How to Recruit, Retain Maintenance Talent in a Changing Workforce

Here's how apartment owners and managers can find and keep the best skilled maintenance professionals, says Alicia Bloch of GMH Capital Partners.

While developers continue to unveil new apartment communities year after year, the availability of skilled, manual laborers continues to decline, presenting a challenge for multifamily owners seeking talented maintenance professionals to help keep up their properties. A major factor contributing to the shortage of technicians certified in much-needed specialties like HVAC and electrical management is society’s changing perception of manual labor.

Contrary to decades ago, when attending a trade school after high school was common, many educators and parents today are encouraging students to continue their education at colleges and universities. This makes maintenance technician jobs less desirable for not only Millennials and Gen Zers entering the field but also for older generations whose skills of the past are no longer cutting edge in today’s tech-driven world.

Given this environment, how can apartment owners and managers recruit and retain the best skilled maintenance professionals?

What to look for in a maintenance professional

The maintenance landscape looks much different now than it did nearly two decades ago. Our way of life has significantly changed, and therefore, to keep up with the ever-changing demand of renters’ needs, owners must now look more closely at what these maintenance candidates can bring to the table to maximize their success.

Tech-savviness is a critical skill set right now. The ability to implement and manage new state-of-the-art systems is becoming highly sought after, as owners continue to evolve their tech offerings to increase value for residents. To stay ahead of resident demand, many communities offer package lockers, keyless fobs, mobile-controlled smart thermostats, Amazon Alexa devices, cloud printing, interactive fitness equipment and QR-activated doors for visitors, to name a few.

Therefore, on-site maintenance has to know the ins and outs of these features to keep them running properly, since it can take up to 10 days, at minimum, to engage an outside vendor. Many owners are also incorporating maintenance apps to streamline the request and repair process, which means today’s maintenance professional needs to be up on the latest technology and understand how to integrate it into their daily tasks.

Aside from being tech savvy, owners should ensure all candidates have a Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT), which covers HVAC, curb inspection and appeal, lock and key services, painting, construction and replacement services, mechanical services, appliance services, fair housing and compliance regulations, and more.

Above all else, your next maintenance tech should score an A+ in customer service. Maintenance is an extension of the property management team, so simple gestures like a friendly smile when walking the property, maintaining a high level of professionalism when in residents’ homes, and transparent communication on the state of repairs make all the difference in the resident’s overall experience and perception of ownership.

How to stand out from other owners/operators

Another hard pill to swallow is owners losing a good amount of their maintenance candidates to higher-paying construction jobs. Why? Because these construction companies are often providing more attractive perks, such as steady work hours, bonuses, no overtime or weekend work, and less face-to-face interaction with the client, which is desirable to many.

With the demand so high and the candidate pool so limited, how can apartment owners compete? The answer is simple: offer benefits that can’t be matched. In addition to upping compensation, some other benefits to consider include:

Certificate assistance

Investing in your maintenance staff’s education is a win-win for them and for you. Paying for, or reimbursing them for, their necessary certifications and providing regular training will present job growth opportunities, increasing loyalty and overall retention.

Complimentary or reduced onsite housing

Offering free or reduced housing for maintenance staff at one of your communities is a smart move, as the professional will be able to quickly address timely repairs without having to travel. They’ll also become a trusted member of the apartment community and gain valuable relationships with their neighbors. This will boost the professional’s pride and level of care for the state of the property since it’ll be both their place of work as well as their home.

Employee discounts

Store coupons, discounts on cellphone bills, complimentary movie tickets and travel rewards are just a few additional perks to consider offering, as a way to thank your maintenance staff. Believe it or not, it’s the quantity and quality of the little things that go a long way!

The landscape has changed and the competition is fierce, but if you keep the above in mind, you’ll be sure to score the best, long-term maintenance professionals you can find.

Alicia Bloch is an assistant community manager for GMH Capital Partners, a nationally recognized leader in the commercial real estate market specializing in the areas of investment, development, construction and asset management.

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