Maintenance Department Promotions or New Employee: How's that Candidate Pool Looking?

Ask any maintenance technician how they ended up in their current position and inevitably there will be a statement similar to: “I kind of fell into it”. In other words, this job is not one that often lends itself to being a “destination” type career. How often is there a booth at a Career Fair advertising the apartment maintenance field?

Similar to the upkeep required on a swimming pool, a technician’s knowledge requires constant tending. I’m not just talking about new hires either. Even after a maintenance technician is hired and working, often they are provided limited learning opportunities.

A frequent question asked in class is: how many have attended a vocational education program such as an electrical class or an HVAC school? The response is always very low, usually less than 5 percent per class. When this line of questioning is pursued, the answers can be disturbing.

The next question asked is: how did you learn what you know?

Here are some abbreviations of replies and their translations:

• OJT (On the Job Training):  This means that the person learned the shortcut(s) that their predecessor used. Place that technician in a little different situation such as a different brand of appliance than they learned on. Can they still perform the troubleshooting and repair?
• IWS (I Watched Somebody): This type is less structured or organized than OTJ training where a technician just follows someone and watches the task completed. The tech is then expected to remember and retain each part of the task.
• HAC (Helped a Contractor): When a contractor is hired to do a job, a maintenance technician can learn that repair so that next time the task can be completed “in house”.
• SIYT (Saw it on YouTube): I have actually seen training programs that use this one all the time. Instead of sending their technicians to any structured learning class, the property has their maintenance technicians look up problems on YouTube for solutions. (This one is potentially the most dangerous. Think using “Americas Funniest Home Videos” to teach your child how to hit a ball. OUCH!!!)
• LIUG (Looked it up on Google): Self-explanatory.

For hiring or promotional purposes, how can we determine a technician’s knowledge in a meaningful way? Here are some possibilities:

• CAMT (Certificate for Apartment Technician) - This is currently the only ANSI approved credential for the entire apartmentiIndustry. It is based on skills standards that are evaluated on a regular basis as being relevant to the position in our industry. This means that passing this test requires knowledge and familiarity with the requirements to perform as a maintenance technician.

• Internal skills testing - It’s fair to say that I have mixed feelings about this one. I do believe that this can be a valid method for determining technical knowledge depending on the test. The issue is that I’ve reviewed several of them and found wrong or misleading questions. If your property has a hiring test, look to see how many “opinion” type questions are on it. (Look for questions that start similar to: “What is the best way to…” or “What is most important when…”). Make sure that there is a verifiable source of the one correct answer for each question.

• Job Shadowing - This is a great way to find out the skill level of a candidate. Have the candidate shadow a technician performing repairs in a vacant apartment. (I’m not sure it’s wise for a non-employee to go into an occupied apartment.) Alternatively, if you have a couple of appliances that are broken in the shop, have the candidate troubleshoot them. For promotional purposes, have the employee shadow the person currently doing that job as a part of the interview process.

• References - If the candidate is already part of the apartment industry, it’s probable that one of your supplier sales representatives or contractors have met them or someone who knows them. This works for current employees ready for promotion as well as new hires.

The thought process posted here is one that raises questions for both maintenance technicians and those in a leadership role for a Maintenance Department:

For the Leader: How’s the candidate pool for promotions and new hire’s at your community looking? When was the last time that chemicals were added to your candidate pool (new knowledge added to your current maintenance staff)?  What plans are in place to add water to the pool (how will you replace employees that are lost due to promotion)?

For the Current Maintenance Technician: Are you swimming in the pool and making progress - functioning at a good level, learning regularly? Treading water? Just barely keeping pace with what is required, and not expanding knowledge at all. Or drowning? (Glub… Glub…)

See you somewhere…


Follow me on Twitter at @maintmanpaul.