By Chris Matt, Managing Editor - Print & E-Media
Maintenance & Operations Article Use Policy
*Bill Warren, Manager of Training and Development, Facilities Engineering and Maintenance Department, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
*Steve Ford, Facilities Manager, Brayton Purcell LLP, Novato, Calif.
*Dave Silver, Facilities Director, Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools
Despite the advanced technology available to maintenance and engineering managers, equipment designed to ensure smooth operations is only as effective as those maintaining it. That fact underscores the importance of hiring, recruiting, and training skilled front-line technicians.
What are some of the most successful recruiting and hiring strategies you have implemented?
FORD: The first thing we try to do is promote from within. It's really a good idea, and it helps a lot to find people that are interested in growing, learning new things and moving into new positions. It's always good because they kind of know what's going on around them already and how they fit into it. Beyond that, I think networking is really a key tool for me.
SILVER: Our maintenance workers are members of construction trades unions, so they all serve four- to five-year apprenticeships. We only hire journeymen or qualified technicians who have at least 10 years experience in the various fields. Since these are well-paid positions, we don't get any turnover, except retirements. We advertise, notify the various union halls, and have our own job hotline (where) people can check for openings.
What are the biggest barriers in finding qualified technicians?
WARREN: We're competing with other organizations and industries that have a far less demanding operation. As hospital operations, we must be staffed with quality technicians at all times, which means that we not only have to overcome a shortage of highly skilled tradesmen. We also need to entice them to work in a demanding environment and cover shift-work needs. Most people want to work daylight shift and have weekends off, and we need to accommodate their personal wants and needs in other ways to get and keep them. Financial incentives are one thing, but assuring that they have job satisfaction and are provided with the best support possible in all areas is key.
SILVER: The only barriers we see these days are keeping up with the latest HVAC technology. Due to the training programs for the unions, we are seeing well-trained technicians being turned out.
FORD: The biggest one for our company is, being that our facilities department is very small, each one of us has an intense role and wears multiple hats, one of those being on-call frequently. So geography factors into it. We like to have people who are local and familiar with what goes on in the immediate area.
What are the most important characteristics you look for in hiring technicians?
SILVER: We look for employees who are well-trained in all aspects of each field. They must be of good character, have good social skills, be dependable, and have good attendance records. Being a public school district, it's very important we hire people who are of good character. We do criminal background checks on all prospective employees and check their references very well. We feel the jobs we offer are some of the best in our area, so we should go after the best-qualified workers and quality people. They work around our staff and students on a daily basis, plus interact with parents and the public from time to time, so it's very important they are of good character. They represent our school district.
FORD: I need somebody that's qualified to do the work. Without a doubt, somebody who's willing to do more than it takes sometimes because we are small, and we all kind of do that. The ability to be part of a team (is important). We think of the facilities department as a team more than anything. I may be the manager, but I roll up my sleeves and get in there and do what we need to do. That's really important. And without a doubt, the ability to communicate effectively (is important).
WARREN: A passion and seriousness for their craft, a determination and willingness to further their education, a professional attitude, a sense of honesty and dependability, also manifests a proper work ethic and discipline. We're in the health care business. Instilling that in our staff assures that they understand that the care of our patients rests on their shoulders and they and their dedication directly impacts it.
How has recruiting and hiring changed since you entered the profession?
WARREN: The use of computers and company-based websites, to advertise available job positions and process applications, is the biggest change that I have seen.
FORD: I've been working in facilities for close to 15 years, and what I've found recently is that there's not as much personal interaction in hiring to begin with, or at least advertising and trying to recruit people. Part of that comes from the fact that our economy is the way it is, and we just get tons and tons of resumes when we put something out on craigslist, for instance. (The hiring process) is not as personal as it used to be.
What impact has the recession and an overall down economy had on the availability of qualified technicians?
SILVER: If anything, there are more qualified people looking for work. We are seeing 10 times the number of applicants for open positions.
FORD: I think there is a lot of overqualified technicians for what we have going on here. I found that a couple years back, when the economy was even worse than it is now, and we were trying to fill a position, we got so many resumes, and a lot of people were just overqualified. There are a lot of folks that are very qualified and will take anything they get until something they want comes along. Due to the cost of recruiting and training, we just don't want to go that route if we don't have to.
What role do community colleges, technical schools, and trade associations play in properly educating and training technicians?
WARREN: In my experience, the best and most qualified trade technicians are graduates from technical trade institutes and training programs, in particular those with multi-year apprenticeship programs.
FORD: I think the colleges and trade schools are really important. Typically, what happens in a recession is, a lot of people go back to school to try and get some retraining or new training of some sort. It shows that they have an interest in what they're doing, so I really believe that the schools are a great way to go. Without a doubt, the trade schools are great, and these folks end up getting jobs and are helping to rebuild the economy.
Do you sense a shift from specialized technicians to those who can execute proper maintenance practices in at least two trades?
SILVER: Our technicians are becoming multi-dimensional, compared to the specialization we saw 25 years ago.
WARREN: Not really. However, many of our plumbers, stationary engineers, electricians, and service technicians possess licenses and certificates in at least one other technical trade. This group tends to be more enthusiastic when learning newer technical applications and disciplines, such as green building operations, solar energy, and infrared thermography.
FORD: I do see that. Being able to have a bunch of tools in your toolbox is a lot better when you go out there on the open market.
What resources do you rely on to ensure technicians fine-tune their skills via training for their entire careers?
WARREN: In the greater Pittsburgh area, there are various technical and trade schools, trade-union-sponsored training programs/apprenticeships, and community college-based technical training programs available to the serious trade technician. Employees willing to devote their own time at night and on Saturdays to attend any of the various technical training courses available to them are the greatest asset to any employer. As facilities managers, we understand the importance of encouraging and supporting any technician willing to take the extra steps to improve their career skill sets.
FORD: We offer our technicians to go to different kinds of educational seminars when we can. Working with outside technicians helps fine-tune things. Meeting and discussing what's going on is really important too. That's a regular part of our department, meeting sometimes daily to see what's on our plates. Finally, we try to reduce and prevent stagnation by always presenting new challenges and incentives for these folks. The (workers) I've found that are most successful are interested in what they do and want to learn.