The Softer Side of Maintenance Recruiting
By Dan Hounsell, Editor December 2011 - Maintenance & Operations
Institutional and commercial facilities are becoming unbelievably complex. Technological advances in HVAC, power management, and lighting systems — to name just three — are entering facilities faster than ever. Front-line technicians are challenged daily to efficiently install, operate, test, and maintain these systems.
Given all of this, one manager's comment on hiring got my attention. I asked Steve Plaxco, director of maintenance and facilities with the Yuba City (Calif.) Unified School District, what he looks for when interviewing candidates for maintenance technician positions in his department.
"Obviously, technical skills and training and actual work experience matter," Plaxco says. "But even more important than that — ideally, I'm looking at how much integrity they have, what their work ethic is, how much importance they place on customer service."
I had expected the topic of so-called soft issues to come up at some point in a conversation for my article on finding and retaining front-line maintenance technicians (see Roundtable). But I certainly did not expect integrity, work ethic, and customer focus to top any manager's list of must-have worker qualifications.
The fact that it did, however, demonstrates the growing complexity of recruiting and retaining technicians — one already made complex by competition from other employers, tight budgets and a lack of qualified candidates. I would even wager the process is more daunting than managers realize — until they start having to make tough choices.
The task is so complex, in large part, because pressure continues to build on managers to make sure each new hire is not just technically qualified but also that he or she meets departmental expectations related to the soft issues. In other words, each new hire has to be the wisest possible long-term investment of the organization's money.
The real test for managers will be to develop the ability to judge job candidates based on an evolving set of qualifications. Managers already know how to check applicants' credentials and licenses and test their technical skills.
What many managers will have to develop more fully is the ability to assess an applicant's feel for the job — whether he or she is capable of building upon technical skills by developing personal habits and interpersonal skills that are required for success in a new, more challenging era for maintenance and engineering departments.
Dan Hounsell offers observations about trends in maintenance and engineering management and the evolving role of managers in facilities.