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Real Estate Technology & the Talent Shortage

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The talent shortage facing the facility management industry is significant. Industry leaders increasingly recognize the impact it may have on how buildings are operated. This was a popular topic at the annual Realcomm | IBcon event in June.

The industry trends are clear. IFMA reports that their average member age is 50.9 years old. RICS also has written extensively about this topic (with IFMA, in fact) and noted that it has more members that are over the age of 70 than under the age of 30 (see page 10, here). RICS also notes that only 15 percent of its members are under the age of 40. The key headline from all these organizations: the industry needs an influx of new talent. As a local example, in 2016 San Bernardino County had 3,200 open positions and only 32 qualified applicants in the field.

Due to expected growth in the industry, the problem may get worse before it gets better. While it’s hard to find job growth projections specifically for Facilities Management, many of the core roles within the industry are tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For example, HVACR installers and mechanics are expected to see a 15 percent rise in employment from 2016 to 2026. This is over twice the expected growth for all employment, and installers/mechanics generally. Similarly, property, real estate and community managers, a category that includes a wide range of building types, is expected to grow 10 percent over the same time period. The category for janitors and cleaners is also expected to grow by 10 percent. All of these, and other building and facility roles, are outpacing the broader economy.

While the fast growth in the industry may attract new talent, a number of leading firms and other groups are making their own investments to mitigate the talent shortage. Johnson Controls, for example, has written a white paper on the topic, focuses on hiring military retirees and is investing in technical colleges. Additionally, ABM is funding an effort by the IFMA Foundation to mitigate the growing talent gap. The IFMA foundation is also partnering with California Community Colleges to offer facilities management as a career pathway.

At IBcon 2019, our panel, Building a SMART BUILDING TEAM – Navigating in a Skills Shortage Environment, discussed the state of affairs and also profiled a few innovative firms that are thriving in this talent-short environment. A few of the most notable points included:

  • Younger staff want to work in more advanced buildings. Older staff may be more resistant, especially when technology is first deployed. There may be an opportunity to attract new talent with investments in smart buildings (which will also pay off in other ways).

  • Panelists noted that they had to get creative to hire staff. In many cases, they tried to describe a type of role that might fit well in building/facility management but wasn’t close enough to it to ensure that staff will naturally apply for jobs. Reinforcing the point above, one panelist mentioned former members of the military making great hires in facility management.

  • A key focus is on training. On one hand, staff may realize that training makes them more valuable, which opens up other job opportunities and exacerbates the shortage. But panelists agreed that it is more important to ensure that staff is aware of new tools and technologies to do their jobs.
One emerging question is the impact that smart building technology has on the talent shortage. Modern technology may attract a younger, tech-savvy population to join the industry. But technology may also reduce the need for staff. Both scenarios (which are not mutually exclusive) may reduce the severity of a talent shortage. Panelists did mention that they think building management will increasingly fall under the IT group, which may accelerate the adoption of tech. Specifically, IT professionals typically are more seasoned software buyers and may have larger budgets for procurements. It may also lead some traditional IT professionals to begin acquiring these technologies without direct input from the facilities team.

This all aligns with a recent article in Canada’s Financial Post stating that technology will disrupt the current roles of some workers, but will have the capability to mitigate the impacts of a talent shortage. This is an important industry issue to watch, though there is some good news: the discussion has moved from “Will the tech steal my job?” to “Can technology help make me more efficient and focus on high-value tasks?” This is a step in the right direction.

Joseph Aamidor, Managing Director, Aamidor Consulting
Joseph Aamidor is an experienced product leader and expert in smart buildings, real estate technology and facility operations. He provides product and market strategy guidance to building owners/operators, established building management firms, technology providers, investors, and early-stage innovators. Previously, he served as Director of Product at Lucid Design Group and was a product manager at Johnson Controls.

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