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Talent gap looming for facility managers

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by Patricia Williams

With numerous retirements of facility managers on the horizon, the industry is intent on filling the looming talent gap.
Talent gap looming for facility managers

"We are not unlike any other profession," says Geoff Williams, general manager of the Centre for Health & Safety Innovation at the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). "We are about to experience, or are already experiencing, a talent gap."

Globally, IFMA estimates that more than half of today's practitioners will retire in the next five to 15 years.

"This is a tremendous amount of loss to the knowledge of our industry," Williams said during a seminar at the recent IIDEXCanada conference in Toronto.

Founded in 1980, IFMA is the world's largest international association for facility management professionals. It has a presence in 85 countries including Canada.

Williams, who has been active in IFMA both at the local and international levels, said one of the challenges facing the industry is the fact the profession is not highly visible.

"Where our challenges are a little different from other professions (in attracting personnel) is that we are not a profession that is seen often," he said.

Rattling off facility management as a career choice "would be almost unheard of" when children discuss their employment aspirations down the road, he said.

Williams, a past-president of the association's Toronto chapter, said IFMA is looking at "doctoring" the traditional career path by which people "fall into" the profession.

"In 2013, the Toronto chapter board sat around a table," he recalled. "We rattled off where we got into the profession. We had backgrounds in architecture, interior design, urban and regional planning... But we only had two people representing the Conestoga College architecture – project and facility management program. They were the youngest people around the table."

The co-op program, the only one of its kind in Canada, highlights both project management and facility management. Graduates of the IFMA-accredited program are eligible to become certified facility managers after three years of work experience.

But Williams said that program, which only generates 50 students a year, is not sufficient to fill the talent gap facing the industry.

At the international level, the IFMA Foundation has undertaken a global workforce initiative, designed to make facility management a career of choice.

It is intent on ensuring that a pathway to a career in facility management is available to all students and individuals looking to enter the profession.

Locally, the IFMA Toronto chapter has been working for the past two years with the Ontario School Counsellors Association, which represents guidance counsellors.

"We are basically educating the educators to start talking and thinking about facility management," Williams said.

The Toronto chapter, one of IFMA's largest, has also been active in terms of advancing interest in the profession with students who have already opted for a career in facility management.

The chapter has been delivering credentialing programs, research and networking events for more than 30 years.

"One of the things that we have done is align ourselves with the IFMA student chapter at Conestoga," Williams said. "It's a pretty big distance between Toronto and Kitchener when you don't have a car.

"We actually bus students in for events in Toronto, at our chapter's expense. That has gone really well."

On another front, the chapter has also been looking at ways to bridge the gap between graduating from college and actually entering the profession.

Mentoring is one such avenue, Williams said. The chapter is also anxious to foster the role of young professionals within the broader facility management community, he said. To that end, special events have been held.

"The next step is to get the young leaders to evangelize the profession," Williams said. "That is where we are at right now."

Williams spoke during a state of the industry seminar at IIDEX, which is co-presented by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Interior Designers of Canada.

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