The value of formal FM studies – secure your future
Facility Management spoke to recent graduates of various providers of formal facilities management degrees and courses to find out their view on the facilities management education landscape and the value to be gained from formal education.
Formal training in facilities management provides those in the industry, as well as all built environment professionals, with a much better understanding of facilities management as a specialised field and sees employers achieve productivity gains. In addition, organisations engaging in facilities management services could pay a high price for employing ill-experienced practitioners with little experience and no formal qualifications.
“Completing formal facilities management studies and gaining two industry qualifications – a Diploma of Property Services (Asset and Facilities Management) and a Diploma of Management – was a huge wake-up call as to the risks companies carry by letting unqualified facilities management staff manage their facilities,” Eric Ryan, facility management practitioner and an fmedge graduate, states.
Ryan notes that doing these courses gave him a much better understanding of the depth of facilities management as a specialised field. He adds that employers also benefit from assisting their facilities management staff to engage in formal training via productivity gains resulting from exposure to topics that were possibly previously overlooked at their organisation – such as sustainability.
“For example, when I was completing my studies, there was a module that had a focus on energy ratings for buildings, and a year later energy ratings for tenanted commercial premises were made compulsory,” says Ryan.
Matt Cincotta, an assistant facility manager who has also completed fmedge’s Diploma of Property Services (Asset and Facilities Management) and Diploma of Management, says his studies and exposure to the strategic side of facilities management, such as long-term forecasting, finance and tender processes, assisted him in being able to better contribute to the management of the shopping centre at which he works.
“While I’m currently more involved in the day-to-day operations of the centre, from a facilities management perspective, understanding these concepts gives me greater exposure in meetings and I can add value to the team and organisation,” he says.
UPSKILLING YOURSELF – BECOME AN ASSET
Due to his background as a trade-qualified carpenter, David Bennett was asked to fill the position of property services manager when the person in that position left the organisation. He was working in the company’s IT department at the time. Currently employed as a facility coordinator at a not-for-profit organisation in Melbourne, he is currently studying Cert IV Property Services (Operation) at RMIT University and wants to complete RMIT’s Diploma in Facility Management (Property Services) next.
“Formal training in facilities management is very important. There are many skills from other professions that can lead to a role in facilities management and exposure to the other necessary skills can be provided through training. Whether it is someone with a trade background who needs to develop customer service delivery skills or vice versa, training can prepare this awareness prior to being exposed to these situations on the job,” Bennett says.
“Most of the theory in the curriculum aligns well with practice, but I have found that classroom scenarios quite often relate to a ‘perfect world’ that does not exist in a work environment,” he adds. The knowledge from the course he is finding most useful in his job is asset and cyclical maintenance, which is enabling him to understand the life cycle of assets and implementing scheduled maintenance.
“It is noticeable both in the industry and training that facilities management is becoming less trade specific and more customer service based,” he says.
MAKE FM YOUR CAREER AND NOT JUST A JOB
More and more facilities managers are taking control of their careers and using formal qualifications to give them an edge – a strategy used successfully by Cincotta, who secured employment as an assistant facility manager for shopping centre management company, Westfield, while he was completing his studies.
“When I decided to make facilities management my career, I did my research and found that a lot people I was coming up against were from a trade or engineering background, and I didn’t have either qualification,” Cincotta explains. “I was looking for a point of difference to allow myself to be more competitive in the marketplace. Earning my qualifications was something totally self-motivated, because I wanted a career path within the industry.
“I think undertaking the studies showed a degree of commitment to being involved in this industry, which is what some companies are now looking for,” he adds.
According to Ryan, undertaking diploma qualifications was a catalyst in him achieving employment with Goodman – an international property management organisation. “There is no question that it made a difference. When I went for the interview, they were impressed that I was studying and they wanted an assurance that I would continue studying after my employment,” he says.
Like many facilities management practitioners, Steve Ball stepped sidewards from a trade background into his maintenance planner position at a major Victorian health provider without any formal facilities management training or qualification. Although he was well-experienced in many aspects of facilities management, he notes that he needed training on the formal side of the role to provide his superiors with adequate documentation to secure funds for facilities maintenance.
“As maintenance planner for Barwon Health, I ensure that all buildings across the health group comply with all statutory requirements, including establishing and maintaining fire systems, emergency evacuation procedures and emergency lighting,” Ball comments. Barwon Health’s services stretch over 21 sites including an acute hospital, rehabilitation facility, four residential aged care facilities and 16 community-based sites.
“After completing fmedge’s Diploma of Management course, I now understand the expectations of my managers in formatting reports and giving them the information that they are looking for, which has meant I’ve been successful in securing funding for new equipment and upgrades. It’s also assisted me in better communicating my expectations to contractors,” says Ball, who is currently completing fmedge’s Diploma of Property Services (Asset and Facility Management) as well.
“These qualifications put me on the front foot in terms of where the facilities management industry is going, which is a more regulated and professional approach,” he adds. “Many people in facilities management have moved into the field from trade or administration roles and don’t have specialised training, so their future prospects are limited outside their current workplace. Fortunately, because of my newly acquired qualification, I now have a greater sense of security within the facilities management industry,” he concludes.
BENEFITING ALL BUILT ENVIRONMENT PROFESSIONALS
Not only of benefit to pure facilities managers, a degree or course in facilities management can also benefit those pursuing a career in other built environment fields. Nicholas Vasiljevic completed a Bachelor of Construction Management and a Bachelor of Facilities Management with Honours under the Dean’s List Honours Scholarship at Deakin University’s School of Architecture and Building in 2011 and is currently employed by construction contractor, Built.
“While studying my degree in construction management, I was approached by a senior lecturer who outlined the key aspects of the emerging discipline of facilities management. The thought of developing an understanding of how existing facilities could be strategically augmented to suit a business’s core goals really appealed to me,” Vasiljevic comments. “I was further persuaded when I discovered that a strong demand exists for construction industry professionals who have an understanding of both sides of the building and commissioning equation.”
Currently involved in a $10.4 million redevelopment where facilities managers from the City of Melbourne are taking an active role in all aspects of the project, Vasiljevic says, “My education in this discipline has allowed me to clearly recognise the core functions and key responsibilities that a facilities managers has on a daily basis. I was very surprised to discover that a facility’s success can be dictated by the influence facilities managers have on all stages of a project/facility, as opposed to being predominantly involved in the asset commissioning phase.”
Having insight into both construction and facilities management, he believes that facilities management students should receive greater practical exposure to the construction stage of a facility’s life cycle. “My practical training in facilities management was directed towards planning, design and business forecasting, as opposed to developing an understanding of how these key functions can change when faced with the unforeseeable problems that are associated with construction works.”
ON THE JOB LEARNING NO LONGER ENOUGH?
Vasiljevic feels that facilities management education is undergoing a paradigm shift as, traditionally, facilities management was offered as a postgraduate form of specialised study, but as the demand for these professionals is growing, more institutes are offering this course from an undergraduate level.
“As the discipline of facilities management is evolving, I feel that formal training is beneficial to all parties concerned,” he notes. “Individuals will be exposed to the latest facilities management theories and facilities management organisations can be confident that their candidates possess competencies that cannot be taught through practice alone.”
When asked if he believes a degree in facilities management has become a necessity for anyone wanting to get into the industry, or whether it is merely an added bonus and not really necessary, Vasiljevic comments, “I have discussed this with both work colleagues and friends that graduated with a degree in facilities management. The general consensus is that a degree in facilities management is becoming a necessity, as there are theories and elements to this profession that cannot be taught from practice alone. Although construction and facility management organisations view experience in a more positive light than formal education, I am quickly discovering that a combination of the two proves much more beneficial in the long term.”
Bennett believes that having experience and a qualification are equally important. “If there is an overemphasis on qualification, as opposed to workplace experience, there is a chance that all new recruits will only have workshop- or institution-based knowledge,” he says. In his opinion, hirers of facilities managers are looking for a combination of technical knowledge, management skills and customer service skills when recruiting.
“In all industries, qualifications are paramount. Facilities management feels like it is in early stages of training, which is leading to very experienced people doing courses beneath their capabilities just to obtain a relevant qualification,” Bennett says. “Improvements could be made by offering different levels of training based on experience with the industry, and recognising other relevant qualifications.”
“I think there’s definitely been a shift in this unregulated industry and now anyone with a qualification is a step ahead of the facilities managers who are unqualified with their only experience learned at their workplace,” Ryan concludes.