About this series

This series of tutorial articles is a joint project of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering and Health Facilities Management.

A career day at a local high school may include doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, bankers and maybe even an engineer. But not many schools feature hospital facility managers or health care planning, design and construction professionals.


"We've flown under the radar for a long time," says Tim Adams, FASHE, CHFM, CHC, director of leadership development at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE). "Most people who are currently in the field didn't really follow a defined career path — they either worked their way up through health care facilities or came from another industry."

But attracting young people to the field is increasingly important as many senior leaders prepare to retire. A 2012 salary survey by Health Facilities Management and ASHE found that 40 percent of managers were older than 55 — an increase from 35 percent in the 2009 survey. As this aging workforce enters retirement, there will be a greater need for developing succession plans.

Developing the next generation of health care facility professionals is a complex task that involves a wide range of activities such as exposing young people to the field, ensuring that college students receive the knowledge and experience they need to succeed, furthering the career of current facility professionals and helping hospitals to prepare succession plans that will leave them well-situated when experienced leaders leave.

Preparing young people

ASHE's President-elect Philip C. Stephens, CPE, CHFM, FASHE, recently visited a high school to present information about the field.

He asked students whether they've ever considered what protects a hospital against fire, where the air conditioning comes from, what happens when a hospital loses commercial power or how surgical instruments are sterilized. He noted that facility professionals have a very important job: keeping critical systems running to protect vulnerable patients in hospitals.

"Without us, the hospital would shut down," Stephens says. "They never thought about that. They were enthralled."

Students also are drawn to the high salaries that many facility managers earn. The 2012 salary survey found that facility managers earned an average of more than $95,000 a year, with bonuses topping $8,000. Professionals responsible for construction and projects averaged salaries of more than $110,000 a year with bonuses of nearly $15,000.

The health care facility field can be attractive to students with a wide variety of interests. Students who are more interested in technical careers can become an HVAC technician, electrician, carpenter or develop another technical skill through community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeship programs. These skills are also very much in demand in health care.

For those who want a degree, several colleges have begun offering programs related to health care facilities. ASHE is working with some institutions to help develop curricula to ensure that students are learning skills needed in the real world. They include:

Owensboro (Ky.) Community & Technical College. The school is establishing a two-year associate degree program in health care facilities leadership. Classes are expected to start in January and all classes will be available online.

Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. The university's department of building construction management offers a bachelor's degree in building construction management with a health care specialty.

Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. The university's bachelor's degree in facility and property management includes optional health care courses.

Other colleges and universities are considering new health care specialties in existing programs or new degree programs in health care, according to Adams. "Universities are seeing that there's an opportunity here," he says. "And there are going to be more opportunities in the future as our seasoned, experienced leaders are retiring."

In addition to helping universities create appropriate programs, ASHE also works directly with college students. Each year, college students from several universities attend the ASHE Annual Conference and the International Summit & Technical Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction. Students participate in the conference, learn about the industry, compete in a student challenge and conduct research projects.

Transitioning to work

Internships are a valuable tool to help college students transition to the field. ASHE has teamed up with Schneider Electric, Palatine, Ill., to expand an internship program that provides students real-world experience before they apply for jobs. Several hospitals and universities participate in the program.

Some college students working on degrees not specific to health care may land paid internships in hospitals and learn about new options for their degree. That has been the case for several interns with whom ASHE has worked in the past, according to Adams. "Health care really wasn't on the horizon until they did an internship," he says. "Then they fell in love with the work we do and our mission. It's resonated with a lot of students."

For Brittany Griner, a Purdue University graduate who recently interned with Advocate Health Care, Downers Grove, Ill., the internship helped her land a job as an assistant manager of plant operations and maintenance in an Illinois hospital. "I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for ASHE's sponsoring those internships," Griner says. "I know that for a fact."
Hospitals also benefit from hosting interns.

"Hosting interns is an effective way to recruit highly qualified and talented students who may take on a permanent position at the hospital in the future," says Stacy Kimbell, health care segment market manager for Schneider. "In addition, interns free up employees' time to focus on pressing projects, and also lend a fresh perspective from enthusiastic, talented, and technology-savvy young people. These interns are excited to work for an organization whose mission is to help people heal, while learning real-life skills from an experienced facility manager."

Certification and education

Attracting young people to health care facility management is an important part of succession planning, but it is also critical to help advance the careers of those already working in the field so they are prepared to take on new roles as senior leaders retire.

Certifications such as the Certified Healthcare Constructor (CHC) and Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM) designations are among the ways facility professionals can demonstrate their expertise. The programs have three components: eligibility requirements that blend education and experience, a certification exam and a renewal requirement.

Those who have earned the CHC and CHFM designations are considered the elite of the field, and they also tend to earn greater salaries. The 2012 salary survey found that CHFMs earned an average of $10,000 more than other facility management professionals. More information about these programs is available at www.aha.org/certifcenter, and information about preparation classes is available at www.ashe.org/learn.

To advance to more senior positions, such as vice president of facilities, professionals need more than technical expertise and management skills. Communication skills also are vital, according to Adams. "They're going to need to be able to communicate with organizational leadership at the C-level," he says. "They need to develop very good communication and business skills to go along with the other skills they may have."

The senior (SASHE) and fellow (FASHE) programs at ASHE help to move members toward improving their communication skills. Both FASHE and SASHE recipients must contribute to the field through published articles, research or presentations. More information about the FASHE and SASHE programs is available at www.ashe.org/about/designations.

Finding a mentor also can help. Stephens, FMG/senior specialist at Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte, N.C., says that if he had a senior mechanic come to him and say, "Someday I want your job," he would sit down with him and outline what it takes. Understanding the requirements needed to advance, planning to gain those experiences, and creating a timeline can turn goals into reality.

"You have to have a plan," Stephens says.

Creating a plan

While the health care facility field works to develop a pipeline of qualified, experienced professionals, hospitals must do the same thing for their own positions. Succession planning is a critical component of facility planning and can make a huge difference when someone retires or leaves.

If a hospital has a detailed succession plan, there may be someone in the wings prepared and ready to move into a new role when a position opens. In this case, filling a vacant position could take as little as a week, Stephens says. If a hospital hasn't done proper succession planning, the process could linger for a year.

"I've seen positions stay open for a year and the department loses a tremendous amount of continuity and productivity in the meantime," Stephens says. "Things just stop."

Creating a succession plan involves several departments. Stephens says the first step is for facility leaders to work with the human resources department to review job positions and determine whether they make sense.

Once job descriptions are accurate and up-to-date, leaders should look at all the positions in their department and consider the hard and soft skills needed for each one. Consider the incumbents currently holding the jobs: What are their goals? How long will they be around? Would they fit well into a larger role? Are there people ready to take their places?

"You can look at every position and develop a gap analysis," Stephens says. "Then you start working out how you are going to fill these positions."

Stephens wrote a detailed article showing how to develop succession plans in the first quarter 2012 edition of Inside ASHE magazine, which is available to members on the ASHE website. Stephens said the best health care organizations do the following when succession planning:

  • Obtain buy-in from the C-suite;
  • Look at future health care trends;
  • Develop a formal succession planning program;
  • Attract, recruit, retain and mentor the next generation;
  • Develop upward mobility for the best of the best in the organization.

A robust plan

By planning for the future, hospitals and health facilities professionals can ensure that the health care physical environment will continue to be a safe, healing one for patients. Creating a robust succession plan keeps a hospital humming even when senior leaders leave. "Every hospital has its own idiosyncrasies, and you want people who understand how that hospital works so you can quickly help when something goes wrong," Stephens says.
Based on the demographics of the field, more and more retirements are on the horizon and succession planning is more important now than ever.

Deanna Martin is senior communications specialist for the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. She can be reached at dmartin@aha.org.

Sidebar - Joining ASHE's internship program

The American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) is working on several projects to generate interest in the field as part of the organization's strategic imperative on succession planning.

For instance, ASHE's committees are developing materials for high school career days — along with information for guidance counselors, career centers and other resources — so that health care facility jobs can be represented along with other options.

One key initiative is ASHE's internship program. Some basic requirements for hospitals interested in hosting interns, as well as information for students interested in the program, include:

Host hospitals. The internship program is available to health care organizations that employ members of ASHE. ASHE supplies resources to host organizations and provides two e-learning courses to train interns. Schneider Electric, Palatine, Ill., will offer its Energy University online courses free.

ASHE helps with interviews but host organizations conduct their own final interviews and select their desired candidates. An ASHE member will serve as the student's manager-mentor and serve as the primary resource for the intern.

Students. Internships are open to juniors and seniors in undergraduate study programs and all levels of graduate students. Full-time positions are available for three- to four-month time slots.

Most internships take place during summer months, but other opportunities may be arranged. Most internships are paid and are available nationwide. College credit may be granted for internships, but students should check with their academic institutions for further details.

More information on the internship initiative can be accessed online at www.ashe.org/internship.