Training the next generation of facility managers

by FM Media
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One of the key problems with facilities management is its lack of firm identity. DR HILARY DAVIES says a clearer definition of the sector would pave the way for improved educational services.

Facilities management encompasses real estate and asset management, building services and operations, risk and regulations, space planning and design, maintenance, etc, etc. If it lacks a clear identity for those already engaged in the profession, think how difficult it is to attract the next generation of bright, motivated facility managers. School children and school careers teachers, if they were to look up the term in the guidance provided, would find that facilities management equals a ‘caretaker’ – perhaps not how the director of technical services and asset services for CB Richard Ellis would describe his international remit! However, this is about to change. A team at FMA Australia is developing a set of descriptions along a career path from facilities officer to general manager/director with appropriate levels of qualifications to match.

JOB DESCRIPTION
This is so important – without this clear understanding of what the job entails, it is unlikely to attract potential school leavers to enter the profession or undertake VET or graduate qualifications in facilities management. Does this matter? I think it does. Facilities management is a great area in which to work, requiring not just problem solving skills but also foresight and the ability to plan and contribute to business. It needs qualified personnel who are able to think strategically with a practical mindset. The other problem for those who have come into facilities management almost by accident – perhaps via a trade or hospitality background – is that they hit a ‘glass ceiling’. Without some qualification, they cannot move further in their career. Facilities management needs to be marketing itself as an attractive profession to school leavers – and upskilling those already in the profession.

CURRENT COURSES
A Google search for FM courses reveals the following top ‘hits’ in Australia:

At TAFE

  1. Diploma of Property Services – Asset and Facilities Management (offered online and face-to-face) from www.fmedge.com.au
  2. Bachelor of Facilities Management at Holmesglen TAFE.

At postgraduate level

  1. Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma and Masters in Facilities Management, Deakin University1
  2. Graduate Certificate in Asset and Facilities Management, Bond University
  3. Graduate Certificate in Facilities and Asset Management, University of South Australia
  4. Graduate Certificate in Facilities Management at Curtin University
  5. Masters of Property Development with a specialisation in Asset and Facilities Management, UNSW
  6. Master of Commerce and Master of Facilities Management, University of Sydney.

So why is it important to upskill and help those in the profession to gain qualifications? Buildings are increasingly complex to run and facilities managers need to demonstrate their contribution to the bottom line if they are to be taken seriously. How do they add value – not just cut costs? Back in 2000 at IDEACTION, Professor George Cairns identified that: “facilities managers must aim to be seen as strategic players in the organisation at a global level. In order to achieve and maintain this status, they must be viewed at board level as proactive providers of added value, rather than as reactive operational service providers, or as costs or overheads to be minimised or eliminated.”2

KNOWLEDGE LEADERSHIP
More than 10 years later, FM still suffers from the absence of a real body of theoretical knowledge to underpin thinking and decision-making. Academia and industry need to work together to help develop that body of knowledge and address upcoming issues in FM. Proactive thinking and creativity is probably a necessity (if there is time from all the day-to-day reactive necessities) – and maybe the best stimulus to do that thinking is a further program of study. Time, for example, in which to study productivity drivers. Research is showing that a focus on merely the costs of space and costs of operations is probably counter-productive. Facility managers need to be aware of how space and the working environment support productivity. Facility managers are required to plan for and provide space for working, even though the impact of specific changes on users is not fully understood. Think about some of these facts and figures:

  • US studies suggest that a one percent improvement in productivity has a larger economic return than a 100 percent saving in energy costs
  • productivity improvement of a fraction of one percent would be sufficient to cover the cost of necessary infrastructure improvements to enhance the indoor working environment
  • property and facilities managers need to understand more fully the possible impact of their actions, either positively or negatively, on productivity, and should focus their efforts where the impact on business performance overall is greatest3.

MEETING CHALLENGES
So this is useful ammunition for someone trying to support the bottom line at a strategic level. What about day-to-day operations? Where is there potential for some creative thinking? How about the imperative of operational efficiency in the face of rising fuel prices, the potential carbon tax, and the incentive to run buildings sustainably? Sustainable operations require intelligent building operators who really understand and appreciate buildings. Maintenance and services operations needs people who can ‘read’ buildings – hear how well a motor or pump is working. Does it need servicing? How close to replacement might it be? Many buildings are now fitted with BMS (building management systems) that generate lots of information about systems operations. But what does the data from the BMS tell us? While a specialist contractor usually carries out their installation and commissioning, it is usually not clear whose job it is to interpret the (often massive) amounts of data recorded daily. In-house staff need to be trained or else a specialist contractor employed. If this is not done explicitly, there is a real possibility that the tedious task of ongoing data evaluation will ‘fall through the cracks’. This is really important since failures in building systems can go undetected for years, resulting in inefficient performance. Systems need fine-tuning to operate at their best and this is even more imperative for ‘green’ buildings. For example, a particular building with an imported fabric energy storage and ventilation hypocaust system malfunctioned for six months in one of its modes of operation4. Only independent analysis by consultants5 discovered this operational error. How many other buildings might be similarly underperforming? Do they need assessment? If you feel your in-house staff are unable to analyse or appreciate the services and maintenance operations they are charged with monitoring, perhaps you need to either give them additional training or employ consultants. Energy performance contracting can be a risk-free way of getting someone else to do that fine-tuning, someone whose business depends on getting it right6. Either way, our increasingly complex buildings need trained and skilled ‘thinking’ operators, seeking to optimise performance.

THE PROFESSION’S BOTTOM LINE?
We need people who are increasingly specialised and competent, who keep up to date and are able to deliver quality services and think about what might be coming next. We are living in a world with a constantly expanding knowledge base that demands updating of skills and knowledge. Education providers offer opportunities for professionals to keep up to date. And, hopefully, with a better definition of what FM is, it will be easier to market to school leavers, making sure we have a healthy, thriving profession attracting new members.

Footnotes
1. Available for non-cognate degree holders and/or experienced practitioners to study completely off-campus from July 2011
2. Cairns, G (2000) Key Facilities Management Challenges of the New Economy, presentation to IDEACTION, FMA Australia conference
3. Thompson, B (2008) Property in the Economy: Workplace design and productivity – are they inextricably linked? Download available from www.rics.org
4. Davies, H. (2006) Carbon dioxide levels and ventilation strategies in “green” office buildings. CIB W 89, BEAR International Conference on Building Education and Research, Hong Kong 11-14 April 2006, pp 1-10
5. Mobile Architecture and Built Environment Laboratory (MABEL)

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