By Doug Pike, Content Manager at LinnellTaylor Marketing, for National Apartment Association
Retaining maintenance team members drives property performance, resident satisfaction and renewal rates.
In the face of ongoing labor challenges, the rental housing industry quickly discovered the importance of capable maintenance teams and the need to curb turnover in those vital onsite positions.
In that effort, nothing is off the table. Companies are re-examining compensation, schedules and even job descriptions to retain indispensable maintenance team members.
During the 2022 Apartmentalize session, “Keep Your Maintenance Team: Job Description Redesign!,” industry experts discussed strategies and outside-the-box options to attract and retain essential maintenance associates.
Maintenance team members are the unsung heroes of apartment communities, often pulling off the seemingly impossible to keep communities on track. As panelist Mary Gwyn, Chief Innovator at Apartment Dynamics, put it, “They’re only called maintenance workers because ‘miracle worker’ isn’t an official job title.”
To optimize property performance and job satisfaction for maintenance personnel, it’s important to remember their time is limited and their skill sets need to be deployed strategically. Menial tasks don’t require a trained maintenance professional, and management teams need to remove such responsibilities from their plates.
“Even if their job description includes ‘other duties as assigned,’ don’t use it as a weapon to assign tasks that don’t maximize the use of their skills,” said Christopher Caramanica, Director of Facilities and Maintenance for WinnCompanies.
Caramanica also said both job descriptions and hiring practices for maintenance associates need an overhaul.
“We need to start using jobs descriptions that include terms like ‘learner,’ ‘troubleshooter,’ ‘leader’ and ‘team player.’ In this job market, we need to hire people who can look at something, know it’s broken and figure out how to fix it,” he said. “We also need to find balance on our teams. Find a strong HVAC guy. The next guy should be the appliance guy, plumber. We also need apprentices, guys who want to learn.”
Panelists said operators also need to assess which maintenance duties can be vended out. They should determine whether they require more full-time team members or part-time specialists. For hiring, they suggested tapping trade schools, vocational programs at high schools, workforce programs and retirees rather than poaching current members of other multifamily maintenance teams.
With the increasing competition for maintenance professionals, not just from within multifamily but across other industries, panelists encouraged operators to honestly evaluate their pay scale for maintenance positions.
In San Diego, the site of this year’s Apartmentalize conference, the average annual earnings for an HVAC technician in 2022, across all industries, is $83,841. Plumbers earn an average of $75,480. Electrical technicians make $62,129 and full-time grounds crew workers earn $56,728.
“Multifamily is asking its maintenance people to do all of those jobs for half the pay,” said Paul Rhodes, Senior Manager of Maintenance Learning at Brookfield Properties. “The average pay increase for maintenance workers in multifamily is 4%, while changing jobs and changing industries results in an average14% pay increase. What would you do?”
In addition to salary bumps, Rhodes urged operators to consider restructured bonus programs, with clearly stated expectations for increases. Bonuses can be tied to increased training, acquired certifications and longevity.
Panelists also pointed to the industry’s traditional on-call policies as a primary source of job dissatisfaction among maintenance associates. They suggest substantial on-call stipends, increased holiday pay and revisiting the requirements for after-hours emergency situations as well as stated response times.
The bottom line is retaining maintenance team members drives property performance, resident satisfaction and renewal rates. And it is less costly for operators than associate turnover.
“Studies have shown that 30 days without a maintenance tech costs $17K, based on lost productivity,” Rhodes said. “We have to start treating maintenance like more than just a summer job.”