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Maintenance and engineering managers are constantly on the lookout for qualified employees to perform inspection and maintenance tasks in institutional and commercial facilities. The challenge remains especially tough, considering the limited number of candidates, competition among public and private organizations, and ongoing issues created by financial pressures.
Leon County in Florida, a region that includes the capitol city of Tallahassee, regularly fights the battle to find and keep quality personnel on staff.
“We’re frequently required to dig a little deeper into the community in search of qualified available personnel,” says Tom Brantley, the county’s facilities management director. “The fact is that we are a local government agency and must compete with private entities within available talent pools.”
Fiscal constraints have become a common hurdle for many maintenance and engineering departments no matter what other conditions exist.
“Because of the national recession and our declining local economy, operating budgets here have been in a steady state of decline for about the past three years,” Brantley says. “Over this period of time, we have lost a total of four positions, and three of those positions have been in the maintenance technician area.”
Education facilities also feel the finance pinch. Some universities are unable to contend financially with private companies for qualified technicians. The result is a shift in hiring practices that places emphasis on potential and training.
“We can’t offer the same wages that skilled professionals can demand elsewhere, so we have to be more patient and willing to pay for and provide training for less-skilled individuals,” says David Van Hook, assistant director for fleet and maintenance systems at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University. “Recruiting and hiring becomes focused on finding potential that can be developed, rather than finding a person with the skill set that is being sought.”
The situation forces managers to become creative in an effort to retain and obtain quality employees.
Brantley says his first step in recruiting “is to figure out what Leon County has to offer its employees that private industry doesn’t.” That means offering employees a comprehensive benefits package that includes employer-paid health and life insurance, a state retirement plan, a match of employee contributions, and tuition assistance.
Kennesaw State also offers tuition assistance, as well as any training employees need.
Leon County also allows its employees to moonlight, meaning they can work for private companies in the maintenance and construction professions. The practice sometimes results in losing front-line technicians to another employer, but it also enables other technicians to stay with the county.
“By embracing our employees moonlighting and actually walking the delicate tight wire of sometimes openly encouraging these activities, we have identified a magic that allows employees to shore up their earnings while securing family benefits through Leon County,” Brantley says. “This serves Leon County’s interest by having the most highly qualified workers available, but it also motivates the staff in a way that supersedes any other technique that I have yet to be able to identify.”
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