to recognize workplace productivity and employee well-being as products of excellent facility management.
  • The need to replace the existing aging workforce with new talent.
  • The need to look for skills outside of technical or operational, such as relationship management skills.
  • The need to embrace new technologies that create new types of workplaces and enhance the management of facilities.

It’s Not Just an Aging Issue

The aging of the facilities management workforce is a known problem. And there’s another factor at play, according to the team at the invitation-only Higher Ed Facilities Forum: “[The aging issue is] compounded with the facts that less than 10% of IFMA’s members are under 35 years old and that future buildings will require much more advanced technical and digital skills.”

Facilities leaders at college campuses have suggestions on how to deal with the aging workforce and lack of skilled trades.

Pete Strazdas, associate vice president of facilities management at Western Michigan University, recommends creating a top-tier FM team so that openings attract off-campus talent, and then to keep those people with a great working environment and ongoing training. He also says that, whenever possible, have a succession plan in place for all critical positions.

The Planning and Facilities Management Department at Georgetown University uses a two-pronged approach, says department vice president Robin Morey. In-house talent is identified within labor shops, and given training necessary to achieve full certification. Plus, the FM department regularly recruits at local schools for specific skilled trades.


Facility Management Needs Exposure

Nearly five years ago, the International Journal of Facility Management looked at the problem of the shortage of facility management professionals. The peer-reviewed journal found a lack of public exposure to the profession in the US, with universities reluctant to create high school pipelines into a publicly unaware major. 

“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 FM graduates to meet industry demand,” the authors wrote.

Another problem, they note, is the disconnect between the skills being currently taught and those actually needed. 

“Universities are graduating students with FM degrees, but these graduates may not meet the industry’s needs for entry-level employees. According to some industry executives, some universities may be producing/graduating under-qualified FM professionals for the workforce.”

Use These Approaches to Find New Talent 

There are five ways to address a skills shortage, writes Maude Boivin, VP of operations at HCM Works, a contingent workforce service provider. FM departments can incorporate the following approaches:

  • Train existing employees.
  • Apply workforce skills in a different way.
  • Recruit differently.
  • Partner with educational facilities.
  • Use freelancers and consultants.

Employee education can take place in-house, or the employee can be paid to go back to school. “While this [latter] option can be more expensive and time-consuming, it can also pay off in the long run,” Boivin writes. “Not only does it ensure your employees are trained to industry standard quality, but as an incentive alone can attract a great deal of talented workers to your doorstep.”

When it comes to transferrable skills, Boivin says you need to pay attention and keep an open mind. If an employee with engineering skills has a background in the automotive industry, she might be the perfect candidate to fill the opening for resource manager.

Tweaking the Interview Process

Tweaking recruiting processes can be as simple as reducing the amount of experience required to apply for a position. It might also involve changing the focus on skills.

When hiring building automation professionals, Phil Zito (who runs the Building Automation Monthly blog) says interviewers who focus only on technical skills are courting disaster.

He concedes that an employer, of course, must verify the applicant’s skills, but ascertaining that applicant’s behavioral skills and tendencies will let you know where to place a candidate. 

For example, a good communicator who listens well before offering solutions will likely do better in a customer-facing service environment than a person who is less empathic but can handle a more in-your-face work environment.

In his podcast, Zito also recommends finding out how hungry an applicant is by giving them a problem to take home and solve. You can learn two things about a person this way: 

  • How well they research, learn and explain solutions to a problem.
  • How persistent they are. 

In one of Zito’s favorite interview techniques, he allows the candidate to choose how to provide the answer (a return in-person visit, by email or phone call), and Zito cancels the in-person appointment to see if the candidate reschedules.

New York

Align Yourself With Local Schools

Partnering with education providers is exactly what Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco did a few years ago, sustainability management consulting firm Great Forest reports. 

Teaming up with San Francisco State University, BOMA offered courses at the school of business’s finance department, which then offered a commercial real estate certificate. Instructors say a key factor in their lessons is spreading awareness about the industry, with graduates demonstrating an ability to work in everything from facilities, asset and property management to leasing, marketing and brokering.

They’re Doing It in the UK

Innovise Software, a technology provider for the facilities management sector, notes that a key trend in 2017 would be the professionalization of facilities management to attract workforce talent. 

Granted, the UK company was looking at ways to compensate for the anticipated loss of EU talent the industry drew on pre-Brexit, but some of the solutions apply to today’s global shortage.

The suggestions include those that would make any job more attractive: better pay and working conditions. Others are some that have been touched on previously, such as investing in employee training and upskilling, as well as hiring more apprentices.

An interesting byproduct of the constantly increasing technology used in facilities management today is that it’s helping legitimize industry careers, the team at Innovise writes. 

“Building Information Modelling (BIM), Customer Management Systems (CMS) and technologies used creatively together with the Internet of Things, such as security drones ... are becoming a significant draw for millennial workers, 59% of whom said that using state-of-the-art technology was important to them when considering a job.”

Another method of attracting and retaining young talent is ensuring your brand values are environmentally friendly. “75% of millennial employees surveyed actually said they’d take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company, and 56% said they’d leave a job if the company didn’t align with their values,” Innovise reports.