Staff development and training

What you need to know to bridge the gap between employee education / experience and changing job requirements

July 2018 — Among the most important factors in the successful administration of a facility management department is staff development and training. The ideal for facility managers is a department that can handle any situation on time, within budget, and with courtesy and style. Achieving and maintaining this ideal requires time and sustained effort. It takes time to fully appreciate your staff’s capabilities and limitations and to fully understand the scope of a facility staff job. It takes effort on everyone’s part to adapt his or her skills to support the facility, its occupants, and the work.

When it comes to training, there’s a common fallacy that “once trained is fully trained.” Training is an ongoing, life-long process. Repetitive training is useful in filling in the gaps that were missed the first time around. Higher-level training adds to one’s knowledge base. Training for training’s sake is of little value. Beware of “cold storage training,” that is, training given well in advance of when it will be applied. Much of the training and insights will be lost if opportunities are not given to incorporate the training right away back on the job.

Appropriate Types of Training

Because the scope of facility management is so broad, the scope of appropriate training is correspondingly broad. The type of training you choose should depend on the core, management, and technical competencies you have established; the skill level of your staff; and the needs of the facility. New departments and established operations will require different types of training. For example, a newly formed group may need training that focuses on issues of team building and interpersonal communication skills. Other training may focus on the technical areas currently necessary to complete the work of the department.

Training courses often are the only practical way to bridge the gap between your staff’s education and changing job requirements. Courses on refrigeration, electronics, CAD systems, or other areas hone specialized skills your employees use on the job. Most likely, this is where you will need to focus your attention for your staff.

Training may cover a wide spectrum of subjects, including:

  • Departmental goals and objectives
  • Team building and team functioning
  • Management and supervisory skill development
  • Customer service and communications
  • Policy application
  • Technical matters of all sorts

Training in departmental goals and objectives is aimed at developing a clear sense of focus on the departmental mission.

Team building concentrates on mutual interaction and support among staff members. To ensure the success of these types of training, it is essential to use a high-quality training package and back up the training by systematic reinforcement on the job. The departmental manager must participate for this training to be meaningful and effective.

Management and supervisory skill development seminars are widely available. You should select a package that applies only to your situation and your company. You may want to select a product that can be customized to meet your needs. Removing trainees from their work environment and supervisors enables them to talk candidly with other trainees and seminar facilitators.

Customer service and communications training works as a rehearsal for interactions with your customers. Role-playing and simulated situations geared to your organizational culture and circumstances can be effective in helping trainees realize which of their habits and reactions are helpful and which are counterproductive. These techniques can also lead to developing new ways of interacting with other people. Sessions with employees of other companies provide interesting perspectives on how situations are handled in different work environments.

Policy application training presents a new policy, such as a new environmental regulation, space standards, or furniture allocations. Such training explains how to apply the policy in the field. For large, widely dispersed facility staff organizations with highly structured services, such sessions bring together the policy makers and the field operatives, who in many situations do not communicate with each other. This type of training assures deeper understanding of a policy document than can be achieved by merely reading a piece of paper.

Technical training is the type many facility managers and staff naturally favor, given their technical backgrounds. Literally thousands of such courses are available, from mastering computer software to improving window-cleaning methods. Highly results-oriented managers (a euphemism for those who want instant results) prefer this type of training because it provides the most direct, tangible, measurable results. Yet, it may be the least important in terms of the overall well-being of the facility management department. Training in departmental mission, management, and communication skills has a longer payback period because it is aimed at changing personal habits and attitudes rather than filling an employee’s head with more facts. It also produces more profound, sustained results if you are willing and able to wait for them.

Cross Training

Cross training is a recommended method of staff development for facility management, especially when one person may have to perform multiple functions. In athletics, it means that you prepare for and participate in multiple sports. In facility management, cross training means that you prepare for and participate in multiple facility management functions as part of your job—learning by doing. The cross training concept is at the very root of facility management. Nearly every facility manager in the business for any length of time develops in-depth knowledge in multiple areas. This is why it is so difficult to separate any one function from the others; facility management is a fully integrated business. For example, changing major components in an air-conditioning system typically requires the following disciplines and individuals:

  • Procurement to purchase the new unit
  • Shipping and receiving for material handling
  • All occupants—to provide notice of the activity
  • Facility management administrators to provide sufficient and adequate notice and to field complaints
  • Electrical to disconnect and reconnect the power
  • Telecommunications to disconnect the direct digital controls from the network and reconnect it, and a building automation technician to reprogram the controls
  • Refrigeration technician to disconnect and reconnect the refrigerant lines and to collect the old and install the new refrigerant
  • Plant safety to monitor containment of CFC refrigerant
  • Rigging to remove the old, heavy component and lift the new unit into place
  • Housekeeping to clean up after the installation

No doubt other functions have been overlooked. However, the current business climate may not encourage or permit facility management departments to employ specialists in all these areas. Consolidation of duties and skills is not an option, but a necessity. Two types of cross training exist: intra-departmental and interdepartmental.

Intra-Departmental Training

From a management perspective, intra-departmental training is essential. The more one knows about every other function that is performed within the department, the better. That global perspective is a valuable asset when the facility manager is seeking to grasp the big picture. The electrician and the refrigeration technician will each be trained in certain areas of the other’s trade. The electrician and the telecommunications installer will each be trained in certain areas of the other’s trade. The concept can be applied to any disciplines with overlapping and adjacent technical skills, but it is valid only with in-house staff. The result is a staff skilled in multiple areas, a department that can support complicated or large projects and provide redundancy for vacation times. Just remember, cross training can be achieved only in a union environment when agreements permit the same. The novice facility manager would learn very quickly about the grievance process if cross training were to be imposed upon members of different unions. Job protection is job number one in a union environment.

Interdepartmental Training

This is cross training with other departments. The mechanics cross train with the purchasing department, housekeeping cross trains with the shipping and receiving department, and so on. After cross training, the same replacement work on the air-conditioning system looks a little less cumbersome, illustrated below:

  • Building mechanic specifies and orders equipment
  • Facility management administrator provides notice and fields complaints
  • Building mechanic disconnects and reconnects electrical, telecommunications, and refrigeration; after reconnection, reprograms direct digital controls
  • Plant safety monitors containment of CFC refrigerant
  • Rigging lifts out old and places new unit
  • Housekeeping provides material handling and cleanup

You should be aware of your company’s philosophy about interdepartmental cross training, especially for managers. Some companies prefer this approach because it grooms managers for promotion and makes them well-rounded in the company’s overall operations. If this is the case, however, the facility management department may have to work diligently to retain staff in whom substantial training time and funding have been invested. It may be better to outsource the expertise you need in this situation.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s Fundamentals of Facilities Management course, part of the FMA designation program. More information regarding this course or BOMI International’s new High-Performance Sustainable Buildings credential (BOMI-HP™) is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,