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Training the next generation with Bill Warren

Manager of Training and Development, Facilities Engineering and Maintenance, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

Bill Warren

Bill Warren
Manager of Training and Development, Facilities Engineering and Maintenance
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

What challenges has your department faced in finding candidates for front-line maintenance technician positions?
Most pressing is recruiting young career job seekers into the skilled trades. An aging workforce is one of our biggest challenges. It is a national problem that we and other institutions face every day. As a result, we compete for a shrinking pool of seasoned, skilled tradesmen and expect it to reach crisis proportions in the very near future.

Younger people are not entering into the skilled trades at an appropriate rate to meet our present needs, and as our building systems become more complex and vital to our operations, we need a much more technically able staff overall. The maintenance industry is a pretty small world, as you know, and a very cooperative industry when it comes to sharing information.

It seems clear to us that we all share this problem, and it's getting bigger by the day. The youth of today are more computer literate and navigate complex systems and programs far easier and more proficiently than in the past. It's a great opportunity for them to put that skill and knowledge to use in a field that they may not understand has a great career potential for them. They think of computer-based jobs being in banking, manufacturing, etc., but there is a widening need in the skilled trades.

In general, how familiar are new employees with various types of technology in facilities?
Many of the new systems require top-notch and extremely skilled tradesmen. Our need for the best electricians, engineers, HVAC technicians, plumbers, etc., is beyond what anyone would have expected even 10 years ago. As a result, we must ensure that our present staff keeps up with new and emerging technology and that our new staff has the tools to maintain and operate our facilities safely and efficiently.

In a hospital environment, it's important that our staff understand that they are not in the maintenance and facilities operations business alone. They need to understand that they are in the healthcare business. What our staff does, or does not do, can have a profound effect on the safety and health of our patients.

For example, our new operating room suites interact with our building automation systems, and having a highly trained and skilled staff is as important as the clinical staff working there. That's becoming the standard in moving forward, which makes recruiting and training even more important.

What steps have you taken to address these challenges?
Well, to help address the expected skilled labor shortage, we are approaching candidates proactively. We have seen new graduates from trade schools or college programs come to us with good core skills, but not adequate for the complex operations of today's facilities, especially in a hospital environment. In the past, we could wait for them to become seasoned and gain enough field experience and enhance their skills in other areas. We now see a need and advantage to getting someone onboard earlier in their career and allowing them to be trained, mentored, and to grow in our organization. Additionally, we have established an Apprenticeship Training Program at UPMC to promote and assist in that effort.

Describe the apprenticeship program your department developed.
Our apprenticeship training program is fairly new and put in place by Ed Dudek, our assistant vice president in the facilities engineering and maintenance department. Working in collaboration with our corporate human resources department and the corporate office of diversity initiatives, we designed our apprenticeship training program. In particular, J.W. Wallace, senior director in the diversity initiatives department, was integral in our program’s development.

The purpose of the program is to address specific departmental needs as they relate to recruiting new maintenance trade candidates. The first steps were creating full-time departmental apprentice helper positions and posting those positions internally. Successful candidates would be selected based on their technical trade skill and aptitude.

They would spend a six-month probationary period as an apprentice helper, when they would work in various maintenance trade shops for several weeks, each to focus their maintenance trade career interest. Upon completion of that process, the apprentice would then decide on their particular maintenance trade of interest as a viable career.

We've seen mixed successes in this endeavor, but the cases where this has been successful have been of great value and rewarding. We're still fairly early into this and are learning a lot on the way.

Last year, we saw value in seeking out various community-based career training organizations, such as the Pittsburgh Job Corps, for possible candidates for our apprenticeship training program. The Pittsburgh Job Corps presented a unique opportunity for us to recruit students that have graduated from its craft training programs.

As a result, we hired two Job Corps craft trade program graduates into our department, as electrician apprentices. Also, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 95, which is also the maintenance bargaining unit here at our UPMC Oakland Campus, has established a training program partnership with the Pittsburgh Job Corp.

Both Pittsburgh Job Corp and the IUOE are dedicated to this program, and we have been lucky to have them partner with us as we continue to enhance and expand these programs. Presently, our maintenance department has four apprentices, and we plan to add several more as the program for apprentice operating engineers is completed.

However, as a program requirement, the apprentice would have to attend an accredited trade school at night to receive more formalized maintenance trade training, which our department would pay for. Trade school training usually takes three to four years to complete.

Once completed, the apprentice would receive the appropriate trade degree or certification. The apprentice then would need to pass the proper city and county craft trade registration test to become licensed. Upon completion, the apprentice would meet the minimum job requirements as a trade journeyman and be eligible for promotion to the next applicable maintenance department journeyman position.

There are various technical trade schools, institutes and colleges in the Pittsburgh area that offer two-year associate degrees available to our apprentices. With some of our apprentices, we have used the Community College of Allegheny County, Dean Technical Institute, and Mon-Yough School of Plumbing. These schools offer remarkable trade programs that are both skill specific, and it extends into core college curriculum, giving our staff a foundation to move ahead in their careers.

We are launching this program at several of our affiliate hospitals and expect to have apprentices onboard there in a few months.

What benefits have you seen from the apprenticeship program?
Our maintenance department apprenticeship training program provides a vehicle for a younger and more technically skilled group to fill the generation gap in the maintenance trades, especially in a health care environment.

However, one of the challenges we face is that of staff diversity. Historically, minorities and women have not been well-represented in the skilled maintenance trades. UPMC has made a commitment to become more diverse and community representative in its work force. In that effort, our maintenance department, through the apprenticeship training program and employee recruitment, is facing that challenge head-on internally and collaboratively with the Pittsburgh Job Corp and the IUOE. Currently, three of our four apprentices are Afro-American, and one is a white female.

Our front-line journeymen have taken the apprentices in hand totally. Many actually act as trade mentors for them. The local union also has embraced our apprenticeship training program and offers its support as needed. I have been in facilities maintenance for over 19 years, and it is a joy to be a part of this effort.

To further our efforts, I’ll be meeting with Pittsburgh Job Corp. representatives again this week to recruit for openings for our first stationary engineer apprentices. Based on our work with them so far, I'm very confident we'll see more opportunity for similar placement, and careers for minorities and women as we move ahead.

We are very proud of the maintenance apprenticeship training program here at UPMC. We also are thankful to those who are involved in its success. It is our hope that the program will serve as a template for other health care facility maintenance departments, which face similar challenges.

posted:  10/4/2007