Building the Next Generation Workforce: The Value of A Competency-Based Approach to Education

Key elements of successful facilities management training programs and their resultant benefits

by Maureen K. Roskoski, SFP, LEED AP O+M, Senior Professional, Facility Engineering Associates — The premise that a well-educated workforce can have a major impact on how well facilities operate is not a controversial or highly debated topic. It is logical to assume that when buildings are maintained properly by educated personnel who are trained in high performance building management techniques, operating expenses, from utilities to maintenance, will be lower. So, why is education undervalued and why are training budgets always on the chopping block? One reason is that the value of education has not yet been fully analyzed and is not universally understood. Another reason is that there are a large number of education opportunities available to workers in the FM industry, particularly related to sustainability and high performance buildings and it can be difficult to determine which ones will truly be valuable. In order for education and training to truly reflect the needs of the industry, the training should be competency based. Utilizing a competency-based training model protects the integrity of the training and promotes consumer confidence in the capabilities and competence of the people who have successfully completed the training. Only through an understanding of the actual skills and knowledge that is needed for a given occupation can a training program truly provide the best value to the consumer.

Value of Training

Let’s look at the value of training through the triple bottom line concept. The triple bottom line is a core concept in sustainability and consists of three sides; 1) environmental 2) economic and 3) social. We want to evaluate the benefits from all three sides of the triple bottom line. Not only a financial value, but what other benefits are we achieving from an environmental standpoint or a social standpoint, the people side. The environmental benefits of energy and sustainable facility management training are clear, the same benefits we get from implementing those initiates that we learn in class – decreased energy consumption and decreased use of natural resources. On the economic side of the triple bottom line, there are studies that show the positive economic effects of an educated workforce. In general, industry surveys show a four-to-one return in added value for every dollar invested in training. Research from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory showed the potential for up to $2 billion in the U.S. public buildings sector from operational savings through a well-educated workforce and a competency based training plan implementation. The Building Operator Certification (BOC®), a competency-based training and certification program that analyzes its training’s impact regularly BOC Market Progress Evaluation Report series prepared by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance final report, dated September 2001 estimates the BOC saved the region (at that time, the Pacific Northwest and California) $12,000 annually at national electricity rates. Success stories from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Sustainability Facility Professional (SFP) highlight examples of students implementing ideas learned in the course which led to a payback of the cost of the training within two months. The last side of the triple bottom line, the social side, is not often thought of but this side has a direct impact on the people in our buildings. Valuable, competency-based, training can increase staff moral and can lead to faster career progression. This can take them from a lower paying unskilled labor position to a higher paid skilled position to which the benefits are priceless.

Core Competencies

Successful facility managers understand the importance of a strong competent team surrounding them. An example of the needed core competencies are those published over the last 20 years by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). Another example is a recent emphasis by the U.S. federal government in establishing core competencies in response to the need for more sustainable buildings. The Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act (FBPTA) establishes 43 core competencies in the delivery of facility management services. The FBPTA was enacted on December 14, 2010 and required the General Services Administration to establish core competencies and a curriculum for buildings personnel. The establishment of core competencies follows a known process that is intended to produce specific outcomes:

  • Conducting a Job Task Analysis (JTA) that establishes definable core competencies and training curriculum
  • Ability to consistently define skill and training needs

In the case of IFMA and the FBPTA, the desired outcome is a more consistent approach to competency development in the workforce that leads to more sustainable buildings. This type of competency development model can be a foundation for building the next generation FM workforce. One of the early conversations about core competencies in federal facilities was the National Academies publication, Core Competencies for Federal Facilities Asset Management Through 2020, published in 2008. Through a request from the Federal Facilities Council of the NRC, BICE convened a committee given the task of helping ensure effective federal facilities management in the proceeding 15 years. In addition, the committee was asked to identify effective strategies and processes to ensure that the required core competencies for facility management personnel are developed and sustained. The report contains valuable information including the evaluation of academic and industry competencies and the creation of the strategy for workforce development. The committee members interviewed senior facility executives from several government agencies on their facility management needs and the competencies required to meet those needs. Key findings from the report included:

  • Significant reductions in the federal workforce through across-the-board cuts and hiring freezes have resulted in a workforce whose skills are not aligned with new technologies or business practices.
  • To ensure that core competencies are established and sustained, federal organizations need a comprehensive workforce development strategy.

These findings are not unique to the federal workforce and are pivotal to the continued development of the facility management industry. Another challenge to the facility management industry is an aging workforce. How do we transfer all that knowledge from the folks who have been managing our facilities and running our buildings for decades? As experienced personnel leave, their institutional knowledge of building history, unique customer needs, and building efficiencies will be lost unless efforts are made to capture that information.

Education Inertia

In the energy and sustainability arena, there is no industry agreement on what accreditations or training are acceptable or desired. As the energy and sustainability movement grew, so did the marketplace for education and today there are an unprecedented amount of education, certifications, and accreditations related to energy and sustainability. This inertia of standards and accreditations leads to a poorly defined industry and a lack of consistent training for the workforce. Without a clear definition of the skills, knowledge, and competencies required for the various workers in the building industry, training programs are unable to meet the true needs of the industry. How can we choose the most valuable training and build the next generation facility management workforce? The first step: understanding the knowledge and skills that the workforce truly needs through a job task analysis (JTA).

Competency-Based Training

Competency-based training uses resources such as a JTA to determine the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for an occupation and builds a training program around them. A JTA is a procedure for analyzing the tasks performed by individuals in an occupation, as well as the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform those tasks. Specifically, a JTA can be defined as “any systematic procedure for collecting and analyzing job-related information to meet a particular purpose” (Raymond 2001). Several JTA’s have been conducted for the facility manager role. The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) routinely conducts JTA’s to build their training and credentials with their most recent JTA for a facility manager completed in 2009 which outlines 11 FM core competencies. In 2011, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) tasked the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to complete JTA’s for several job categories, all related to the management of buildings. NREL facilitated the development of the JTAs for six (6) job categories (Operating engineer, Energy modeler, Facility manager, Energy/sustainability manager, Commissioning/retro-commissioning professional, Building energy auditor). The JTAs identified and cataloged all of the activities a worker performs for a given job, and determined the essential knowledge, skills, and abilities which define the minimum requirements necessary for an individual to adequately perform their job. This was a significant step because without a clear definition of the skills, knowledge, and competencies required for the various workers in federal workforce, training programs are unable to meet the true needs of the industry. The next step is to utilize the information from the JTA to identify core competencies and build a competency model. GSA took this next step and utilized the information from the DOE JTA’s when developing the core competencies for the federal workforce involved in management and operation of buildings. In 2012, GSA released the twelve Core Competency Areas, 43 Core Competencies, and 232 Performances. Additionally, GSA developed a competency model and mapped current industry training, curriculum, certificates, and certifications to the competencies and performances.

Applying the Competency Model Approach

The competency model approach used by IFMA and the FBPTA can be followed in the private sector. We all understand we need a skilled workforce that is up to date in trends and technologies, but how can we achieve this and build the next generation workforce? We need to integrate the industry-defined core competencies into the operating competencies in our facility management organizations. Integration of these competencies is the key to building the next generation workforce. Using the FBPTA competency model as an example, you can integrate these competencies in to your professional development plans and build your own workforce. An effective workforce strategy and an educated and skilled workforce have the potential to decrease operational savings and elevate the status of the facility management profession. Don’t reinvent the wheel, utilize the tools already out there, such as IFMA’s or the FBPTA core competencies to create your roadmap to a successful workforce strategy and attract and develop the workforce you need, the industry needs, and the buildings we manage need.

Facility Engineering Associates, P.C. (FEA)  is an engineering and facility management consulting firm supporting owners and managers of existing facilities. FEA was founded in 1992 on the principle that there is a better way to manage the built environment by balancing the challenges of providing a safe, secure, and healthy environment; maintaining an aging infrastructure; and improving how the FM organization operates. We help our clients improve the way they manage, operate, maintain, and fund the built environment to enable facilities that are safer, healthier, resilient, productive and cost-effective.

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