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The last decade has seen nearly every aspect of maintenance and engineering management change in institutional and commercial facilities. From facilities technology and finances to safety and regulatory compliance, managers have had to adapt in a host of unexpected ways.
Among the most challenging of the issues facing managers is staffing. Whatever they might have expected at the start of their careers about staffing their departments effectively, the last decade has seen everything change.
In the first of a three-part roundtable discussion, managers discuss the way their departments’ staffing has evolved in recent years and the challenges they face in finding technicians to help them carry out their departments’ mission. The managers are:
Steven Cox, Director of Facilities Operations, Tulsa (Oklahoma) Community College (TCC): "The facilities department has 54 employees, and each campus has one facility manager responsible for daily oversight and management of all facilities related campus activities. Each campus also has one maintenance supervisor who reports to the facility manager and oversees the engineering team. The engineering team at each campus consists of one or two maintenance assistants at each campus, one third-class engineer, and five to seven first class engineers. In total, 31 maintenance engineers reside across the four campuses.”
Gregg Sprowl, Program Manager, Access Controls and Security Systems, University of California, San Francisco: “We have 17 staff supporting the security systems at UCSF, myself as the program manager and two supervisors that are separated between our two main campuses, 13 staff persons that are locksmiths and security technicians, as well as one applications engineer.”
Daniel Schied, Director of Grounds, Cornell University: “We have: 34 grounds staff for grounds maintenance, landscape improvements, and sidewalk and stair snow removal; 11 landscape construction workers to primarily support utilities department in underground digs, landscape repairs, such as sidewalk panels, regrading, earthwork, parking lot and roadway snow removal; three mechanics for maintenance of all equipment, assist in procurement of vehicles and equipment, support roadway snow removal; three managers who each oversee a different aspect of campus; one admin/office manager for all paperwork, purchase orders, time reporting; and one director who oversees operation, new campus projects related to landscape, budgets, and large capital purchases.”
How has your department's staffing levels and duties changed in recent years?
Scheid: Staffing has remained flat with a few modest additions due to additional workload. New projects add to landscape maintenance and snow removal requirements. With recent retirements, some duties from other areas have come to our department.
Cox: Over the past five years or so, the department has undergone several changes. Certainly, the local and national economy's impact from 2015 and then more recently has forced the department to review and recalibrate our staffing. In terms of responsibilities, the biggest change has occurred with the facility manager. Though the position itself is comparatively new and only in existence at TCC for 15 years, their role on the campus has strengthened and expanded during this time, a testament to their pursuit of excellence and embracing continuous improvement as the goals and expectations have understandably shifted through the years.
Through the support of the board of regents, our president, and senior executive leadership, the college has in the last few years prioritized investing in addressing deferred maintenance related projects across the college, which has a manifold positive impact not only on our department's ability to operate effectively and efficiently, but further created opportunities for professional growth for the facility managers and others in areas such as project management and inter departmental engagement.
Sprowl: When COVID-19 came along, we were already trying to staff up for new buildings, but then we had a hiring freeze. A lot of facilities and commercial buildings were shutting down, and we were busier than ever. We opened four new buildings during the heart of the pandemic. We are always in construction and expanding our portfolio. The hiring freeze was lifted this year, and we have onboarded four new staff and have two more positions to fill.
What are your biggest staffing challenges?
Cox: Easily the largest challenge is hiring first class engineers. No question.
Sprowl: Finding the qualified individual that also has a can-do attitude. We really want staff that support the UCSF P.R.I.D.E. values, https://www.ucsf.edu/about/mission-and-values.
Scheid: Currently, the labor pool applying for hire is very thin.
How have these staffing challenges changed in recent years?
Cox: Honestly, very little has changed on this front in my 13 years at TCC. How we have addressed it has definitely changed, but not the challenge.
Sprowl: In the past, it has been a challenge to find a person that fills all your needs. They were unicorns. They just were not out there. Lately, we’ve been lucky, and there are great candidates out there. We’ve been blessed with our recent hires.
Scheid: A qualified labor pool has currently been very light in our application process.
Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 25 years of experience covering engineering, maintenance, and grounds management issues in institutional and commercial facilities.
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