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Finding and Retaining Maintenance Associates Requires a New Approach

January 2022

Turnover among rental housing maintenance teams is soaring. But serving on the front lines of customer service, with a direct impact on lease renewal decisions, these associates are vital to not only operations, but resident satisfaction.

In the 2021 Apartmentalize session, “Find, Hire and Keep a High Performing Maintenance Team,” industry leaders shared their successes and tips for establishing and retaining high-performing maintenance teams.

One of the biggest challenges multifamily operators face in attracting and keeping maintenance associates is competition not just from within the industry, but also from other industries. Skilled maintenance professionals are in demand and their skill sets are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Operators have been forced to value maintenance positions on a new level, and a new pay scale.

“A couple years ago, incoming maintenance techs with decent experience made $15 an hour. Now, they’re starting at $19 to $20,” said Caroline Adillon, President of Viking Residential, who noted that existing employees will also expect increased compensation. “You have to be careful with existing staff, because current team members might not be making the same as new people or receiving the same incentives.”

Justin Dunckel, President of Paragon Properties, said his company has tried several tactics to retain maintenance associates. “You have to make sure you’re not screwing things up with the people you have,” he said. “Right-size your existing personnel, or they will go find something else. We’ve done employee referrals and adjusted wages. You need to move everyone along at the same pay scale.”

Considering that approximately one-third of service technicians exit the industry between the ages of 50 and 55, and skill trades are projected to decline by 74% in the next 10 years, multifamily hasn’t seen the worst of the labor shortage. Dunckel said the key for now is keeping current maintenance teams intact.

“The most significant thing you can invest in is retaining your talent on the maintenance side,” he said. “It’s so much easier to renew a lease than to sign a new one, and the same is true with team members. But we also have to integrate people from other industries, teach and educate them and help them to migrate over.”

Adillon said the industry has to adjust its expectations for entry-level associates, as well, and change the way it advertises for maintenance positions to broaden the pool of candidates.

“Rather than listing skills desired, our ad now says, ‘Are you mechanically inclined and looking for a career change? We will train you.’ You have to be willing to train people,” Adillon said. “Try to appeal to people who are mechanically inclined, as well as those who just don’t want to sit behind a desk. And we have to break the gender norm in maintenance. There is 50% of America that is not that traditional maintenance guy.”

Doug Pike is a Content Manager at LinnellTaylor Marketing.