How This Creative Partnership Solves Facility Skill Gaps

Facilities managers are hard to find, says Diane Levine, executive director of the IFMA Foundation. Growing them professionally is even harder.

“There were 6,500 openings last year in facilities management just in California alone, and there were more than 39,000 in the U.S. That’s just five titles,” Levine explains. “The average facilities manager is 49 years old, and many of them are retiring in the next five to 10 years. We’ve got a bit of a crisis on our hands.”

Attracting new people to the field and upskilling current facilities professionals are the keys to combating this crisis, Levine adds. A new partnership, the Facilities Management Talent Development Pipeline, aims to do just that by using customized education to change the way companies nurture their facilities staffs.

Why Upskilling is Important

Buildings are getting smarter, and facilities managers have to keep up. To do that, they need continuing education. Training is an easy target for cutbacks in facilities budgets, but it’s important – not only for individual employees, but for the organization.

“Employees don’t grow [if you don’t invest in training]. You want to maximize their abilities, and sometimes it takes two to three times as much money and time to recruit and bring in a new employee versus retaining and putting resources into an existing employee,” explains Carlos Santamaria, principal of CEES-Advisors, an energy efficiency and sustainability building consulting firm.

Facilities cost so much money to maintain that an improvement in facility manager productivity can mean major gains for the organization, adds Levine. Organizations that invest in training “are going to save money, first of all,” she says. “Their employees are going to be more productive, more efficient and happier. It will only improve quality of life for their employees, and they’re going to be properly managing the facilities management budget, which is the second largest budget in the company after HR.”

How the Partnership Works

The Facilities Management Talent Development Pipeline is a partnership between the IFMA Foundation, California Community Colleges and industry experts like CEES-Advisors.

The IFMA Foundation and the community college system identified a golden opportunity to upskill facilities professionals through California Community College’s Contract Education program, a customized education platform that the colleges offer.

Contract Education interviews and assesses different workforce sectors, determines what they are lacking and builds customized training programs to upskill the existing employees, Santamaria explains.

The pipeline development team approached one of the area’s biggest employers, Google, offering customized education for the company’s in-house and contract facilities staffs. They met with a representative group of 23 employees to determine what training the FMs would need.

“We analytically pinpointed where their weaknesses were and what needed to be improved upon,” Santamaria says. “In doing that, we prioritized a list of skills and then narrowed them down. They weren’t so much technical – they were more soft skills, like communication skills. That’s when Contract Ed stepped in to create a customized program that provided communication and soft skills training to their team.”

The initial training focused on skills like process improvement, leadership and communication, as well as IFMA’s Essentials of Facility Management, a 10-module introductory course, Levine says. The training was a hit with the employees and the organization alike, resulting in pay increases and better titles for several of the trainees.

“Google is all about the customer experience and responding to customers. The training allowed [the facilities staffers] to really understand how their actions improved the customer experience,” Santamaria explains. “Morale within the team increased significantly, and individuals felt more part of a team versus when we conducted our initial skills gap analysis.”

What Kind of Training Can My Team Get?

The Facilities Management Talent Development Pipeline customizes training to each organization’s needs. Examples of available training include:

  • Leadership skills
  • Process improvement
  • Communication
  • Effective customer service
  • Critical thinking and decision-making
  • Teamwork
  • Continuous improvement
  • Technical certificates and certifications, such as IFMA’s IFMA’s Essentials of Facility Management (EoFM), Facility Management Professional (FMP), Sustainability Facility Professional (SFP) or Certified Facility Manager (CFM) credentials

How to Start Your Own Initiative

Starting your own customized education initiative starts with you.

Consider how your facilities department contributes to the overall strategy of your organization, recommends Jonathan Bissell, executive director of CCCE Corporate Training Solutions in the Community Continuing and Corporate Education Department for San Mateo County Community College District.

“Start a conversation amongst yourselves first to say, ‘What are the strategies of our organization and how do we align with that strategy?’” Bissell says. “If you continue as is, a year from now, will you be more in alignment or less in alignment? If you’re going to be less in alignment, what are those gaps and what do you need to do to close them?”

The answer may well be more training for the facilities department. Once you’ve identified what can close the gaps, you can start making the business case for more training by answering questions like:

  • Why does your team need the training?
  • How would upskilling the FM staff align with organizational goals and business strategy?
  • How will you use the training to improve the way you provide facilities services?

The last question is especially important because the training itself isn’t a magic wand – you need to implement it in your daily practice for it to benefit your department and organization.

“Really identify what people are doing on the job and how they’re going to take that learning back and make sure it’s being implemented properly,” Bissell recommends. “Who’s going to be mentoring people and holding them accountable? What kind of support is built in? If you send someone to a training but their manager hasn’t bought in, and they’re like ‘OK, you took a day off to do that, now get back to your job,’ that person is not likely to take the time to successfully integrate everything they’ve learned into doing their job better. If the manager says ‘I’m excited you’re taking this training. Let’s have a conversation when you get back about what you learned and strategize how you can put it into your workflow,’ there’s a big difference between those two scenarios.”

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Once you’ve answered these questions and attained organizational buy-in, you can bring in professionals to do a more detailed needs analysis and customize your staff’s training. You might find that your staff would benefit from pursuing a technical certification like IFMA’s Facility Management Professional (FMP) credential, or you may find that, like Google, your team would benefit most from soft skills like process improvement and communication.

“Training is never a one-size-fits-all, and not everything is a nail that needs to be hammered,” Bissell says. “There are internal solutions that often exist that training can complement. We try to understand the needs first so that we’re advocating for something that will really help people and not trying to give them something that’s too much or too little.”

Training is scalable to any size of company, Santamaria notes. The team will help you set up metrics and goals so you can understand whether the training is working. To learn more, contact Diane Levine at the IFMA Foundation at or (562) 449-8998.

“Ultimately, my hope is that people will see this and say, ‘We can do something about our situation,’” Bissell says. “Whether they go to us or somebody else is not the point. The point is realizing these issues can be solved.”

Read next: What Happens to Building Knowledge When Facility Managers Leave?

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