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College of Continuing Education News

Building for the Future

New facility management track is a one-of-a-kind in the Midwest


The College of Continuing Education's Construction Management Program unveiled its newest degree track this summer: Facility Management (FM).

"The degree will encompass the complete building lifecycle," says Construction Management faculty member and FM project spearhead Peter Hilger. "It's a cradle-to-grave program; meaning that instead of just looking at the planning of a building (architecture), or the construction of it, students in the FM program will look at everything from the purchasing of real estate to the building's inception/design; from construction and maintenance/recommissioning, all the way to demolition."

The degree is the only one of its kind in the Upper Midwest, and fills a demand for management and leadership training from one of the fastest growing career fields today. Says Hilger, "Building technology is changing rapidly and organizations need to update/replace their outdated infrastructure in a cost-efficient way. There's a big movement toward sustainable and energy-efficient structures. And of course, there's the ever-present issue of maintaining existing facilities. And when you pair that with the statistic that an estimated 50 percent of the existing facility managers will be retiring in the next two decades or so...you have a huge job market that is waiting for educated people who can fill in that knowledge gap."

Tom Schultz is the director of facilities for Intermediate School District 287, and a member of the Construction Management degree's advisory board. He is also a member of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA)--one of the FM track's two accrediting institutions. He agrees with Hilger's assessment of the job market and the role graduates of the FM program can play in it.

"The field has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The skill level needed to fill management positions has grown exponentially. The person that they would hire to fill my role, for example, when I retire would need to know more than just building and grounds maintenance. They've got to have experience across a wide range of areas...HVAC, health/safety and environmental concerns, security, real estate, finance, sustainability.

"A degree in FM from the U...you can make the analogy of swimming in a pool. Sure, you can get thrown in (like many of us were years ago) and have to learn to swim as you navigate your way. But with this degree, it's like being tossed into the deep end, and already knowing how to swim. You may not be ready for deep-sea diving or advanced SCUBA, but you've got a pretty big advantage over those without the knowledge, resources, and network you'd build in a program like this. And it's attractive to employers, who have to replace a big piece of knowledge capital."

The program was first conceived when an IFMA educational committee representative contacted Hilger in 2010. "They wanted to be connected to a degree program, and we would benefit from their support and connections. The IFMA-accredited curriculum mapped well to what we already had in place. And there was no other institution in the area offering a degree like this--despite the fact that we have one of the most robust facility management markets in the nation," Hilger says.
Not to mention, "the mission of the degree fits perfectly with the College's mission," he continues. "It's an applied, hands-on program that covers a variety of disciplines and fields of inquiry. It rolls engineering, business and management, design, HR, sustainability, and more, all into one program. Plus, we have the opportunity to use the University and all its structures and buildings (some 225 of them) and its FM department as a 'living laboratory.' It's an ideal situation."

The interdisciplinary nature of facility management is one of the main selling points, Hilger says. "There is sort of a lingering misconception of what, exactly, the role of a facility manager is. It's not the old idea of 'cops and mops'--you know, someone policing the grounds or handling custodial work.

"Certainly custodial and grounds maintenance are a part of it, but a facility manager today is very much an asset manager. His or her work plays an important role to an organization's bottom line--it's a corporate suite role. And to fill that job, you need to understand all stages of a building lifecycle, and how all of the pieces fit together."

Because the skill set needed is so diverse, and because the course work covers such a wide area of interests, the FM program and field draws individuals from very disparate backgrounds, from interior design and engineering to sustainability and project management. IFMA member Laura Magnuson is a facility manager for Cushman and Wakefield/NorthMarq; she entered the field from an interior design perspective.

"Initially, when I was considering majors (Magnuson is a graduate of a facility management program elsewhere in the country), I looked into architecture, and then into design. But while I loved design, I realized that what I would study and the career options were sort of narrow. I didn't want to end up stuck in a single track; I wanted to find something that struck a balance between my interests.

"I really didn't know what facility management was all about, but after I learned more about it, I said 'oh my gosh...that is exactly what I'm looking for!' As a FM student, you have classes in engineering, business, accounting and finance, design, and business law. I got to see a little bit of everything."

It's also what her role as a facility manager is like. "You are never bored," Magnuson says, "and no two days are exactly alike. One day, I may be determining which type of limestone will work and look the best for a water feature in a lobby; the next I may be analyzing the costs and benefits of a roof replacement versus repair; on another, I may be reviewing lease terms and proposing solutions for space constraints."

The Facility Management track course work will prepare students for such an eventuality--its curriculum covers topics such as construction technologies; estimating and scheduling; design and space planning; maintenance and facility operations; quality assessment/commissioning; facility finance and accounting; contracts and specifications; sustainability; real estate development; and management, leadership, and communications.

The track, like the Construction Management program as a whole, requires an internship as well. The hands-on component is an integral part of the program, says Hilger. "There's no better way for students to capitalize on their classroom learning than to experience real applications through an internship.

They [internships] are a stepping stone to a full-time career option, giving both students and employer a chance to evaluate the people, place, and opportunity. Class will never fully prepare you for the experience of real work situations--but it goes a long way. Those real work situations, though, let you apply what you've learned, and, in turn, will better prepare you for your next class--or job opportunity."

Facility Management is an advanced-standing degree program--meaning students typically have 30-60 credits completed before admission (although there is a pre-admission status). The degree requirements include 120 credits, 51 in-major, and the internship. As many of the students in the College's applied degree programs are working adults, the bulk of the course work is available in the evenings and online, allowing for greater flexibility in scheduling. FM is also available as a minor, a concentration area in a thematic or individualized degree, or as a certificate.

Because of the cross-disciplinary nature of the program, as well as the excellent job market for its graduates, Hilger believes the degree will appeal to a variety of individuals. According to IFMA's 2011 salary and demographics report, the median salary for a FM professional is $86,000--and as Schultz pointed out, as more of the long-term workforce retires, the demand for individuals who have an understanding of how to plan, design, and manage facilities in a sustainable way is only going to grow.

"And the possible career options are not limited to just facility managers," says Hilger, "but also project managers, sustainability experts, interior designers, public works officers, real estate administrators...it runs the gamut. I think the degree will address a critical need, especially given today's interest in a sustainable environment."

Visit the website for more information on the FM track and other Construction Management offerings.

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