Many of us know the feeling of spending our workday “putting out fires.” But for facilities professional Tona Khau, sometimes it’s more than just a colorful expression.
“In facilities management, emergencies come up a lot — water is leaking inside the building or the fire alarm is going off,” said Tona, who oversees 24 buildings as the facilities specialist for Sno-Isle Libraries, a two-county library system. “You don’t always know what's going to happen, but you have to be prepared to resolve it. We are solution architects.”
The role of a facility manager requires more than just handling the crisis du jour, however. It’s an increasingly complex job that requires the ability to develop and execute major projects, plan for the long term and anticipate potential problems.
Tona knew that understanding this higher-level, systems-focused approach would require a strong commitment to career development. She found the perfect way to make this happen with the
Certificate in Facility Management program at the University of Washington.
In Her Own Words
Tona Khau talks about how the Certificate in Facility Management gave her the skillset and depth of knowledge she needed to thrive in her career.
Play A Rapidly Evolving Field
A facility manager is responsible for just about everything related to building operations and maintenance — heating and cooling, roofing, plumbing, fire systems, security systems, landscaping, janitorial, vendor management and much more. Taking the certificate program allowed Tona to understand how everything fit together.
“It gave me a solid foundation and helped me connect the dots,” she said. “We were doing a lot of tactical things, but I wanted to have an overall picture, a more strategic view of my job, and I feel that's what the program has given me.”
Tona also gained cutting-edge knowledge in a field that embraces the latest technology and forward-thinking strategies.
“We have one of the most advanced analytics, energy management and automated fault detection and diagnostic systems, which optimizes building performance and reduces energy consumption,” she said. ”This system pinpoints where faults are occurring and allows us to take immediate action.”
One of the more significant recent areas of emphasis in the industry is sustainability, including green building, renewable energy and efficiency measures. This topic is the focus of the
third course in the program. It’s something Tona feels strongly about.
“Sno-Isle Libraries is seen as a leader in sustainable practices,” she said. “Thirteen of our libraries have single-stream recycling and composting programs, and we adopted green janitorial cleaning and chemical-free landscaping. Those things are very important, not only to us staff but also our taxpayers — that we're being environmentally conscious and good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
One of the most important career steps for a facility management professional is getting certified by the International Facility Management Association. The UW certificate program covers the 11 competencies that make up the IFMA Learning System, which prepares graduates to become officially certified through IFMA.
The UW program gave me a lot of connections, which is very useful. It’s given me a powerful voice in the industry.
After completing her certificate at the UW, Tona went on to earn her Facility Management Professional and her Sustainability Facility Professional credentials from IFMA. “The certificate gave me an advantage when I studied for my credentials because I already had the background,” Tona said. “It gave me an upper hand in terms of finishing the credentials more quickly and successfully.”
Those who earn their certification are in demand in this
fast-growing field, as the Puget Sound area experiences a building boom. "Everywhere there's a building, we need a facility manager to manage the operations and maintenance of that built environment," Tona noted. Becoming a Leader and Mentor
Tona is not just focused on her own career — she’s become inspired to take more of a leadership role in the field and give back. She joined the IFMA Seattle Chapter board and, as co-chair of the programs committee, plans monthly “Lunch and Learn” events that bring together industry professionals from all over the region.
“The UW program gave me a lot of connections, which is very useful,” Tona said. “It’s given me a powerful voice in the industry. It helped me springboard to the IFMA board, where I'm able to use my voice to advocate for programs and help make a difference.”
She’s also been invited to appear on national podcasts and at different industry events, including a panel discussion about women in the field. Tona has embraced her role as a mentor in this area.
“As a woman in facilities management, I’m very passionate about women entering this industry,” she said. “The perception of facilities management has changed. Before, it was seen as a male-dominated industry. More women are entering the industry now, and they’re making great impacts. We’re changing the landscape of how facilities management is viewed.”
In the end, Tona’s passion for the job is the best recruitment tool there is.
“I love my job because I’m presented with new challenges every day,” she said. “Facilities management is never mundane, because there’s always another challenge, another opportunity. And I’ve grown professionally and as a person from these experiences.”