Multifamily Executive – How to Recruit and Retain Top Maintenance Staff


“Finding—and keeping—high-performing workers for your communities is more paramount than ever in today’s competitive multifamily landscape.”

By Tony Hogrebe

The number of qualified, high-performing maintenance technicians is disproportionate to the amount needed in today’s apartment industry. That makes finding them – and retaining them – more paramount than ever in the current multifamily landscape.

With a finite pool of associates to choose from, increased emphasis is placed on a company’s ability to recruit high-performing professionals and create a unique culture that helps retain these increasingly valued team members. Equipped with a skillset that is highly coveted in the multifamily and construction industries, these associates have a distinct advantage with the multitude of opportunities available to them.

Finding qualified maintenance team members has always been a difficult task, but the challenge has only become more difficult in a thriving economy. Today’s unemployment rate is below 4 percent for the first time since the 1960s, while wages have grown about 3 percent, meaning a vast majority of these qualified professionals are already hard at work in the industry.

Similar industries, such as construction, often recruit skilled maintenance technicians to address their own labor shortages. This exacerbates the challenge for apartment communities to hire skilled professionals. And with the industry tasked with developing a projected 4.6 million new apartment homes by 2030 (about 373,000 per year), according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, the construction industry won’t curtail its recruiting efforts anytime soon.

But this doesn’t mean that recruiting and retaining top maintenance talent is impossible. It means apartment operators have the opportunity to exhibit increased focus, develop an innovative culture and get creative in an effort to attract and retain these associates.

Recruiting efforts during a shortage
When attempting to identify and attract talent that has become a rare commodity, creative efforts can be paired with traditional recruiting methods. It’s advisable to continue to market through the typical channels, advertising sources and recruiting groups. But it’s often positive referrals that generate the most qualified workers, particularly with regard to maintenance positions that require a specific skillset.

Positive referrals can be underrated. But they require a workplace culture that associates want to speak well of with their peers.

Once you’ve recruited a new associate, start the retention process early. To be a high-performing team member, associates have to feel like they’re engaged with the company’s mission, feel informed and given all the tools they need to perform their job at a high level to make their residents happy.

They want to work for a company that takes care of them and cares about their career development. Maintenance team members, like most associates, thrive when a company allows them the flexibility to do what’s necessary to consistently take care of the community.

Retaining current associates
Oftentimes your ideal associates are already on your team. You want to take great care of them to retain them, and part of that is helping them achieve their ambitions. In many cases, those ambitions are centered on professional growth and development, and often times those goals align with those of the company and it’s a win-win.

Other associates have a desire to remain stable in one location. They might have worked in construction or another industry where their job required them to work in multiple different locations in the past, and now they’d prefer one consistent site. A primary benefit to working in the apartment industry is a level of stability not found in many trades.

For the associates who might have goals that transcend that of a maintenance supervisor, there is a balance of empowering them without losing them. One philosophy is to hire a high-level associate, help them grow and empower them to be the best associate they can be. But if you develop them and they decide they want to change career paths, honor their decision.

Don’t limit their possibilities, and consider that they might have served as a mentor to another team member within your organization, who could be ready to take over. It’s about how you treat your people, and if you’re not in it for their growth as well as that of your company, it will limit your ability to retain team members.

Incentives to keep high-performing maintenance team members in place
As with any industry, money is an attractive incentive in the maintenance world. This requires that you provide a competitive pay rate, which can be diagnosed by tracking pay scales across the industry. Associates may not leave for another offer of just 50 cents or $1 an hour if they’re happy in their current position, but they will seek market value if they are significantly underpaid.

Beyond monetary matters, any demonstration of appreciation is generally well received. Many companies have successfully implemented a service appreciation day or week for their maintenance teams where managers and technicians are recognized at all levels of the organization and rewarded for their continued dedication.

An idea to make this an enjoyable experience is to empower the maintenance team to educate other on site associates regarding maintenance tasks. Perhaps the leasing team punches apartment homes and responds to service requests under the watch of a service manager to get a feel for what it’s like for the maintenance team on daily basis.

Allow the onsite team to wear maintenance appreciation T-shirts for the day or week of the event. To punctuate the appreciation at the end of the week, send your maintenance team home early and volunteer the remainder of the on site team to clean up the shop for the weekend.

Losing associates to other industries
As alluded to, different industries can be tempted to recruit your maintenance technicians. It happens, and it’s difficult to combat because industries such as construction often pay several dollars more per hour.

For someone who is dollars-driven, construction might make sense. In some cases, the multifamily operator is also a construction company, so the associate might not be leaving the company but changing roles within.

Again, you don’t want to stop a good associate from pursuing their desired career path. In a perfect scenario, the maintenance team will be able to keep the associate in their current position until it’s filled, and the company can provide the resources to help the associate grow into their desired role.

If your team frequently secures new developments – and given the current demand for housing, that’s a strong possibility – there is always the need to add qualified talent. If you are fortunate enough to attract it, make every effort to retain it, as well.

Full article posted here.