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A Multipronged Approach to Building a “Smart” Facility Management Workforce

New technologies in facility management and maintenance are changing the way the workforce will be trained.

Workforce Q4 2019
A Johnson Controls technician at work in a chiller room
A Johnson Controls technician at work in a chiller room
The skills gap in technical fields is of major concern across the facility management, maintenance, and service industries. High rates of retirement, combined with fewer trained candidates to fill those roles, mean that as many as two million jobs could go unfilled in the coming years.

To address the deficit, companies and educational institutions must work together to strengthen workforce development initiatives. This can include partnerships with technical schools, outreach at career fairs, and ramped-up recruiting efforts, but it is critical to get in front of the problem. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the skills gap, so a multipronged approach is necessary to increase participation in training programs and development of the skills necessary to compete in a new, diverse workforce where technologies are rapidly changing.

Awareness and Investment
Decreased emphasis on technical careers and prioritization of obtaining a four-year degree have led to fewer people considering the option of a career in these fields. Educating our youth and young adults — while communicating the benefits of a technical career path and the various opportunities available — is the first step to help address this shortage. That’s why partnerships with high schools and technical schools are so valuable.

These partnerships not only ensure that you have a larger talent pool, but in many cases, the partnership includes input into curriculum and equipment used during training. This participation in candidate education and training, even before the hiring process begins, ensures the best possible outcomes for organizations, employees, and customers. Continued education and training opportunities are also important drivers of retention. Providing insight into career growth and development are invaluable in garnering an engaged pool of not just job applicants, but also employees.

Investment in and prioritization of a person’s educational and professional experience can have real implications for prospective employees, particularly in historically underserved populations; this includes women (a recent Women in the Workplace study found that 40 percent of women in technical roles are the only women in the room at work) as well as veterans, many of whom already have the skill sets needed for technical careers due to their time in the armed forces.

Programs like Veterans in Piping (VIP), — which represents a partnership between the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA) and the U.S. military — work to drive awareness during service of the opportunities available on return to civilian life. By prioritizing such initiatives, it is possible to fill the skills gap with diverse voices and experiences to gain valuable new talent. This can serve to drive the industry into the future, just as the increasing presence of new technologies can.

The need for digital transformation and the creation of smart buildings mean the skill sets required to be successful are evolving. Smart Facility Management: Prepared Staff and Smart Equipment
The need for digital transformation and the creation of smart buildings mean that not only is there a need for more people in management, maintenance, and service roles, but that the skill sets required to be successful are evolving.

For example, facilities are beginning to utilize modern chiller technology to avoid emergency repairs and expensive setbacks. Newer smart chillers can analyze equipment performance and notify a facility manager when a chiller is operating at less than maximum efficiency. This has implications for operational efficiency as well as energy use. Right now, 60 percent of those surveyed said they take chiller data with a paper and pencil, and most of those do so at least once per day. New equipment removes the need for time to be spent collecting data — it is now automatic. Familiarity with data gathered from these systems and the available analytics, as well as the ability to work effectively with both humans and machines, is quickly becoming a necessary skill set.

Prioritizing investments in smart building systems leads to data collection and analysis on previously unprecedented scales. Actionable insights based on that analysis allow for changes to be made in operations that then result in benefits like higher efficiency, cost savings, and reduced downtime. In addition, HVAC technicians brought in to install and eventually maintain the technologies must be properly trained. These new technologies are changing the way the workforce will be trained in order to be able to work with, maintain, and service the technology.

This is a critical moment for those seeking to hire employees in technical roles, as well as for anyone seeking a technical career. The skills gap is affecting every level of facility development, from construction to building systems maintenance to management. However, so is technology. By embracing the challenge head on, being honest about the root causes, and recognizing the opportunity to train a new, diverse workforce, it is possible to address the deficit and work to ensure that the new workforce is prepared for whatever advances the future may bring.

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