FaciliThon Aims To Draw High School Students Into Facility Management Careers
When the launch of FaciliThon, a program to draw young people into facility management, was being planned, Jim Zirbel expected the initial event to draw three to five high school students as participants. Instead, after a strong outreach effort, the inaugural FaciliThon competition attracted 20 participants.
FaciliThon is the brainchild of a group of committed volunteer members of the IFMA chapter in Madison, Wisc. They recognized the need to attract new blood into facility management. To do that, they partnered with SkillsUSA, an international organization with 350,000 members in the United States that helps to give students a vision of careers in industry and technology.
A key to the SkillsUSA approach is competitions on the district, regional, state and national levels. According to Zirbel, 73 percent of students who enter a competition ultimately go to work in a related field. Students may be in high school, a two- or four- year degree program, the military, or other areas.
The FaciliThon was the first SkillsUSA comptetion to focus on facility management. It was put together by a volunteer team of IFMA Madison chapter members, all of whom had a passion for bringing young people into the field but were not currently heavily involved in chapter activities. They wanted to share their experience and they wanted a challenge. FaciliThon tempted them with “the irresistible elixir of mentorship,” says Zirbel, who is co-director of the FM Pipeline Team, the volunteer organization that created the FaciliThon.
To get high school students interested, the FaciliThon volunteer team members talked about attributes that students could relate to, rather than specific skills that facility managers develop. The volunteers painted a picture of a job requiring people who like thinking on their feet and problem solving, who enjoy working with people and tackling a variety of challenges.
The FaciliThon competition has three elements: a 50-question multiple choice test, a five-minute prepared role playing exercise, and a two-minute FM challenge. The latter is based on a facility management emergency — for example, the fire alarm is sounding and someone has just called to say that water is spraying all over the gym. The students are given three minutes to look at the problem, and then two minutes to answer three questions: What action would they take? What resources would they use? What would they suggest to eliminate the problem or reduce the risk or negative consequences of it occurring again? The students participating in FaciliThon “loved” the FM challenge, says Zirbel.
The winner of the FaciliThon event received a $1,400 scholarship for studying facility management or maintenance. An organization known as FM Pipeline is supporting efforts to make FacilitThon a national SkillsUSA event. FM Pipeline has developed a toolkit that can help chapters organize their own FaciliThon events. In addition, FM Pipeline has monthly conference calls with FaciliThon organizing groups to answer questions, and offers other resources as well.
Zirbel believes that the FaciliThon event can easily be replicated by other chapters of IFMA and other volunteer organizations. Because the competition was a “paper event,” the total cost of the program, including the scholarship, was $2,000. The event was promoted at SkillsUSA conferences and within high schools. Other chapters can follow the organizational model used by the Madison group, which involves a chapter champion, an event manager, and a team made up of past chapter officers, retirees, and other chapter members who don’t attend regular meetings.
Even as a national event, however, FaciliThon will operate at the local level. The local chapters will be able “to see the outcome of their input,” says Zirbel. The local chapter members will get to see the students who are involved, will know the scholarship recipients, and eventually will be able to hire program participants.