Facilities management students must adapt

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    By Mark Nolte

    People”s work habits and work environments have changed, said a leader in the facilities management field.

    “It is changing so quickly that we must adapt,” said Sheila Sheridan, director of facilities and services at Harvard University”s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “You cannot stay in the vacuum of facilities management. You will be a dinosaur.”

    Sheridan spoke to BYU”s facilities management students and local professionals last Thursday Feb. 20 in the WSC Garden Court.

    Facilities management, an often overlooked major at BYU, is concerned with the diverse forms of interaction between people and the development and maintenance of the buildings they use.

    A facility manager in charge of an amusement park, for example, must oversee the security and landscaping of the park as well as the upkeep of the rides. A facility manager working for an airport, on the other hand, would place more emphasis on security, as well as directing the pedestrian traffic and possible parking lot development.

    “(Facilities Management) is a symphony; I consider myself a conductor,” Sheridan said. “That means I understand what needs to be in the orchestra. I can recognize the instruments. I know what they play, but I don”t know how to play them. That”s really the role of facilities management as it becomes general. We need to know how to support the built environment, but we”re not the specialists.”

    Jeffrey Campbell, BYU”s Facilities Management Department chair, said BYU students are “world class” in their field and Sheridan”s visit gave them a chance to interact with an expert.

    People”s perspectives of the workplace are changing because of technology and terrorism, said Sheridan, who is also the chairwoman of the International Facility Management Association board of directors.

    “The biggest opportunity (for change) has come since 9-11,” Sheridan said. “People have suddenly realized how important a safe environment is. Taking people and making sure they”re safe is a 24-hour job.”

    Sustainability, or the art of building and maintaining structures without harming the environment, is top on the list of issues that facilities management professionals grapple with, she said.

    “We have to continue to grow and develop as a species, but we can”t do that at the peril of our existing resources,” Campbell said after the seminar. “We have to manage our growth as we continue to grow globally.”

    Sheridan added, “We are no longer countries on a globe. We are one planet. Sustainability has no borders; what we do in our country is going to affect another.”

    Students studying facilities management now will enter a business that blurs the boundaries between technology, security and architecture. They can either react to the change or drive the change, Sheridan said.

    Sheridan is qualified to talk about “driving change.” She was the first woman to receive an administrative position in facilities management.

    “She has really exemplified a lot of the values that I have looked for in a role model in facilities management,” said Katie Cutler, 23, a senior from Dallas, Texas, who is one of the 10 female students in the facilities management program.

    Sheridan encouraged students to seek out colleagues in different fields if they cannot keep us with society”s rapid alterations. She said people will look to them to solve diverse problems related to building environments.

    “(Facilities management is) something that will affect every single person at work,” said David Case, 23, a senior from Phoenix, Ariz., majoring in facilities management who is BYU”s IFMA student chapter president. “Whether you are a scientist or an engineer, everyone is a customer in a building.”

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