Tips to address maintenance staffing challenges

A January 2019 poll conducted by Commercial Property Executive revealed that 50% of company recruiting efforts would be focused on educational institutions and other external industry resources.

Christin Daniels
Marketing and sales strategist, BuyersAccess

If you are struggling to recruit and retain facilities management positions at your company, you are not alone. Denver’s erupting growth is making property management staffing a challenge, particularly in facilities management. And it’s not slowing down anytime soon. Fierce competition exists between firms to keep current maintenance personnel, as well as trying to fill available positions. With a 2.6% unemployment rate in Denver, employees can find other companies to work for faster than ever. The consequences of turnover and maintenance challenges are at an all-time high and taking a hard look at employee satisfaction to minimize turnover is crucial.

Today’s forecast. Colorado’s recent Growth and Education Report concluded demand for skilled labor will continue to grow year over year, reaching 18%, adding 18,975 available positions through 2028. Higher-level positions also will become vacant as the baby boomer generation retires without suitable skilled candidates to replace them. Based on these realities, hiring and retaining competent personnel is more crucial than ever. Can your organization keep entry-level recruits long enough to fill the gaps and train up?

“We can replace them.” A disposable mentality as it relates to keeping and developing maintenance talent is highly contaminating. Higher levels of turnover lower morale and are contagious. Retaining good maintenance personnel requires attention to a variety of issues: compensation, benefits, incentives and overall satisfaction, to name a few. Overall, the property management industry has increased its efforts to retain existing talent, focusing on a healthy culture, intentionally increasing job satisfaction and making opportunities for growth more accessible. These initiatives have paid off for many, though some continue to struggle.

Stop turnover in its tracks. Companies can minimize the risk of turnover if they remain realistic and open to new thought leadership and pay attention to emerging trends. Initiating employee satisfaction surveys to allow the team to give leadership feedback can keep companies abreast of potential issues. Consistent feedback and transparency keep direct supervisors accountable and prevents toxic environments. The age-old saying that “people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses” is a reality, and one your company can avoid.

So, why do people leave? Many service professionals take pride in their work and execute at a high level. When unable to make repairs promptly, their confidence and reputation suffer. Whether intentional or not, challenges causing delayed repairs, long approval processes, lack of team members, restricting resources or overly aggressive budgets chip away at their pride in their work. These challenges exist elsewhere, so why do personnel still leave their current companies?

Maintenance technicians are required to be “on call” causing them to report on weekends and odd hours. Prohibiting overtime pay for these team members is discouraging. When company policy makes them take “time off in the same pay period,” instead, the effected team member question whether she is valued at the organization. Pay is another barrier to entry for outside industry professionals to enter the property management landscape. They can’t afford the pay cut! PayScale data reports Denver median pay for experienced, nonmanagerial maintenance technicians in Denver is $17.78 per hour. In the same report, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning specific positions of the same level make an average of $25.81 per hour. Which would you prefer?

New talent pipelines. Fortunately, local and national industry leaders have been proactive about maintenance job sourcing. A January 2019 poll conducted by Commercial Property Executive asked property management companies where they planned to recruit the most talent from in 2019. The poll revealed that 50% of company recruiting efforts were going to focus on educational institutions and other external industry resources. Previous efforts have been mostly through recycled turnover within the industry.

Property management focused programs are being developed in the private sector in response to the talent need. For example, the “Careers Building Communities” program is an interactive web resource that matches skill sets to interests and provides different examples of career paths for the prospects to explore. Over 29 real estate organizations are involved in the project. Association programs like the Institute of Real Estate Management’s Risk Management and Maintenance certificate and the maintenance apprenticeship program at the Apartment Association of Metro Denver also are resources for filling job vacancies.

Final thoughts. Recruitment without retention is counterintuitive. Talent development must be a focus for companies along with supportive leadership to reduce turnover. Recruitment efforts at industry organizations, associations and institutions have been developed. Strategically, the industry is well-positioned to take on the staffing challenges for maintenance that lie ahead; however, it’s an inside job for the company to retain talent without losing them to a competing firm that will make all the difference.

Featured in CREJ’s January 2020 Property Management Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.