Career Paths at Building Management Firms

Feb. 25, 2014
Opportunities at outside providers are vast and varied.

As more and more facilities work has been outsourced to third-party service providers and building management firms, several career opportunities have followed. Once thought of as a threat, outsourcing actually presents a throng of possibilities.

Many graduates of the 30 IFMA-accredited facilities management programs at 27 colleges and universities worldwide are taking entry-level jobs at third parties such as Aramark, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), and Sodexo. But seasoned professionals are also migrating to these firms to explore managerial and consultative roles.

Find out how a position at an outside firm can fit into your facilities career.

Recruiting Reels in Talent
There are many ways a facilities professional can wind up at a building management firm. The ever-increasing way is by interning at one before hitting the real world job market.

“We target specific colleges that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in facilities management. We give formal internships and visit campuses to recruit students directly,” explains Scott Sherman, director of talent acquisition at Sodexo. “The programs haven’t been around long, but we already have alumni from schools like Brigham Young and Georgia Tech who are now senior management.”

FM Outsourcing is Here to Stay

Once perceived to be a threat in the FM world, outsourcing is now a valuable tool that owners can use to run a better facility and FMs can use to build a better career.

“All of the above can be outsourced,” says consultant Friday. “The most common areas are custodial, landscaping, system maintenance, construction, engineering, and property management.”

Facilities outsourcing began at banks and offices and has expanded to manufacturing, utilities, and healthcare, says JLL’s Browne. “Successful implementation depends on aligning corporate cultures,” he explains.

First identify what strategic sourcing can accomplish. Do you want to reduce costs or staff? Do you want to bring in technical knowledge that you don’t have at your site? Have an end result in mind.

“Then perform your due diligence on potential firms,” Friday adds. “Visit sites and speak with current clients of those firms. View the situation as a long-term partnership. Relationships don’t happen overnight. Be in the driver’s seat.”

Performing this type of assessment can protect FMs from the more negative connotations and outcomes of outsourcing. It’s better to identify a potential task that could be outsourced than to have the decision come down from higher-ups.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to outsource what we feel is appropriate and keep in house what we feel we can do better,” says a corporate facility manager. “Every year we put together comprehensive performance measures and share them with the group and management. Generally, our own employees take ownership, offer suggestions, provide heads-up information, and do a better job.”

Think of it as bringing in specialized partners that perform very specific services. “Hospitals, schools, and offices want to focus on their core business. They’re there to heal patients, help students, or make money. Facilities management is something they think they have to do just because they have a building,” explains Sodexo’s Sherman.

But perhaps the current staff doesn’t have the time or manpower to cover all systems and services. Let the business focus on its core competencies and let someone else focus on those that aren’t, Aramark’s Peterson explains. There is no straightforward way to strike the right balance between internal and external resources. The ownership, performance, and management of assets are dependent on the overall business strategy.

“At Disneyland, most maintenance is performed in-house. The Disney people paint the chips and make sure the production functions because the staff feels ownership of the park. They’re basically cast members,” says IFMA’s Feldman. “Regardless of who manages the facility, make sure they have that same sense of ownership. FM isn’t just a cost center.”

If a pipe breaks at the airport Feldman manages, he calls in an outside plumber because it’s more beneficial. “Electric and mechanical systems can be the same. You want to customize a timely response to a specific instance,” he explains. “Sometimes your staff can handle that, but other times the open market is more competitive.”

If you decide to outsource some or all facilities tasks, make sure the third-party firm is clear on the scope of work and measurements of success. “Articulate your expectations and what constitutes effective performance,” Friday says. “These requirements should be in the request for proposal (RFP).”

If facilities management is outsourced and you end up hired by the third-party service provider – as is often the case, Browne says – consider it an exciting career opportunity.

“The employee comes into an organization where his or her job is core to the business, whereas they were previously in a support function,” he says. “Now they have very specific career pathing and are working with people just like them. It’s mutually beneficial.”

Whether it can help your cause or pose a new path, outsourcing is a buzzword that’s here to stay.

“Fifteen years ago, I thought outsourcing was going to be a temporary thing, and I was wrong,” Friday says. “We’ve evolved to a point of strategic sourcing where people are making smarter decisions.”

Through third-party firms, students attend events like IFMA World Workplace and BOMA Every Building Conference and Expo. “Last year, we hosted a group of 15 or 20 students at IFMA and I’ve stayed in touch with many of them,” explains Roger Peterson, senior vice president of business and industry facilities services at Aramark. “Young talent brings in the book knowledge and some hands-on experience. They also have fresh ideas and are well-versed in areas like sustainability and energy because of work at their campuses.”

Another avenue that provides some technical background with leadership skills is the military, adds Peterson.

“Think about an aircraft carrier. If its engine stops working, someone has to be able to fix that, and that’s the type of person I want repairing systems at my mission critical data center,” he explains. “If you put a person who commanded up to 100 people in charge of a 10-person facilities team, you can have confidence in their ability.”

Online platforms also enable firms to identify new and seasoned facilities professionals. Job boards on the IFMA and BOMA websites are helpful, as are job sites like Monster and CareerBuilder, Peterson says.

“Social media is an important mechanism for going after millennials,” adds Chris Browne, international director and chief operating officer of integrated facilities management at JLL. “LinkedIn is the biggest one, but we even use Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, to some extent. We want to go to the places where young talent is living and operating.”

But young professionals aren’t the only ones being headhunted. Mid- and top-tier FMs can network with firms at industry expos and online. And perhaps the most surprising source of new and seasoned talent is from the client outsourcing its facilities tasks, adds Browne.

“One of the most prime areas for acquiring talent is from the client. The staff already knows the portfolio and business,” he says. “The benefit is keeping a continuity of knowledge.”

So if you feel threatened by the possibility of outsourcing, don’t be.

“Existing personnel can transition to the outsourced firm,” says Stormy Friday, president of FM consulting firm The Friday Group. “It provides a tremendous opportunity for a change or challenge. It’s the chance to explore a new path and work with multiple clients rather than just one organization.”

Career Paths Are Vast
If you’re at a self-operated facility on a team of just a handful of individuals, you may feel stuck or restless in your current role.

“Career paths can be a bit limiting in the corporate world, but that depends upon your skill set and willingness to try new horizons. If you’re seen solely as the ‘facilities guy,’ that may be true,” explains a corporate facility manager. “If you’re seen as a smart, innovative person who is willing to learn, that can be a different story.”

A third-party organization may provide a more clearly defined ladder to climb.

At the entry level, you might be given one part of the building to look after, perhaps just the HVAC system or a certain part of the campus, Sherman says. As you climb, the responsibilities could expand to monitoring lighting and energy use.

“The steps you take revolve around different levels of responsibility and technical expertise,” says Sherman. “You can dive into the technical side and become a subject matter expert or an engineering director, or you can climb the leadership side and begin managing more sites or people.”

Successful development requires putting the two together.

“As you move up, you need to develop more core competencies,” Peterson explains. “Have a technical knowledge foundation and know how the facility and systems run. Then you grow and build the leadership and strategic component. You support the client’s greater goals by supporting the facility. It retains talent, creates a productive environment, and contributes to the bottom line.”

From the position of directing an entire facility, the scope widens to managing multiple sites.

“Directors can eventually manage an entire portfolio,” Browne says. “Facilities professionals that prove adept at the business side of things can even go beyond FM and move into account management. That’s really taking the next step.”

Skills and Strategies for Advancement
Reaching the pinnacle requires aligning your goals with the client’s.

“If I look at my facilities responsibilities only as keeping the place clean and making sure the heating works, then I become a cost center,” Peterson says. “But if I take a strategic perspective and add value to the operation, that’s a different and critical skill.”

An executive-level facilities professional knows the client’s master plan and has discussions about capital planning and what long-term projects to implement. “It’s all about how the built environment impacts what the client is trying to achieve and how can we enhance that,” explains Sherman.

Training and certification can help you reach the top, says Michael Feldman, second vice chair of the IFMA board of directors and former deputy executive director of facilities management at L.A. World Airports.

“The facility management professional (FMP) is the core credential, and the certified facility manager (CFM) is the flagship,” he explains. “That’s where the business strategy comes in. What are the expectations and what are your resources for meeting those? It sounds easy but it’s very difficult to establish.”

At the executive level, everybody knows what is expected and they’re working toward the same outcome, Browne says. You should be thinking big picture. When you have an event, you’ll have confidence it will be resolved in a timely manner, whether by an internal or external resource.

“The end user won’t know the difference,” Feldman says. “That’s your enlightenment state. It says that you’ve got everything dialed in correctly.”

Chris Curtland is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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