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Fixin' To Hire

Maintenance Hiring
June 2016

Never has it been this challenging to find a qualified apartment maintenance technician for hire.

The popularity of apartment living has hardly subsided this year and an increasing number of apartment communities are opening in most every market in the country. And while competition for residents continues to be an everyday situation, some property managers are equally focused on staffing their communities' maintenance teams.

The apartment industry is losing maintenance candidates to what often are higher-paying construction jobs, some upper-level management staff members are saying. Construction jobs often provide perks that some find more desirable, such as consistent working hours - there's no overtime or weekend shifts - or not having to work face-to-face with others (such as residents), perceived by some as a bonus.

Comments made by two apartment management professionals summarily describe the frustration of many:

"My problem has been the applicants who exaggerate about their qualifications," one says. "A great, dependable service team is THE best asset of a community. But it’s difficult to find the right people who will strive to do their best every day."

Another says she's been looking for months to fill openings.

"Either they are underqualified or overqualified; that's all I can find!" she says. "My two great maintenance techs are getting burnt out working overtime, trying to make up for the open position. My market [Portland] is experiencing quite the struggle when looking for qualified maintenance technicians who will stick around."

Read the Fine Print

Where a company looks and how it conducts its search can play a role in creating negative outcomes, says Alexandra Jackiw, CAPS, President, Milhaus Management, Indianapolis.

"So much hiring overall today is done online, but many of our maintenance candidates are still looking for jobs that are printed in the newspaper," Jackiw says. "Are you posting the job openings there?"

NAA Education Institute instructor Paul Rhodes, CAMT, says that maintenance technicians by and large are not that tech-savvy.

"Those who are looking for work do so at in-person job placement firms," Rhodes says. "Or they look in the daily newspaper, not online. And for some, their resumes might not be written in a well-polished manner, so they might be over-looked by an HR person whose first impression is based on the review of a printed resume - and not a personal meeting."

Jackiw says candidates know that they are in high demand, and they are shopping around for work benefits. "For example, does your company offer paternity leave?" Jackiw asks.

Keeping new hires onboard is also critical. She recommends crafting the job position appropriately and providing the proper resources.

"We heard of one firm that required its maintenance staff to complete daily tasks from a computer, but then didn't provide the techs with a computer," Jackiw says. "Instead, they had to come to the office early, before it opened, so they could use the computer in the leasing office before other staff arrived."

Industry Programs That Work

Angel Davila, CAMT, Maintenance Director, Rainier Management, says some of the industry’s older and more experienced technicians are retiring.

"Many of the younger candidates are not as experienced as we would like them to be, including those from some of the trade schools. For them, they come out of school and are very book smart, but they don't have the practical, hands-on experience we'd like."

He says recruiting skilled candidates from high schools to fill maintenance technician positions is difficult because "in high schools these days, they promote to their students the importance of going on to college."

Davila found what he considers one of the industry’s best-kept secrets through aprogram created with the help of the Texas Apartment Association’s Education Foundation (TAAEF) and the Austin Apartment Association (AAA). The program is the Apartment Maintenace Professionals course, which utilizes the CAMT curriculum and is held in partnership with Austin Community College, Goodwill Industries International and Texas Workforce.

(TAAEF and AAA won the 2015 NAAEI Anthony V. Pusalen Apartment Career Promotion Award for the program.)

A few years ago, Davila was invited to speak to a class of future maintenance professionals. "I gave a 20-minute speech, and talked about how maintenance jobs are universal; you can take your skills anywhere you go, you can work in Texas, Alaska or North Carolina, and everywhere in between," Davila says. "But even better, I was able to meet the students who had participated in the program. I handed all of them my business card. Right off the bat, three of them contacted me, including the class instructor, and we hired them."

These students graduate with the CAMT certificate through NAAEI and their EPA (lead) and CPO (pool operator) certifications.

"They are eager to work and eager to learn,” Davila says. “We get them started in entry-level positions, usually in make-readies, and they move up from there."

Davila has worked 11 years in the apartment industry, including the past three at Rainier, which manages 18 apartment communities. He started there as a groundskeeper, taking the job after a tour in the U.S. Marine Corps. He now manages 30 staff members, spread over Rainier's portfolio, which is located exclusively in Austin.

"A lot of companies these days don’t invest in education for the maintenance staff, but it's the smartest thing that they can do," Davila says. "They will get back ten-fold what they put into it. Education is the key."

Taylor Jackson, CAE, CMP, Director of Business Development, AAA, calls the results of her members’ involvement with the Goodwill program a great success.

"Our members have been telling us that hiring maintenance technicians (and leasing professionals) has been difficult because the industry tends to "steal" employees from each other," Jackson says. "The good thing about the Apartment Maintenance and Leasing Professional's program is that they pre-qualify the participants and they do the recruiting, based on criteria set forth by our members."

The program began two years ago. AAA and TAAEF initially hosted an awareness meeting about the program to inform its members about how Goodwill could help with finding maintenance technician candidates.

"Most of them just thought of Goodwill as the retail store," Jackson says.

The program takes two and a half months to complete, with education taught in four-hour increments. It has had 50 students complete the coursework and graduate and 80 percent have been hired, including 72 percent into the apartment industry. There have been five career fairs for the students, where 19 apartment management companies participated, representing a total of 266 communities and more than 73,500 apartment homes.

This is just one of several Goodwill agencies across the country delivering the CAMT program in partnership with NAAEI and the local affiliates, all with positive results.

Mentors Make a Difference

For one regional property management firm, the local oil wells proved to be their biggest challenge when searching for qualified maintenance technicians.

"We were finding it nearly impossible to hire new maintenance technicians in Texas because we had to compete with those who were considering work in the oil fields," says Marie Virgilio, Director of Recruiting at Weidner.

Weidner Property Management, based in Kirkland, Wash., owns or manages more than 235 communities, totaling approximately 45,000 apartment homes over a nine-state area, as well as western Canada.

In an effort to solve its challenge of finding, hiring and training maintenance technicians, two years ago it began an apprentice program called the Service Tech In Training (SIT) Program. SIT is a six-month paid apprenticeship. After candidates complete the six months, they are then placed into a maintenance tech position.

Weidner also offers an internship program that lasts five weeks. Upon successful completion of that program, candidates begin participation in the SIT program. Each apprentice and intern works under an existing Weidner maintenance technician, who serves as a full-time mentor.

As part of SIT's overall recruiting efforts, Weidner connected with Western Tech, a technical school in El Paso, Texas, and hired SIT candidates from Western Tech last summer, offering its students internships to accommodate their school's requirements.

Forty-five Weidner maintenance technicians serve as mentors, who train all candidates in the program based on Weidner's proper policies and protocols.

"This really has solved our overall maintenance hiring problem in most regions where we operate," Virgilio says. "We're at the point now where we rarely have to hire from outside these programs."

Virgilio says her best advice to an apartment firm that aims to do such a program is to "make sure it's a well-structured program, that it's well thought out and that you provide all the proper materials and training."

Charlotte Introduces Program

The Greater Charlotte Apartment Association (GCAA) and its local apartment industry members "scratched their heads" for years regarding the vexing question, "How do we help construct a predictable pipeline of skilled maintenance personnel to fill the expanding number of maintenance jobs becoming available in our market?" says GCAA Executive Director Ken Szymanski, AICP, Executive Director, GCAA.

"Today's pace of new construction means we are adding 40 apartment communities per year," Szymanski says. "This equates to needing many additional jobs servicing the apartments, plus normal turnover in the field."

Accordingly, the leadership of the GCAA Education Foundation (GCAAEF) worked with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) at devising a General Apartment and Rental Maintenance Certificate. The program consists of Heating/Air-Conditioning, Electrical, Plumbing, Drywall and Carpentry. There are five students enrolled in this inaugural program that includes a two-semester class.

GCAAEF has taken the additional step of funding a scholarship program for students at the college students who are not yet with member firms as a means of enhancing interest and overcoming affordability problems.

GCAA is actively encouraging member management companies to further the education program and student job-readiness by fostering internships or job shadowing for realworld experience.

"NAAEI has helped, too, with the career track and sample salaries viewable at a glance in its -Careers in Apartment Maintenance- succinct publication," Szymanski says.

There are currently five students enrolled in the CPCC Maintenance Certificate Program.

GCAAEF and GCAA members will continue to visit the classes to talk up the industry and the benefits of this career path, with the clear goal of enhancing the enrollment counts.

Jewish League Trains Techs

Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT) classes were offered by the Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) ApartmentWorks(tm) program beginning in fall 2014 to teach job candidates about common property maintenance tasks such as drywall repair, basic plumbing and routine appliance fixes.

The program, profiled in the May 2015 edition of units Magazine, also featured "soft skills" assistance in the form of help with resumes and job placement and retention.

These extras made JVS an ideal partner to launch ApartmentWorks with the NAA Education Institute (NAAEI). While NAAEI has partnered in the past with education and community-based providers to offer job seekers CAMT training as part of its workforce development initiatives, partnering with a nonprofit with experience in running turnkey, sector-targeted training programs proved to be a natural fit.

The program continues to be highly successful with four CAMT classes scheduled this year.

NAA offers Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technician (CAMT)

The comprehensive curriculum and credentialing program is presented by trainers at local apartment associations, as well as by workforce development partnerships. The goal is to improve technicians' performance and document skill achievement.

It is recommended that apartment management firms invest in the CAMT program and provide the enrollment fee as a benefit to the technicians. In exchange, technicians would agree to a specified employment time period with the management company.