November 8 was national STEM Day, and it was a great excuse to talk about career opportunities for the next generations of business leaders. The aging workforce is a strange phrase to hear in an era when there is a steady stream of conversation and study on the disruptive power of the millennial workforce. However, some important economic sectors face the real issue of diminishing employee pools. Let’s look at facilities management (FM) as an example: it faces the threat of an aging workforce, but also provides an opportunity for the focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to change the course.
According to IFMA, less than 10% of its members are under 35 years old, and according to JLL, only 45% of millennials have heard of FM and less than 1% plan on a career in the industry. And just wait: next up is Generation Z—the students entering high school today who represent the real opportunity for shaping the future workforce through STEM. While only a hum of study on this group has occurred so far, a few signs suggest STEM can be a great avenue for channeling this generation’s profile, characterized in a recent Inc. article as realistic, independent, “digital natives.”
It is time to flip the switch. We need a new face for FM, and there are two side-by-side pathways the industry should explore to overcome the challenges of the aging workforce.
#1 – Excite the Digital Natives
The legacy caricature of a facilities manager is a middle-aged male with a clipboard and socket wrench. Today, the Internet of Things, analytics, and the digital transformation of building systems open the door to a new ideal for FM. An opportunity exists for the industry to redefine roles, titles, and influence in business to elevate the career path with a technology spotlight that can attract the next generation of employees. FM firms and corporate FM leadership can showcase how they are incorporating analytics into their operations strategy and how the data and insights illustrate the business value of best-in-class FM practices. There is a new frontier for FM as more intelligent systems become embedded and owners explore how smart facilities can become platforms for new business opportunities. The career path becomes exciting when a facilities manager becomes the data scientist for the digital building and has influence on projects like orchestrating energy consumption across a campus or portfolio to ensure power reliability or reach climate change mitigation goals.
#2 – Explore Business Models with Flexibility
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that today’s students will have 8-10 jobs by the time they are 38 years old. The question then emerges, What can companies, including FM services and corporate real estate firms, do to keep new talent focused on improving building operations and moving toward that vision of the digital building kind of business asset? The answer may be a partnership framework, with FM as a service capturing the attention and commitment of new talent demanding flexibility and work diversity. The nimble approach of the as a service model companies emerging in the intelligent buildings space aligns with the data-centric mindset of the digital native generation. These companies build a set of services off a software backbone offering. The opportunity is to infuse data science alongside domain expertise for FM. STEM can play a big role in helping to groom new employees for opportunities in this sector through its educational focus.