The Complete Guide to Facilities Management Career Paths and Advancement

By Diana Ramos | November 28, 2016

Facilities management is a wide-ranging industry that’s always in demand and offering competitive wages and relatively easy entry points. With more buildings and companies springing up in cities across the country, and more educational programs to help you advance in the field, now is the perfect time to pivot to a fruitful career in facilities management. 

In this article, you’ll discover the entire range of facilities management disciplines you can work in and how you can get started. Plus, you’ll learn about how to advance from one level to the next, and what types of education, training, and organizations are out there to help you succeed.

What is Facilities Management?

Also known as FM, facilities management is a combination of many disciplines which maintain and balance the supply and demand of services, supplies, and equipment for organizations. Their goal is to increase an organization’s efficiency and support its vital activities. According to the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA), this interdisciplinary practice “considers the coordination of people, place, process, and technology.” Facilities management is necessary both for public organizations like schools and government, and for private organizations like businesses and nonprofits. 

“Facilities” traditionally refer to something physical that is built or installed for a specific purpose, and combine to help organizations complete their stated goals. It can refer to hardware facilities like central heating, air equipment, and lighting fixtures. It can also refer to non-equipment resources like staff management, grounds maintenance, and security services. 

There are two major types of facilities management, Hard FM and Soft FM. Hard FM refers to services relating to the actual structures and systems that make a facility work, and can include fire safety, plumbing, structural, and elevator maintenance. Soft FM refers to services that overlap with property management, such as pest control, cleaning, grounds maintenance, and security. 

In each type of facilities management there are two levels of operation:

  1. Strategic and tactical roles work with other departments, clients, and customers to help them understand the impact of their decisions on every other part of the facility and its ability to run. They’re like the foreman of a construction crew. 
  2. Operational roles carry out tasks with a highly-trained level of skill and on-the-ground knowledge in their specific vertical to keep employees alive and safe.

The Different Types of Facilities Management Careers

Facilities management covers a wide range of service types. Within each option, there are “in-the-field” roles that can be entered with relatively low educational requirements, but a good degree of technical training. There are also “bird’s eye” roles that oversee and coordinate efforts, which usually require a college degree and extra certifications, or extensive prior experience in the field. Here are the main categories of facilities management:

This is what often comes first to mind when thinking of FM. Janitorial and groundskeeping roles are vital for the aesthetic value of a facility or property, which affects property value and the morale of those working at and visiting the site. Maintaining clean environments, trash disposal, and plumbing also promotes a healthy work environment. More specialized roles can sometimes be outsourced to specific vendors, like window washers for example. Higher-up roles may coordinate these efforts to maximize staff’s cleaning time, prevent repeated sweeps of the same areas, and work with management of other staff to create procedures that minimize excess work.

Hardware Inspection & Maintenance
If there’s anything that runs “passively” in an office, there’s a facilities management team behind it, from things as small as monitoring smoke detectors in each room to as large as maintaining the entire elevator system. This discipline includes keeping close watch on routine inspections and performing prompt repairs or interfacing with a vendor to ensure the work is done. Aside from having functioning AC and the like for employees of the facility, the true value of this work is maximizing the functional life of equipment and reducing costs to the organization. Making sure these separate systems all function is like orchestrating the gears of a clock, and can require knowledge of facilities management planning software.

EHS: Environment, Health, and Safety
This discipline encompasses the creation and maintenance of sustainable, environmentally-friendly workplaces that also promote safe and healthy working conditions. For example, ensuring a reasonable carbon footprint of a facility along with sufficiently clean air quality for workers would fall under EHS. Workers in this discipline have to keep track of changing local and federal regulations, and make sure their facility meets them all. This job is vital not only for the stated reasons of its name, but also because it helps organizations avoid lawsuits, insurance claims, public scandals, and ultimately being shut down for violations.

Space Management and Migration
Offices are subject to frequent change, whether it’s expansion of space, rising and falling staff count due to busy contractor seasons, or movement to new facilities entirely. This would all be a costly mess without careful planning and a helpful Computer Aided Facility Management (CAFM) software. Those working in this discipline are able to make staffing and space changes run smoothly while meeting regulations and preparing for all eventualities. Its value to an organization is considerable.

In larger campuses, it can be necessary for facilities managers to have a hand in planning and implementing transportation solutions. For example, it takes a lot of planning to funnel shuttles, busses, and taxis through different collection zones in the arrivals gate of an airport without slowing each other down. Between moving vital staff around a facility and transporting equipment to its required location, it’s an important discipline of facilities management.

Security Services
Manned security can fall under facilities management companies in addition to fitting into the security infrastructure. Areas of service include inspecting central alarm systems, preventing malfunctioning triggers on doors, tracking and repairing key cards, maintaining security camera operation and collecting its footage, and creating standards for employees to follow. In retail facilities, this can extend to protection of merchandise and their security tags. Even if a contracting security agency is employed for manned security, a facilities manager may interface with them and provide plans for them.

Fire Safety
This discipline involves all facets of a facility that relate to preventing fires. In the event of a fire, this team helps contain and put it out, and also moves people in the building to safety. It involves strategic planning of escape routes and designating fire wardens on each floor, keeping up to date maps, working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and even small things like making sure fire escape doors open and lock properly. The role involves frequent inspections of supplies, plans and routes, the training of non-expert staff, and above all, vigilance. 

The average school and office buildings require a great deal of organization and coordination to function properly. Conference rooms need to be scheduled for use, and coffee machines and food deliveries need to be kept up. On top of this there is often a help desk to receive, queue, and resolve issues with any number of vital office resources. Issues could range from software issues requiring IT staff, to mechanical problems from burnt out lights to jammed copy machines and everything in between. Coordinating this assistance and rendering it in a timely manner not only ensures a productive staff, it also improves morale. 

Business Continuity
Planning for failsafes that prevent loss of business hours is one of the most valuable disciplines of facilities management. A power outage, loss of server access, migration to new systems, and dangerous emergencies like earthquakes can severely damage a business’ profitability. Mitigating these problems requires a skilled FM team working with other business units to create plans and train staff to follow them. This could be as innocuous as “call us to fix the server,” or as severe as moving staff out of a burning building to a recovery site with temporary equipment so that work can continue safely while the fire is put out.

What to Expect in a Facilities Management Career

With such a broad definition and so many individual disciplines to choose from, it can be difficult to imagine what starting in or transition to the field really looks like. While there are many places to start, there are some particulars you can expect regardless of discipline. 

Working Hours
You can expect to work 40 hours a week at least, with a strong possibility of more time for salaried positions, occasionally staying late to complete a job. Overnight work is not unheard of, especially in cleaning services, and maintenance or migration that would otherwise disrupt daytime work activities. Depending on the facility, around-the-clock work could be required - broken out in shifts, of course.

When considering these hours, it’s important to remember that what you do as a facilities management professional has tangible impact not only on the financial health of an organization through reducing damage and increasing productivity, but also on physical health and safety. It’s too important to simply clock out at five no matter what.

Your responsibilities will vary widely based on the discipline and department where you work, but they will always have one goal: to increase efficiency and reduce waste while keeping people alive and safe. Some other goals include:

  • Performing your tasks to full completion daily
  • Keeping aware of all changing regulations in your industry
  • Documenting and reporting on inefficiency and issues
  • Finding operational areas to improve
  • Calculating costs of materials and supplies required for your tasks
  • Responding to emergencies calmly and swiftly
  • Delegating and coordinating simultaneous FM efforts

Entry Level Requirements
Operational roles can range from janitorial to mechanical maintenance and IT. For most unskilled roles, a high school diploma/GED will suffice, as well as a can-do spirit and a demonstrated aptitude in teamwork and attention to detail. For entry level technician and management roles, requirements will vary, but having some kind of degree or certification does help. Appropriate areas of study include building management, construction, hospitality, engineering, property management, and generalized business studies. Apprenticeships are also available in some job listing sites, providing on-the-job training to promising candidates. 

Facility Management Core Competencies
Having a resume that displays one of the following of IFMA’s core competencies is a great way to bolster your chances at obtaining a role, or make up for a lack of educational background:

  • Communication: Facilities managers need to clearly report above, delegate below, and communicate needs and process across to other staff at their locations. 
  • Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity: Responding in emergency situations is half of your job, and allowing the facility to keep running no matter what is the other half.
  • Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability: As regulations increase along with fines, and tax breaks increase for good actors, facility managers must keep their practices as green as possible.
  • Finance and Business: The job demands increasing efficiency - finding ways to cut costs without reducing safety is essential.
  • Human Factors: To be a facility manager, you must delegate tasks to staff, coordinate efforts with peers, and genuinely care about the health and safety of users of your facility.
  • Leadership and Strategy: Regardless of your level, you must approach the job with a strategic eye, and be able to identify micro-details that could cause problems when spread through your team (or in interteam situations).
  • Operations and Maintenance: The ability to fix things and follow procedures is never amiss in facilities management. 
  • Project Management: Knowing how one task impacts another, and how to allow teams to work simultaneously separates high performers from the rest. 
  • Quality: You don’t just get the job done, you get it done up to code.
  • Real Estate and Property Management: Facilities management is at least half about the physical property, and knowing the ins and outs of it will take you a long way.
  • Technology: From the hardware you interact with on a daily basis to the emerging CAFM software that is revolutionizing the industry, an aptitude for learning new technical systems is the mark of a leader in FM.

Common FM Employers
If a business of any sort has a building, it requires some kind of facility management. The most common employers are owners of large buildings with many moving parts and lots of staff, like those used for offices and government work, and broad campuses with a lot of area to care for, such as schools and universities. Other popular sites are parks and arenas.

Over time, onsite staff employed by a facility itself has been reduced in some areas, especially those with tight budgets. In their stead, these organizations now hire facilities management agencies and consultancies to handle the work in concentrated bursts when it’s most needed. If you find many of the staff jobs have been taken or reduced in your area, you may have more luck working for an agency. The primary difference is that you would be deployed to different facilities to either consult on strategy and planning, or perform excess work as needed.

Salaries for Facility Managers

Working as a facility manager, you can expect a wide range of possible incomes. This is affected in part by your years of experience, your level of education, your specific role, and most importantly the size of the building and the facilities management budget you control. The larger the budget you’re responsible for, the more you’re paid to see that it’s well spent.

Consult this graph to see what you could earn:


The Path to Facilities Management Leadership and Other Resources


In the salaries section of the above chart provided by PayScale, you can see that there is a lot of room for growth in a facilities management career. However, that is only when climbing the ladder from one position to the next. Within each position, wages and salaries stagnate with diminishing returns after five years. So how do you advance to better titles in the facilities management industry?

Education vs. Experience
This is a common debate in facilities management circles - does industry experience or formal education matter more? The answer is both. Graduating from programs will often get your foot in the door for higher level positions, and certainly helps expand your network. However, such a specialized and physical industry respects sweat equity, and a candidate with more years of experience and similar or lesser education will get special consideration over a freshly-minted graduate with no experience. This is especially important as such a grad would be younger than many of those answering to them, and respect needs to be earned. That said, as the industry trends towards more technologically-advanced, advanced training and certification is becoming a requirement for advancement, and the classic “worked your way up from the boiler room” story is getting such professionals less far than in years past. Director and executive-level roles absolutely require a relevant bachelor’s degree as a minimum, with a master’s strongly preferred. 

Facilities Management Degrees and Certifications
Outside of degrees in engineering, business, and other generally-applicable concentrations, there are degrees in facilities management specifically that you can earn. There are just over a dozen such accredited programs around the US for bachelor’s degrees, with more options for associate’s and master’s as well. These programs are strongly helpful, with some quoting stats of 90 percent job placement just six months after graduation. Many positions are now requiring a bachelor’s degree for application, and some 83 percent of new applicants have degrees. It also affects base pay - according to the IFMA, a bachelor’s degree holder earns on average $87,000, and a master’s degree holder earns on average $101,000. 

For those without time or money for a full four-year accredited college degree, or for those who already have a general degree and want an edge on the competition, there are some universities in the U.S. that have official certifications. IFMA also offers certification programs, and according to the organization those designations help FM professionals earn an average of $12,542 more per year. Considering the education prices are in the low thousands and the time it takes to pass is competence-based, it can be a boon to your earning power and signal your go-getter nature to FM employers. According to Tony Keane, President of IFMA: 

“Professional credentials - including IFMA's Certified Facility Manager® (CFM®), the Facility Management Professional™ (FMP®), and the Sustainability Facility Professional® (SFP®) - are more important than ever as employers look for prospective hires to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. In fact, major FM service providers, including C&W Services, ISS, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield, and Sodexo have signed a pledge to support the IFMA-RICS collaboration, its professional credentials and the resulting professional standards.”

Networking with Facility Management Organizations and Clubs
Becoming involved with the IFMA is another great way to enhance your career and rise through the ranks. The phrase “it’s not just what you know, but who you know” also applies to facilities management. The organization is international, so joining this circle gives you access to a whole world of possibilities. Throughout the U.S., there are dozens of chapters so you’re never too far from a hotbed of activity.

How does networking with an organization like IFMA help you? It helps you learn about the latest innovations and ideas in the industry from leaders in your community and beyond, which you can apply to your own position or to advance to the next one. It instills leadership by putting you into contact with mentors who can help you rise up while avoiding pitfalls they’ve experienced when you hit a wall. It also puts you in touch with people who may have jobs at the next level, and if they get to know you and like you personally by the time a job comes around, that can make up for a gap in experience. People take a chance on those they like and trust.

Keeping Aware of Changing Technology and Software
The biggest changes to all industries come from the march of technology, and as a process and machine-driven career, facilities management is particularly susceptible to it. To advance in your career, you have to be aware of changing technology and standards within facilities, such as LEED certification requirements. 

The most important development in the industry is the widespread use of computer aided facility management (CAFM) software. According to Tony Keane, “It's an exciting time for the global facility management industry, which is experiencing its most significant evolution in decades. Smart technology, including CAFM, has led to higher expectations for tangible results.” 

For lower levels of the profession, it’s becoming vital to know your way around one of these systems either for executing on or planning out a strategy for facilities management work. It can assist with space planning, asset and maintenance management, room reservations, customer service and IT requests, facility operations, and even the planning of and coordinating moves from building to building. Some specialized software helps manage fleets of vehicles, leasing for real estate management, or monitor air quality and potential fire hazards. This software changes rapidly, so the most important thing to learn is how to learn and navigate new software, rather than rigidly sticking to one system. Read a guide on CAFM software for more details.

How to Start Finding a Facilities Management Job Right Now

If you’re just looking to get started in facilities management right now without many resources, here’s a quick checklist to get you started:

  • Construct a resume highlighting your experiences that relate to teamwork, attention to detail, ability to quickly pick up new skills, and positive attitude.
  • Join your local chapter of IFMA, and participate in everything that interests you. Get your business cards and your handshakes ready, and don’t be shy. Inquire about apprenticeships and workshops.
  • Take advantage of IFMA’s online job boards and the people you meet as connections.
  • Find the facilities/property/building management departments of any major local facilities in your area: try schools, universities, government buildings, and the largest corporations. Get in touch with the highest ranking person you can and request an informational interview even if they say there are no positions available or you are told to “apply on the website.” You’ll always have a better chance with a person than an automated system. 
  • Finally, take your newly-minted resume to standard job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, and even Craigslist. Response rates for these sites can be low, so don’t be discouraged, and continue using your network as you grow it.

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