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FM Pipeline Goes Online to Reach High School Students During Pandemic

By Jim Zirbel

Nearly half of all facility managers are in line to retire in the next 10 years, while formal programs for new entrants have actually declined for lack of a pipeline to fuel them. So how can the profession attract new talent? Enter The Facilithon, a high school springboard competition in facility management. Fostered by the FM Pipeline Team (a 501c3 organization), the Facilithon program is a competitive event that engages, enlightens, and energizes high school students to become facility managers. 

The FM Pipeline team didn’t want that vital effort to hit the pause button because of the pandemic. So in mid-March 2020, the FM Pipeline team announced that its Facilithon competition had moved on-line. The team’s innovation allows students, including those in any cancelled hands-on events, to compete in The Facilithon remotely at flexible times where SkillsUSA leadership allows. The Facilithon is a state-level FM competition in SkillsUSA, the nation's fastest-growing career- technical student association. 

Brent Kindred, SkillsUSA WI state director, says of the development, “I’m impressed with the FM Pipeline Team’s visionary thinking to advance the mission of the Facilithon competition in SkillsUSA.”

The FM Pipeline team customized a pair of applications to run the competition in its original quiz and role-play format to beat the threat of event cancellation. Facility managers who run big buildings are flexible and quickly adapt to challenges like this, so co-workers can still do their jobs. In fact, it's a good bet most of Facilithon’s high school competitors already had this fix in mind. In Facilithon’s FM Challenge, students work through emergencies just like this; it’s their favorite part of the competition.

There is a serious skills gap in managing the built environment. The FM Pipeline team aimed to do something radical on a scaled basis, so that more facility professionals could enter the workforce trained from schools that teach it rather than unprepared as most do now. The high school-level Facilithon program serves as a primary source for scholarship, internship, job shadow, and direct-hire programs in need of undergraduate applicants. Since inception, the program, running in Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, and Virginia, has enlightened over 8,000 high school students to facility management, engaged over 350 competitors, and awarded 36 scholarships for future facility managers.  

A scant two weeks after Facilithon went online, all the SkillsUSA (400,000 students) CTSO events had been cancelled and the Facilithon program became the only industry-driven competition to remain running in the United States. Given the need for student engagement throughout the United States, the team shared the opportunity to use Facilithon-online to offset the loss of most competitions this year. This allowed the addition of California and Kansas and potential opportunities in additional states this summer and fall. 

Volunteer groups responded positively. “Online judging really allows FMs with limited time the ability to participate, give back to our profession and share their knowledge with our next generation,” says Gary McKelvey, Virginia and Washington, D.C., program champion. 

“I am excited that chapter leaders and members can now get involved in ways that were previously not an option!” says Todd Greenwald, local IFMA chapter president.

“If I were an advisor, having my student participate in the Facilithon remotely solves our problem today and allows my students to tap into a greater resource in the future,” says Rich Fanelli, Facilithon national content coordinator.

The team that deciphered the next-generation code has actually grown due the recent COVID-19 pandemic. "While other programs may go dark, the Facilithon-online embodies our mission of engaging, enlightening and energizing the next gen of FM through the very innovation that facility managers expect," says Sharon Harrington, FM Pipeline Team's secretary. 

The FM Pipeline Team has recently seated an advisory board, naming several industry professionals to their expanding team. Now that the program has expanded, their leadership is engaging companies who hire facility employees and vendors who need to lock their brand in before the next generation comes on-line.

Jim Zirbel is co-director of Facilithon. To become a Facilithon industry, college or chapter partner, contact the FM Pipeline Team at 612-426-7227, facilithon@gmail.com or go to www.fmpipipeline.org to learn more.






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posted on 6/8/2020