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DCE Magazine

Redefining the role of facilities manager

Summer 2019

There's great demand for highly specialized professionals in this rewarding field.

Keeping the country's infrastructure humming along, whether we're talking public or corporate facilities, is crucial to economic growth and efficiency. It also presents a set of challenges that have grown more complex and urgent, creating opportunities along the way for well-prepared management staff. That's where facility managers come in. And you might say they're becoming sort of an endangered species, said Phyllis Meng, award-winning instructor in DCE's Facilities Management certificate program.

Consider that nearly 40% of America's facilities managers plan to retire within the next eight years, a shortage fueled by the baby boom generation reaching retirement age. And Millennials aren't exactly racing to fill their shoes.

“The need for new facilities staff and tradesman has almost reached a critical level,” Meng said. “With all the baby boomers going away, there will need to be a backfill of staff which is not there right now. Unfortunately, managing facilities is not considered critical to the profit of the organization, which is totally incorrect.”

If staff is unavailable to property maintain equipment and ensure quality of services, well, that's bad for business. “Another aspect is health and safety,” Meng added. “Who will manage the indoor environmental quality?”

As the role of facilities manager becomes more specialized, its ranks are poised to become seriously depleted, creating a great demand for those who want to forge a career in this rewarding field.

But Millennials don't seem interested in filling the void — at least for now. That could change, especially as facilities management evolves. It's just a matter of getting word out and changing the perception of the position.

“The reason Millennials aren't interested is because they're not aware of the profession or the various aspects of facilities,” Meng said. “That is why we need to start early to educate the students that this is a great, rewarding career. I had a student who kept trying to pigeonhole the facilities field. But it's almost impossible due to the variety of skills and training necessary for success as a facilities professional and manager.”

A rewarding career

Facilities management might sound a bit dry, but the role actually encompasses a multifaceted set of responsibilities. A facility manager coordinates the entire physical work environment of an organization, a job that entails principles of business administration along with architecture, infrastructure, and elements of behavioral and engineering sciences.

It's an ever-evolving field that's constantly advancing. There are innovative new strategies and designs intended to foster employee wellness — quiet spaces and reflection rooms to name a couple. And utilizing the most effective security systems is an increasingly urgent priority.

“Facilities staff are at the forefront of implementing sustainable measures and making sure that the occupants have a healthy, safe building to work in,” Meng said. To be sure, facilities management in 2019 is far different than in decades past. Gone are the days of the “accidental” facilities manager — say, someone from security or operations brought over simply to fill a spot. It's a dynamic, highly specialized position that demands a new generation of leadership with the expertise and skill set needed to navigate the future.

A career in facilities management can be rewarding and secure, as well as lucrative. Nearly 200,000 managers are currently employed in the U.S, with a growth rate of more than 11% forecast through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median annual salary ranges up to $86,000.

Meeting the demand

A number of schools have added facilities management programs to help fill the demand and train the next generation. UC Irvine's Division of Continuing Education has long been at the forefront, offering one of the first university facilities management certificate programs in the country.

“The UCI program is aimed at those who are in the facilities field already and those who are looking to reinvent themselves,” Meng said. “One important area that is usually lacking with facilities professionals, financial information and budgeting, forms the basis of my UCI course. I have had students from all over the world who have been in facilities but did not understand the financial information that they need to track and show.”

The online certificate program prepares students for a career in this wide-open field with an innovative series of courses focusing on design and management of facilities, from concept and installation to strategies for long-term efficiency. Taught by experienced instructors, the 12-18 month program is designed for professionals who want to advance their careers as well as those with experience in building or maintenance management, construction or occupational safety.

Moreover, the program offers outstanding preparation for current professionals planning to take the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Certified Facility Manager examination. It's designed to meet the current and future training needs of the profession over a long period of time.

“The program is great in that it fills in the gaps for the current facilities professionals who want to grow and progress in the field,” said Meng, IFMA Fellow and former manager of the LA Metro high-rise tower.

“Some are trying to obtain a promotion; others are trying to obtain information to help them in their daily tasks. And this program is especially attractive for current facilities professionals who ‘fell’ into facilities from another field.”

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/facilities.