In a recent High Reliability podcast, we discussed education and degrees. 

Specifically, is a 4-year degree necessary for success in leadership positions in healthcare facility management?  It is a relevant topic as baby boomers retire and finding replacement talent becomes more difficult in a shrinking employee market. 

This article, which concludes next week in Part II, provides a look at some of the questions surrounding FM leadership and college degrees. The article is not meant to be exhaustive.

Part I: Where are we in 2021?

It is an active period in the healthcare facilities management job market. 

Jobs are open. Long-term employees are retiring. Employees change jobs more quickly than they did in the past. Counter-offers to applicants accepting new jobs are abundant. Northern-tier candidates are increasingly looking south to the warmth. Organizations are being ghosted by people to whom they made a job offer, meaning that after an offer of employment is made to a candidate, the candidate doesn’t reply. They go silent. 

It is a crazy time in the market.

When we begin a recruitment project, one of the first questions we ask our clients relative to their facility management opportunity, is a college degree required?

As recruiters in healthcare facilities, we increasingly see organizations requiring a college degree. If the candidate does not have a degree, working towards the degree may help in the hiring process.  Some organizations asking for a degree will consider years of experience and certifications in place of the degree. Increasingly these situations are fewer and fewer.

I don’t believe the answer to the degree/no degree question is black or white; if it is, it should not be. The market does not support a black or white answer. There is nuance. But if you forced me to answer, I would say no; a degree is not needed for success. 

Increasingly, I feel I am swimming upriver with my opinion.  

Part II: The sea changed

I am sympathetic to the plight of the non-degreed, mid-to-late-career facility professional. 

If they graduated high school in the late 1970s, ’80s, or even the early ’90s, the college degree was not the end-all/be-all that it has become. High school graduates from those decades could have entered a trades or vocational program, or gone into their families established construction or MEP/HVAC business, and begun to make money. Over time, their paychecks increased, and leadership opportunities appeared for them. Their career grew. Meanwhile, their contemporaries toiled in college, accumulated debt, and perhaps sought a career path that was difficult to establish.

Maybe the now 45+ year-old professional got married and had children. Life intruded. Why get a degree when your career is advancing, and money can be allocated to other priorities?

But times and generations change. Now, often the degree is a minimum criterion for entry into facilities leadership. As a result, we observe facility management professionals with more than 20 years of trades and facilities leadership experience being removed from consideration for lack of a degree.

Is it fair? No. But fairness is not required in life or the job market. 

Already I can sense some readers thinking to themselves, “I got my degree, raised a family, and worked full-time, all at the same time.” Indeed, some did, and they should be applauded. It is a difficult accomplishment, and their hard work should not be minimized in this discussion.  

I think it comes down to value judgments. We all make them. Some people pay landscapers for their yard care; they would instead allocate their time elsewhere. I would no more pay a landscaper than I would stick my hand under a rotating mower blade. That’s my value judgment. I enjoy the therapeutic aspects of outdoor work, the cutting, planting, care-taking, and wins and losses that come with it.

I believe the education question is similar, perhaps not so dire as placing my hand under a moving blade: Where do I want to spend my time and money? We all make individual decisions as to what we value. 

Then we deal with the consequences of those value judgments. For example, if in the 1990s a professional decided to continue with their career and not go to college, they are now dealing with the repercussions of that decision. Thirty years ago, they may not have envisioned the increasingly harmful repercussions to career advancement. In 2021 it is a factor.

Next week’s article looks at some of those ramifications.  

Listen to the High Reliability education podcast with Steve, Jason, and Cory

“To degree or not to degree” is available for your listening pleasure. Three guests joined to discuss the topic:

  • Steve Spaanbroek, CEO and Owner of MSL Healthcare Partners, Inc., a firm the assists healthcare organizations improve their physical environments and improve patient outcomes.
  • Jason Tate, Director of Plant Operations at MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces, NM.
  • Cory Majszak, Director of Facility Operations at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI. St. Luke’s is part of Advocate Aurora Health, a system based in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Listen to the podcast (link below) and send your thoughts to

G/MA Nuggets

1) We have many open job opportunities for your viewing pleasure…

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2) Watch the News in 5 for June…it’s our unbiased look at the month in FM, in less than 5 minutes!

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3) Get caught up on all of our High Reliability podcasts, there are 28 for your listening pleasure

High Reliability Podcasts

4) Sign up for our free Lunch & Learn Webinar, Optimize your Career. It is the second offering in our Healthcare Facility Professional’s Toolbox series of Lunch & Learns. See the registration link below

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