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How Can Professional Education Advance Your Career?

July 19, 2017

With a talent gap emerging, continuing education could help you take the next step in FM.

Whether you are looking to advance within your current organization or want to take the next step in your career somewhere else, seeking professional education might get you there. With programs across the country providing short certification curricula and others providing master’s degrees for working professionals, building on your current job experience is getting easier.

FMs that receive credentials (e.g., CFM, FMP, SFP) after taking coursework find tangible results. According to an IFMA study, FMs who have earned credentials see a $6,000 average increase in annual salary. Moreover, 83% of respondents in the study have found a significant value relative to investment.

With a vast array of programs held at universities across the country, opportunities are available to FMs hoping to advance their careers. Consider these five topics that will help you decide if a facility management education program is right for you.

1) Financing Professional Education
First, consider the finances of prospective programs and whether you can receive any funding. For a professional with experience looking to improve career prospects, certificate and master’s programs are the best choices, but they provide vastly different experiences.

A certificate program will take less time than a master’s degree and will cost less. By preparing you for certain credentials, a certificate will typically help with improving the core competencies of facility management. The duration of a master’s program, on the other hand, will give you more coursework and more opportunities to address specific areas of interest, as well as further research and training opportunities. How you plan to fund your professional education may have a major impact on this decision.

For some, it might require self-financing an education program with the intention that it will either bump you up a pay grade or make you a more appealing job applicant in the future. Depending on the status of your current position, you might be able to receive some funding from the organization where you currently work.

“Some take an approach where their companies don’t pay for their education or additional training, so they are doing it at night or on the weekends and at the end of the day show their companies what they’ve done to take their career to the next level,” says Kristen Hurtado, Director of Built Environment Continuing Education at the Simplar Institute at Arizona State University.

While you are more likely to receive funding from larger organizations, providing broad justifications for how professional education will yield an ROI can help curry favor for financial assistance.

“One of the challenges we hear from professionals is finding the money to do this. That’s where it becomes discouraging for professionals if the education is too expensive or if their companies don’t see the value or benefit,” explains Hurtado.

In response to this apprehension, Hurtado is part of a research team trying to address what companies are looking for in terms of skill development from educational institutions. The hope is that this research will help programs become more in tune with what private companies seek when hiring facility managers. Hurtado notes, “One of the efforts we are working on right now is to map out the continuing education environment across various FM organizations because a lot of FMs want to transition in their role, but there aren’t a whole lot of formal programs out there.”

2) Bridging the FM Talent Gap
One factor that might change the way FMs are funded for continuing education is the talent gap that is emerging in the industry. According to IFMA, 45.3% of credentialed respondents to its survey are Baby Boomers and 40.4% are in Generation X. While it makes sense for more seasoned FMs to have more credentials, it nevertheless suggests a talent gap that might appear as Baby Boomers retire.

Because there are fewer FMs from Generations Y and Z, the facility management industry might face a talent gap in the coming years with fewer highly qualified candidates ready to fill in vacant positions.

While not every company is willing to shell out the money for FM training, that might need to change.

“I wish it was a lot easier because it would make the transition to the field a lot easier and you’d have more FMs,” says Hurtado. “There’s going to be such a gap and a need for FMs. How do we get more folks to go there when the education is too expensive and companies are asking, ‘Why should I pay for your education?’”

Whether or not companies become more willing to finance FMs seeking education and credentials sooner or later remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it seems as though the industry will need to adapt to ensure a smooth generational change.

“At the end of the day, when there’s no one there to fill the positions, what can you do? You can find someone who is smart, but they are going to have to be trained in facilities,” Hurtado explains. “Being proactive is always a nice side of the fence to be on, but reactive is fine too. Unfortunately, facilities may suffer until we can get people trained and ready to roll.”

3) Formalizing Experience and Education
Especially for those who lack prior education focused on facilities, FM education programs provide an opportunity to learn, develop and formalize skills that executives find valuable.

“Continuing education plays a huge role in getting professionals ready to transition into the field with a career change or bump up to the next level, take on new roles and responsibilities, and formalize knowledge they may already have based on experience,” says Hurtado.

Joseph Geierman, Director of Real Estate and Facilities at the law firm Troutman Sanders in Atlanta, had worked in facilities before attaining his master’s degree in Building Construction and Facility Management at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to entering the program, he was concerned about future job prospects because his undergraduate degree was in the humanities – he only ended up in facilities because his previous employer assigned him there.

“I determined that I really liked the career itself and the challenges facilities offer. I had only worked at one company after graduating, so I wasn’t sure my resume would match up to other people if I was in the market for a job,” says Geierman. “I was looking around to see what I could do to beef up my resume and skills because I thought that they would downsize and I would need another job.”

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This isn’t uncommon in the field. Because programs typically provide evening or online courses, students can maintain their current jobs while enrolled in classes.

“There have been studies illustrating how many professionals transition to facilities from a different department within their own organization because there was a need,” says Hurtado. “As a whole, if someone doesn’t have a background or experience in facilities, they typically look for some sort of formal education or training. Close to 75% of those who enroll in our online and self-paced FM education programs specifically seek out that education to advance their careers.”

For Geierman, this process worked out, as he was hired for a new job before he had completed his degree, and his participation in the program directly contributed to that.

“It was about formalizing my education and making sure I understood certain things about how the industry runs,” explains Geierman. “I believe it helped because I had that I was enrolled on my resume even though I hadn’t graduated yet, and my hiring manager told me that was one of the things that he had looked at and decided to make the choice to hire me over some other people.”

4) Training and Developing Skills
Even if you have an expansive knowledge of facilities through your experience on the job, you might find value in learning new skills or refining those that you already have. The hallmark of most programs is the potential for active training in the core competencies outlined.

While with some programs you can learn and develop skills through active learning and engaging with fellow educational and industry peers in training, it can also be an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of concepts you might know about but lack a thorough understanding.

For example, Geierman had been familiar with the maintenance strategies, but through training and coursework, he had a better grasp of how to translate them to his facilities. Geierman explains, “I understood preventive maintenance, but I don’t think I had as clear of a concept about what was possible or how to set up a good program.”

In programs that require more coursework, which usually provide more choice in class offerings, you can often choose to specialize in certain disciplines. Therefore, you have the opportunity to become more focused in a certain area of expertise or seek out a well-rounded approach to facility management – it just depends on your planned career trajectory and what works best to accomplish that.

“What changed after I enrolled in the program is that I became a little more serious about my career and looked at it from a different angle – maybe more broadly,” says Geierman. “While I was familiar with many things that were on the agenda, there were still a lot of things that were new to me or I really hadn’t thought in that way before. Being a professional in the field, I feel a lot more confident about myself than prior to enrolling.”

5) Keeping Up with Trends and Technology
Staying up to date in the industry is paramount for facility management. If you want a refresher or a review on the most important technologies and trends, doing so in an educational setting might be an appealing choice.

As programs continue to align with industry demands, the university setting provides opportunities to stay current. Unsurprisingly, two of the most common areas of focus are energy management and sustainability, and almost every program has some kind of emphasis on leadership strategies.

“Energy management has been pretty huge, and that’s under the banner of sustainability,” Hurtado explains. “Many organizations are looking to reduce their operating costs and emissions.”

Many programs emphasize technology-based learning, as systems like BIM and energy management software become more prevalent in the FM workplace. For those who feel tech-deficient, these programs can bridge gaps in understanding.

Programs will vary across the board, so it is important to find the right one for your needs if you are considering continuing education. It can be a costly endeavor, so be sure that it is truly worth it if you do not receive any funding from your employer. Ultimately, you should be sure to consider closely how each program can help you advance your career and make you a better FM.  

Justin Feit [email protected] is Associate Editor of BUILDINGS.

Finding the Right Program

When looking for an educational program for facility management, find a program that will ultimately work toward what you want to achieve. Because so many of the available programs across the country are online, there are countless options for you to choose from, giving you the opportunity to directly address areas where you want to develop proficiency.

A simple Google search will reveal a number of programs available, and you can narrow down the results with your own set of prerequisites. The IFMA Foundation provides a database for those seeking FM education programs around the world. Able to filter programs by location, degree type, program style, concentration and accreditation, this resource might help you identify or research programs that fit your goals.

Searching by concentration or a specific credential could be of significant value for someone looking to specialize in a subject rather than getting a broader overview of facility management. With concentrations like Sustainability, Human Factors and HVAC, for example, you can address areas that might be blind spots for you or topics to review in an institutional setting.

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