Every apartment community is a machine. At the center is the on-site team that ensures everything is running smoothly. While a knowledgeable leasing team is crucial to the front-end success of a community, the maintenance team manages the intricate mechanics of it all.
From keeping the grounds clean to fulfilling countless work orders and resident requests, maintenance teams are always there to answer the call. But in an area of work with a historically high turnover rate and that can sometimes be underappreciated, finding and retaining quality maintenance team members can be a difficult feat for even the most successful apartment companies.
Among the employee turnover rates projected by the National Apartment Association, on-site maintenance is always the highest. And it has steadily increased over the last decade. A persisting labor shortage continues to exacerbate the turnover cycle.
Maintenance associates are responsible for the seemingly endless day-to-day tasks around apartment communities, and their job requires a diverse skill set. Anyone who has ever lived in or worked for an apartment company knows that hiring the wrong person can be frustrating for on-site teams, residents, and operators. Hiring and training various people for the same position can take its toll on day-to-day operations and the bottom line; far too many communities lose maintenance associates as quickly as they were hired.
Long-term maintenance associates know their communities well and, to a large degree, shoulder the responsibility of delivering a high-level of customer service that impacts resident satisfaction. It’s essential to not only attract but retain the right technicians for the well-being of the entire community ecosystem. Here are some strategies for modern maintenance retention:
Compensation and Career Incentives
“Money is probably the No. 1 reason maintenance professionals leave a company,” says Angel Davila, national maintenance trainer for Monarch Investment & Management Group.
Money talks—it’s not really a secret that attracting and retaining maintenance associates begins and ends with offering competitive pay rates and benefits. Beyond compensation, operators can sweeten the pot by providing additional career incentives, training opportunities, and a path for growth.
“Compensation is one of the best ways to attract a high-quality maintenance applicant, but it’s also important to offer incentives for them to stay,” Davila says. “Operators should start putting some of the NOI back into the pockets of their maintenance teams in some form. Maybe profit interests or even resident satisfaction survey bonuses. The other piece of retention is providing opportunities for career advancement and promoting from within. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but we have to get creative in our approach to maximize the longevity of existing employees.”
Davila notes that in addition to paying technicians accordingly and listing the pay range for positions, employers also need to offer incentives. Some of the biggest incentives include paid continuing education to certify maintenance teams in areas like Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT), Certified Pool Operator (CPO), and HVAC to help associates add new skill sets and move up the ladder.
“Training is a huge factor in setting technicians up for success and saving time,” Davila says. “It’s so important to Monarch that we’ve put together two stand-alone training centers and are starting to build five more satellite training centers throughout the Midwest, which allows us to take our technicians’ skill set and knowledge to the next level.”
Maintenance teams have a constantly full plate, and it’s essential to provide them with the necessary knowledge and tools to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Tools for Success
A significant way to set maintenance teams up for long-term success and growth is by implementing the right technology in a community.
“Implementing tech-centric tools and utilizing system software properly is the most efficient way to help maintenance teams stay focused and organized,” Davila says. “The right software allows entire teams to execute important tasks, like tracking and scheduling make-readies, closing out service requests, documenting move-out charges, and even ordering materials. At each of our communities, we have iPads with Microsoft Teams built in, and our maintenance trainers are able to help technicians out with on-the-job issues in real-time. I’d rather that our technicians call me so I can walk them through a problem in eight minutes, instead of them potentially spending eight hours diagnosing the issue.”
While technology can certainly support maintenance teams in working smarter, staying organized, and multitasking more efficiently, there is no substitute for experience.
“Having an experienced maintenance professional nearby is critical in terms of saving the time, money, materials, and energy it takes to operate, which most certainly has an impact on resident satisfaction,” Davila says. “A reliable, seasoned team leader can make all of the difference.”
Despite the experience of maintenance technicians, there are always unexpected tasks thrown their way, like trash management or picking up pet waste. These tasks may or may not be in their job description, but if not staffed appropriately to handle these responsibilities, it can often eat up a lot of technicians’ time and distract them from more time-sensitive duties.
“There are plenty of third-party services out there that can take on those some of the curb appeal responsibilities, like trash and pet waste, that really shouldn’t be placed on maintenance teams in the first place,” says Mary Kahl, senior vice president of property management at Timberland Partners. “If a community doesn’t currently have a service like that, then operators should consider partnering up with reputable vendors in the area to outsource those time-consuming projects. We’ve found it not only gives maintenance teams more time during the day, but it also gives them greater job satisfaction. Improving job satisfaction has been key for us in reducing turnover in the service department.”
For example, as more communities become pet-friendly, the pet waste challenge can be an enormous time suck for maintenance teams. Some operators are implementing DNA testing for pet waste in their communities; among the more than 7,000 communities using it, many have reported a 95% reduction in pet waste.
Time is the most valuable resource, and time constraints can impact a community’s financial health, resident satisfaction and employee retention. When maintenance teams are able to manage their time wisely, it provides more job satisfaction and a better overall customer service experience for residents.
At the end of the day, resident satisfaction is of the utmost importance to maintenance teams. In order to keep apartment communities running seamlessly and residents happy, it’s essential to develop longevity in maintenance teams. Operators can get creative with different ways to attract, train, motivate, and retain quality maintenance associates, from compensation and training to tech tools and career growth.