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Bidding for Today’s Employees: Going, Going, Gone

Apartment Industry Employment
December 2018

With hiring in such great demand, companies fret over offer turn-downs and no-shows.

The national unemployment rate continues to drop and the ripple effect continues. News regarding the economy’s upswing and dropping unemployment rates are heard on every channel; the latest being September’s 2018 unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. The boom in the economy combined with the strong job market has resulted in a shortage of skilled onsite personnel across the board.

From our perspective as an owner of both a national executive search firm and temporary staffing agencies in 20+ states focused on the rental housing industry, the candidate pool of skilled trades is diminishing as more people retire from the industry rather than enter it. This especially affects maintenance and construction positions at all levels.

Several national property management companies confirm this trend and share their experiences and solutions.

Pinnacle is the third-largest property management company in America with a portfolio of over 165,000 units and 4,100 team members. Erinn Cassidy, Vice President of Human Resources at Pinnacle, states that there has been a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in candidate turn-downs, mostly because of counteroffers from their current employer, with an additional 5 percent of candidates requesting an increase in the offer based on the counteroffer from their current employer.

At this time, finding and hiring qualified maintenance candidates are the biggest employment challenges for Pinnacle. Cassidy says that it will continue to be challenging to find and hire top talent in the industry given the low unemployment rate in the country. To overcome the trend, they have increased compensation for some positions, enhanced their 401(k) plan, added a stay bonus for properties that are selling and when the situation requires it, offer a sign on bonus for the right candidate. Pinnacle works to educate their managers to look at transferable skills from outside the industry where appropriate to fill positions.

The sixth largest property management company, WinnResidential, operates every type of multifamily housing, including luxury and market rate, managing more than 100,000 apartments in more than 550 communities across 22 states and Washington, D.C.

Alessandra de Vaca, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Learning and Development for WinnResidential, confirms that with unemployment at a 50-year low, it is a job seeker’s market.

“WinnResidential has seen an increase in candidates rejecting an offer extended,” she says. “Passive candidates may decide that they are no longer interested in making a move, while top candidates who are actively in the market are in a position to receive multiple offers.”

Additionally, de Vaca has seen an increase in candidates not showing up for a scheduled interview.

“This unfortunate trend is being experienced at a greater frequency for entry-level maintenance positions where the market is particularly tight and candidates have many options,” she says. “WinnResidential feels it is critical in this market to create a positive candidate experience that makes it easy to say yes, paired with a competitive offer. Maintenance positions remain the most difficult position to fill, while housekeepers seem to be the most difficult to retain. We have made a conscious decision to seek talent, particularly for entry to mid-level roles from service-oriented industries such as hospitality.

“WinnResidential anticipates that the demand for talent will follow national trends both within and outside of the rental housing industry. With fewer active job seekers, top talent will continue to have choices, making competition among industry leaders for the best talent even fiercer. We predict that this will be most felt in the maintenance field across the country, where maintenance positions are taking more time, resources, partnership and creativity to fill.”

Headquartered in Dallas, Milestone Management maintains regional offices in Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Phoenix and Tampa for management of 60,000 units, 187 properties in 15 states with 1,500 associates.

Monica Blankenship, Vice President of Human Resources for Milestone, reports that maintenance positions are the most difficult to recruit and hire qualified candidates.

“Almost 70 percent of our current job openings are maintenance related, with AC-certified maintenance technicians being the position in highest demand. With low unemployment and an economy that sees increased construction and hospitality activity, competition for qualified maintenance associates has increased dramatically this year.”

Blankenship says that “while we feel our bonus programs and benefits package are a cut above for maintenance associates, we still struggle with filling positions because the market is tight and the pool is limited. We haven’t resorted to sign-on bonuses yet, but that may be considered for the future. We are also considering increasing our employee referral bonus to bring renewed attention to our job openings to our current associates.”

Blankenship says that leasing agents may be the least difficult positions to fill because Milestone is able to recruit and train those candidates who come from various sales backgrounds outside our industry.

She says Milestone has lost more candidates after acceptance than in previous years.

“The candidates initially accept and then either get a counter-offer from their present employer or a better offer elsewhere. They then call to rescind. This would have been an unusual occurrence in the past but it’s not surprising now in this competitive job market.”

Clearly, as America’s infrastructure ages, the competition for talented candidates, especially in maintenance and construction fields, is going to intensify. As skilled tradesmen are retiring, there are fewer high school graduates entering the industry through apprenticeships and trade schools.

It seems prudent for the rental housing industry to wholeheartedly support the NAA Education Institute’s mission to identify workforce development partners that can provide maintenance, leasing and management training, as well as marketing campaigns to assist in changing the “less than” stigma of skilled tradesmen careers to students and their parents.

Showcasing the differences and advantages of trade schools and apprenticeship programs versus a bachelor’s degree should encourage more students to see it as a viable career option with a pre-determined need for their new-found skills.

Weidner Apartment Homes is using an innovative approach to gain and train the employees it needs.

“In extremely tight labor markets, we have occasionally put in place bonus plans for our onsite associates,” Marie Virgilio, Chief People Officer, Weidner Apartment Homes, says. “We believe that all our onsite associates are of equal value and contribute to our success. For that reason, the bonuses are the same, regardless of the position.”

Virgilio says she expects hiring within the industry to continue to “be a bit of a struggle” as the need for qualified candidates is not diminishing, but in fact, the need grows each year.

“The industry as a whole needs to create more public awareness of what it has to offer and to promote the great career opportunities available throughout all facets of our industry,” Virgilio says.

Weidner has found effective creative resources for finding qualified candidates other than hiring from other apartment firms.

“Weidner has been very innovative in our approach to not just finding great talent but in the development of our own talent pipelines,” Virgillo says. “With a very strong Manager-in-Training program and our Service Tech-in-Training program, we do all we can to provide an opportunity to learn, develop and grow a career with us even if they do not have prior industry experience. We also work with the NAA Education Institute on the initiatives they are developing that will also help bring candidates into our industry. We then train them for the vast array of opportunities available with all industry companies. The more everyone in our industry can come together and get involved and help solve these issues the better equipped we’ll be to handle the hiring needs for our industry as a whole.”

Employee Perks

Recent surveys confirm that today’s young employees want more than competitive compensation and good benefits. Across the board, the most desired benefit is workplace flexibility in schedules. While this could require changes in policy and procedures, this one item could make a difference in the ability to hire and retain top talent. Other perks listed as important by employees include:

  • Acknowledgment of achievements
  • Company-paid educational programs
  • Paid Tuition
  • Company off-site team retreats/social events
  • Increased 401K matching
  • Paid Gym memberships
  • Time off to volunteer in community service events.
  • Sponsored mentor/protégé programs
  • Sponsored Teams (bowling, volleyball, baseball, etc.)
  • Negotiated discounts from vendors for everything from dry cleaning to cell phones
  • Defined career path
  • Merit-based promotions
  • Retention/tenure bonuses
  • Increased vacation/time off
  • Company-sponsored family events

Make sure your candidates are aware of the side perks you offer when they interview.

Community and Technical Colleges and Community-Based Organizations Offering RPM Credential Programs

These community (CC) and technical colleges and community-based organizations offer NAA Education Institute’s Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT) program and/or the National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) program.

Austin Community College (Austin, Texas)Guilford Technical CC (Jamestown, N.C.)
Careerline Tech Center (Holland, Mich.)Houston Community College (Houston, Texas)
Coconino CC (Flagstaff, Ariz.)JVS SoCal (Los Angeles, Calif.)
College of Southern Maryland (La Plata, Md.)Meridian Technology Center (Stillwater, Okla.)
Columbus Technical College (Columbus, Ga.)Montgomery College (Rockville, Md.)
CC of Baltimore County (Catonsville, Md.)Piedmont Virginia CC (Charlottesville, Va.)
Forsyth Tech CC (Winston-Salem, N.C.)Prince George’s CC (Largo, Md.)
Garrett College (McHenry, Md.)Savannah Technical College (Savannah, Ga.)
Georgia Piedmont Technical College (Clarkston, Ga.)Thomas Nelson CC (Hampton, Va.)
Goodwill Central Texas (Austin, Texas)Univ. of the District of Columbia CC (Washington, D.C.)
Goodwill Houston (Houston)Wake Technical Community College (Raleigh, N.C)
Goodwill San Antonio (San Antonio)Western Technical College (El Paso, Texas)
Grace-Mar Services (Charlotte, N.C.)