By Laura Calugar
Maintenance training in the multifamily industry is crucial. Residents’ satisfaction is highly influenced by the way their home problems are handled. Cortland Partners tackled this challenge by building a 64-foot, custom-branded mobile training unit inside a truck that travels across the country to work with groundskeepers, housekeepers and any other facilities and services team members.
Employee education is more efficient when using human interaction and in-person learning environments rather than typical classroom training. Cortland’s retrofitted trailer features several specialty training stations, providing 46 feet of convenient, hands-on learning space.
We asked Cortland Partners Executive Vice President of Facilities and Services Jonathan Tucker to tell Multi-Housing News more about this ingenious approach to training associates in the multifamily industry.
MHN: How did you come up with this idea?
Tucker: Our department was having a brainstorming session in which we discussed challenges across the industry. We began discussing the differences between sales/marketing associates vs. facilities associates and how each group learns best. We determined the majority of the facilities associates learn best by doing or working with their hands while most sales/marketing associates were better classroom learners.
A few days later, one of our associates came to my office and suggested we purchase a pick-up truck and 14-foot trailer. Inside the trailer we could create training boards for site associates. We immediately loved the concept and began working through mockups. After a year of focused determination, this idea evolved into what you see today—a 64-foot Mobile Facilities Training Unit.
MHN: What does the mobile training unit consist of?
Tucker: The trailer is broken into two sections. The front: This is a classroom section where the teams watch educational videos. These videos are not off-the-shelf facilities instructional videos; rather, these videos are our associates—on our sites—repairing our items, which helps our associates learn the concepts around proper diagnosis and repair. The rear: This is the “hands-on” section where we have created custom training boards that allow us to replicate every possible repair scenario our teams may face on site. The hands-on section includes the following specialties:
- Heat pump
- Personal protective equipment
- Pool pumps and systems
- Fire panels
- Fire/life/safety equipment
MHN: How often do you use it and how long does it take for a training session to be completed?
Tucker: The Mobile Facilities Training Unit is always on the road. It travels to all our regions and typically trains for two weeks at a time. It is based out of Atlanta and completes a continuous circuit to all of our markets.
Because there are so many things we can train, we typically customize each visit with the leadership in each region. We can customize the content by day, by associate(s), by team(s) and much more. This allows us to be incredibly nimble and precise in our approach to building the strength of our facilities team(s).
We’re able to analyze the type of service requests, largest expenses, most outsourced items and more by team and/or region. This allows us to customize the training based on the highest needs and respond to seasonal demands that differ throughout our portfolio.
A hands-on classroom
MHN: What are the advantages of using this kind of training?
Tucker: One of the great impacts we have seen is the morale of our teams. When you work for Cortland, you quickly realize our approach to facilities is different. We are committed to providing our associates with whatever skills they need to be the best service associate they can be.
Anyone can fly in and facilitate classroom training or outsource facilities training. However, when you travel to a region and train these teams in person and in a format in which they can excel, it makes a huge impact. Our teams are more confident, feel appreciated, and recognize our commitment to them and our residents. We strongly believe the Mobile Facilities Training Unit is an integral part of what has catapulted our customer service levels to those that are unmatched in the value-add space.
The content of our training has continually evolved and now also includes organic growth, facilities for office training and Nest thermostats. Our director of the Mobile Training Facility, Ron Cline, is instrumental in tracking the effectiveness of the content, and we survey our associates after each training day to ensure we meet their needs.
We design and manufacture many of the products we install in our renovations (lighting, faucets, sinks, etc.) through our CASK affiliate. Our training boards allow our teams to work on our products and become experts in servicing CASK products.
MHN: Does it help the company save money, is it less time-consuming, is it more efficient?
Tucker: We have a study that will begin in October to analyze the ROI of the project. We will review the savings, effectiveness and efficiency of the training, opportunities for improvement, and much more, but the early signs have been very promising. Since its inception, it has helped us discover just how much lost opportunity exists if your facilities teams are not optimized.
Further, our recruiting team utilizes the truck and trailer, whenever possible, at career fairs and recruiting events. One look and future associates quickly realize we take facilities seriously.
MHN: Is this brand new or have you had the time to test this type of training and see its results?
Tucker: It has been up and running since October 2016. The training continues to evolve based on the needs of the region(s). Additionally, it has spawned a ton of new ideas around site-level process improvement. Our culture is such that everyone has a voice, and this forum has allowed us to gather site-level feedback—across the portfolio—and use that to better serve our residents, our associates and the assets themselves.