How to Keep and Attract FM Talent to Manage the Labor Shortage (IFMA 2021)

Oct. 27, 2021

There’s a pressing need for more skilled employees to fill FM jobs now and in the future. Experts share their experiences on what the industry needs to do to make FM an equitable profession of choice.

One of the universal challenges every facility manager faces today is finding and retaining qualified employees to fill jobs—and the problem has never been more urgent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.3 million Americans—2.9% of the entire workforce—quit their jobs in July of 2021 in what’s being dubbed “The Great Resignation,” as employees left companies in droves, many of whom would rather work remotely from home than return to the office. 

A distinguished panel of experts at the 2021 IFMA World Workplace conference—including Irene Thomas-Johnson, CFM, senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Company, Ltd.; Carolyn McGary, CFM, FMP, SFP (aka, the “WonderWoman of FM”) at Electronic Metrology Laboratory, LLC; and Marc Stanakis, president of Jobs Partnership—addressed the critical issue of keeping and attracting FM talent in today’s difficult job climate. 

“As all of you know, the skills gap and the labor shortage are creating a lot of challenges for a lot of employers in a lot of different industries,” Stanakis said in his opening remarks, adding that the talent pool that’s currently available is made up mostly of low-skilled or under-skilled people in low-wage jobs. He cited two key variables preventing many people in this group from moving forward and pursuing higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs: 

1.    Negative attitudes or beliefs
2.    The lack of a network of relationships to navigate them into better opportunities 

“It’s all about who you know. It’s always been that way,” Stanakis observed. “And one of the things we’ve been doing here is really identifying opportunities to upskill people in underserved communities so that they can take advantage of those opportunities.”

McGary noted that as an industry and from a training perspective, this is an issue FM’s are all facing together. “The secret sauce to a lot of the success that we’ve been seeing—especially in the Denver area—has been introducing these potential facility managers to real-world experience, giving them current examples” of the work FM’s do, she said. 

She urged attendees to seek out opportunities to be a guest speaker to students, for example, and explain to them the role of an FM in an organization. “Tell them about what you do and what excites you about your role every single day. Get them just as excited about it.”

Thomas-Johnson spoke about the work the IFMA Foundation and JLL have been doing to provide strategic guidance and create pipeline programs for scholarship program winners, for example, “to attract diverse talent into the career of FM and make FM a career of choice.” 

Moderator Dean Stanberry, CFM, LEED AP O+M, 2nd vice chair of IFMA Global Board of Directors, GSA, asked the panel a series of questions that are on many FMs’ minds, including:

  • Where do we find new talent pools?
  • How do we tap underserved communities making FM a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workforce?
  • How do we make facilities management a profession of choice?
  • How do we make entry level FM education available to those who want it?
  • How can we connect new FM candidates with motivated employers?

Their responses were born out of experience in developing programs and pipelines to attract talent that question traditional methods of hiring and require new ways of looking at the next generation of FMs.

Challenges to Attracting Talent from Underserved Communities

Stanakis said the biggest obstacles to bringing in a more diverse pool of talent into the industry is establishing relationships within underserved communities. His organization partners with local churches and non-profits because they have access to people within lower-income communities and have trusted relationships with them. “It’s not just a flyer or a social media app, but it’s really getting to know the people and through world of mouth, making those connections,” he said.

Thinking outside of the FM box and more like a member of the community is important, McGary said, urging attendees to tap local Kiwanis or Rotary clubs, for example, to find people who may be interested in hearing a short presentation about facility management as a career path.

[Related: Smart Buildings and Wellbeing Are Driving the Future of the Workplace Design (IFMA 2021)]

“I think the other challenge in underserved communities is often you’re finding that people have to work [full time], and they’re taking care of their families,” Thomas-Johnson said, noting that many single mothers or other caretakers can’t afford to take time off work or during off hours to learn new skills. “So, I think meeting people where they are and giving them the opportunity—and making it easy—is one of the ways to get people from diverse backgrounds to participate in these types of training programs.”

She added that among the most important goals is to get as many companies involved as possible to successfully address the current under-skilled labor pool. “It’s going to take a village to make this happen,” she said.

Stanakis echoed the sentiment, saying no one institution can tackle this challenge. “We need partnerships,” he added.

How FM's Can Do Better to Retain Talent

Flexibility and engagement were the top two suggestions Thomas-Johnson offered for keeping existing employees onboard while so many are leaving jobs. “We need to understand that people have life outside of work, and so we need to have that work-life balance,” she said. She added that it’s not only where someone works, but how and how often, and staying engaged with them—especially those who are still working remotely.

Given that so many employees working minimum-wage jobs can’t afford to stop working or learn a new skill after hours, Stanakis suggested employers take a more proactive approach. Telling these potential employees, “‘We’re going to get you up-skilled on our time, on our dime,’ is a really critical way for retaining the talent,” he said.

By investing in them, Stanakis said it pays in loyalty in terms of keeping good people and helping them continue to grow. 

McGary played off of Stanakis’ observation, recalling the familiar sentiment: ‘What if we train them and they leave?’ “And the answer is, ‘What if we don’t and they stay?’,” she quipped. If employees don’t feel like they’re growing and learning, or that they have value and benefit from the organization they work for, they’re not going to be satisfied or excited about going to work and may leave.

“We want [employees] to be excited about going to work, and for many of us, that’s learning new things and finding new adventures every day,” she said.

Employers who are willing to invest the time and resources to upskill low-wage workers by working within their local communities, forming partnerships and keeping employees educated and engaged will be the ones to weather this current labor shortage in the years ahead.

Read next: Office Matters, Part 1: Reviving Work at the Office

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