Career Credentials: Distinctions in the Dynamic FM Field

Oct. 29, 2013
Distinguish yourself with the right balance of education and experience.

Whether you pursued a formal education in facilities management or picked up the practice at the school of hard knocks, there is always room for growth in this ever-evolving industry. Adapt with it and prove that you’re the fittest of the lot.

Across the FM arena, accreditations and designations have become par for the course. Fresh young graduates are chasing certificates to prove expertise and experience. Higher-ups with goals of upper management are getting graduate degrees. Environmental champions are earning their sustainability stripes.

Entry level professionals should pursue different degrees and certifications than senior level FMs. Your career path up to this point will dictate where it’s going and how to put your best foot forward.

Stay abreast of the industry’s depth by knowing the different dynamics and directions that facility management entails. With the following information, your career will careen into the fast lane.

Entry Points Influence the Path
The roads into facilities management are vast and varying. Many people with degrees in business or architecture go the way of office managers or administrative services and wind up in FM almost by default.

Others with engineering backgrounds work their way up as operators and technicians, but they typically hit a ceiling.

“People who start in the boiler room and climb the ranks probably only reach a supervisory capacity,” says Joseph Samson, CFM (see table) and professor of architecture and facility management at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. “An electrician probably won’t become the director of a comprehensive FM department, overseeing capital projects and making executive decisions.”

Construction and project management have also been common entry points, but those skill sets don’t always translate to successful facility management.

“Companies are very used to going to the construction industry to get candidates,” explains James Bechard, IFMA member and professor of facility management at Conestoga College in Kitchener, ON. “The rub is that organizations think those candidates have more experience, but the trouble is that it’s not the right experience.”

A big trend sees third-party property managers and service providers like Aramark, Sodexo, and Jones Lang LaSalle providing professionals with their first taste of facilities management.

“I’ve seen a lot of people take their first step with service providers and get a broader view of what facilities management can be,” says Kathy Roper, associate professor and chair of integrated facility management at Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Buildings Construction. “They can bounce from one contract to another and pick up a lot of skills.”

Samson has recognized a similar drift in the industry. “There are fewer jobs where you’re doing comprehensive FM work like space planning, master planning, and big picture stuff,” he says. “The entry points are changing, and there are more jobs with property management aspects.”

Paths into facility management have veered all over the place, but a more formal route is forming.PageBreak

Degrees Drive Success and Strategy
There are some 29 accredited FM degree programs around the world, when just a few years ago, it was a much smaller handful. “The industry has matured now that it’s about 35 years old, to the point that there is an official education process and more formal entry into the market,” Roper explains.

Degrees give graduates knowledge of the foundation of facilities management, and they’re having an easier time venturing into the job market as a result, says Stormy Friday, president of FM consulting firm The Friday Group.

“There is definitely a healthier balance of folks who come into the market with degrees and those who have moved around within the industry and worked their way up,” Friday explains. “There’s been no dramatic change because FMs tend to stay in their roles, but there is a lot of movement.”

Real estate investment trusts and property management firms are beginning to notice graduates, Bechard adds. “Looking at our LinkedIn connections, it’s encouraging how many titles are in FM, where we’d previously seen a fair percentage going into construction,” he says.

Graduate programs are becoming popular because of their wide base of study, Bechard adds. “Master’s programs touch on architecture, planning, and environmental concerns,” he says. “Essentially, students are investigating the roots of FM when they pursue those degrees.”

These programs are also intriguing for working professionals trying to break into senior management, Roper explains.

“Pursuing those degrees distinguishes somebody who’s done more study and taken more time to validate their knowledge,” she says. “At the master’s level, we teach skills like leadership, communication, and problem-solving. It’s about integrating decision-making with technical expertise.”

Another overlooked aspect of facility management involves a bit of marketing, which is incorporated into many higher education FM programs, says Friday.

“A lot of facilities folks have good data but don’t know how to mine and package it to tell their story,” she says. “It’s critical to know how to sell something up the chain. Be proactive in offering up strategic plans that will help the business.”

Certificates Sell Your Skills
“It’s great for someone to have the formal education, but there’s nothing like being on the job,” Roper says. “Companies want people who have experience. Credentials are a way to display competence.”

Depending on where you are in your career, certain certifications are better than others, Bechard explains.

“If you’re interested in pursuing an FM career and you’re coming through the trades or construction route, certifications help you see the depth and breadth of FM. They’re a great way of getting a better understanding of what the industry is actually about,” he says. “One of my colleagues has completed his Facility Management Professional (FMP) and is going for the Sustainable Facility Professional (SFP), and he’s realizing that facilities people deal with business problems, architectural design issues, and implementation of projects. Certifications provide that perspective and are tools that help you advance.”

Some certifications are for higher level FMs while others are for beginners. There are certificates for sustainability, energy management, and property administration. Many of these credentials can be earned with online coursework and testing. Some are self-study, while others offer instructor-led online classrooms. Click here for a comprehensive overview.

“Earning credentials is critical as a differentiator,” Friday says. “They demonstrate that you are interested in the profession and doing a lot of self-help. Professionals are very interested in proving their expertise and experience.”

If you’re the sustainability champion, earning LEED AP or SFP status would go a long way in proving your worth.

“It’s one thing to be the green guy, but being recognized for sustainability is important because sustainability means more than green,” Friday explains. “It means how do you deal with the bricks and mortar and how do you make older buildings sustainable into the future.”

If you’re trying to pitch energy projects and best practices, doing so equipped with a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) designation will show that you can positively impact the bottom line.

“There is a lot of emphasis on energy management these days,” Friday says. “Having the tools and training to implement major efficiency efforts has become critical.”PageBreak

Networking Works Wonders
Don’t neglect the informal ways to build on your education and experience. There are several resources right in your community and at your fingertips that can accelerate your career.

“Networking in any form – online or face-to-face at conferences or local chapters – is really helpful. I correspond with several folks over email and can shoot them a question just to get quick feedback,” Roper says. “It’s something simple to do throughout your career to stay abreast of what’s happening.”

Get involved with your local IFMA or BOMA chapter to bounce ideas off colleagues and competitors.

“It’s important to have informal conversations outside of the workplace,” Bechard explains. “Those are key to discovering what’s going on. There’s no pressure and they’re short, direct, and informative.”

Conferences are a great way to meet people and discover opportunities, Friday says. “You can keep up with trends at event sessions, get your peers’ evaluation of vendors, and learn from others’ experiences nationwide,” she adds.

If attending FM events is outside your budget, jump online. “Webinars, blogs, and social media are great ways to see what’s out there,” Bechard adds. “It’s about fostering a community and getting answers. Suddenly you’re exchanging emails, and right now I’m actually conversing with a group about an electrical issue.”

An offshoot of networking is mentoring. Seek out seasoned veterans in the industry and turn to them with questions.

“Mentoring is kind of the grown-up version of internships. Identify people who you can go to to ask the questions that you might not be comfortable asking your boss,” Roper recommends. “You don’t have to use the formal ‘mentor’ term or program. It can just be someone you meet for lunch and chat about what they’ve heard and how they can help.”

Every organization has a unique way of doing business, so identifying a mentor is particularly helpful if you shift companies, Samson adds. “There can even be backwards mentoring. You might be supervising someone who can teach you the processes of your new setting,” he explains.

Contractors are another surprising resource, Samson says.

“Develop good relationships with contractors so you can turn to them for troubleshooting,” he advises. “They have great intuition and instinct – more of a specialized knowledge you can take advantage of.”

Regardless of who your allies are, hold on to their business cards. “It’s good to keep track of people you meet, because in facilities management, you never know what your next problem is going to be,” Samson explains. “But if you can tap into the community, you’ll be surprised what you learn.”

FM Flies at a Fever Pace
1) Every step you take is a means of keeping up in this always-changing industry.

“The environment is in warp speed. So many facility professionals are stressed because the demands are higher than they’ve ever been and the resources are fewer than they’ve ever been,” Friday says. “Pick your battles and targets. Promote what’s important.”

2) Stay curious and constantly aware of industry news.

“Technology and the way people are using buildings are changing very rapidly,” Roper says. “As facilities people, we have to be proactive. It’s a dynamic field.”

3) Prove your worth, and a seat in the executive boardroom may be yours.

“Teamwork is not the right term. You need to be a good partner,” says Bechard. “You need to participate and be a leader.”

Chris Curtland [email protected] is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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