Who will fill your shoes when you retire? Is anyone on your team ready to step up and become a leader?
Many FMs don’t have an answer to those questions, says Bill Goebel, president of MPACT Maintenance & Reliability Solutions, which provides testing, educational materials, and training for industrial and facility maintenance.
In fact, one of Goebel’s clients found that roughly 72% of its maintenance staff was over 55 – and there was no organized program to maintain the staff’s skill level as its most experienced and knowledgeable workers moved on, leaving the company vulnerable to “brain drain.”
“The average age of a maintenance employee is middle to late 50s – even the high 50s in many cases,” notes Mike Cowley, president of CE Maintenance Solutions, which provides training, mentoring, and consulting for commercial and manufacturing maintenance teams. “That creates a lot of problems, but opportunities as well.”
To protect the long-term strength of your FM department, you need to form a comprehensive game plan with solutions customized to your department and the organization as a whole. Approach the problem from four angles: identify missing skills, craft long- and short-term plans to remedy the deficiency, incentivize team members to meet your improvement goals, and find resources to keep performance high.
1) Put Your Team to the Test
Start by determining whether your team has any skill deficiencies using work audits and formal assessments.
A work audit requires you to periodically inspect 5-10% of your department’s finished work to ensure each job was completed satisfactorily. Audited jobs include random selections from work orders, equipment failures, and any catastrophic events, explains Cowley.
Conducting a customer survey – whether the customer is an outside organization contracting you or another department in your building – can also reveal audit candidates. Many work order software packages and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) include the ability to automatically send a form email after every work order is closed – you can include survey questions in this generic email, then follow up with a work audit if you receive negative feedback.
As you examine the work, don’t just focus on whether the repair or maintenance task was done correctly – also look at factors like cleanliness.
“It’s like getting home after having your car serviced and looking over it,” Cowley explains. “You don’t have to be an expert, but did you get the car back cleaned? Was there grease on the seat? If you raise the hood, are there extra pieces lying around in there? That’s what a work audit is like. If you have an HVAC technician who just did the annual preventive maintenance on an air conditioner, is there trash on the roof? Did he put all the screws back in the cabinet or are there extra ones? Did he leave dirt, trash, empty cans of lubricant, or dirty belts or filters lying around?”
Formal assessments, whether written or web-based, will also help root out any areas where your fellow FMs need to beef up their knowledge. You can then use the results to design a custom course plan to get your team up to speed on needed knowledge. Online and hands-on training can both be great resources. It’s also vital that you decide upfront whether you’ll require people to complete the training outside of work or if you’ll make room in their schedules to train during the work day.
“The average score on a skill assessment is 52 to 62%, and you need to get someone between 70 and 80% to improve their efficiency,” Goebel explains. “Online classes will sometimes get you there – they can pull someone’s score up by 20 to 30 points. Hands-on classes will always get you there, but they’re expensive and you have to pull people off work, so there are disadvantages.”
2) Master Planning for Staff Improvement
After assessment has started, move on to the planning phase. Having the benchmark of your staff’s test results makes it easier to set realistic, obtainable goals, Cowley explains.
“Once you know where you are, you can set a goal and continue to raise the bar until you can’t get any better,” says Cowley. “Don’t get carried away. If you’re not doing any preventive maintenance now, don’t say ‘I’m going to be 100% compliant by the end of the quarter’ – it’s not going to happen. Maybe your goal for the next quarter is to do preventive maintenance on 25% of your assets, and then maybe the next quarter is the next 25%, and so forth so that by the end of the year you’re 100% compliant. Slowly raise the bar as time, energy, and resources allow.”
3) Make Incentives Count
A long-term goal for improvement requires a deep commitment from each team member expected to complete training. In most cases, the carrot approach is more effective than the stick in incentivizing employees to participate, says Cowley.
“Forward-thinking companies will tie in a small salary increase to completing skill-building courses,” recommends Goebel. “You need senior management – not only HR, but also the plant manager – to understand that this is a long-term investment.”
It can be difficult to find room for such incentives in the age of doing less with more. However, as Cowley points out, the alternative – leaving the skill gap to grow – will only exacerbate the problem over time.
“I just did an assessment of a large casino, and one of the comments was ‘What if we train these people and then they leave?’” Cowley explains. “To that, I say ‘What if you don’t train them and they stay here for five years?’”
Formal annual performance appraisals can also be counted among incentives, as part of their function is to reward positive outcomes and discourage negative ones.
“Management appraisals would include things like what their performance is like and their team skills. You can even have sections on there that talk about their potential,” Cowley says. “If you have someone that’s in charge of project management for new construction and renovations, you’d look at the performance of his projects, the timeliness, the accuracy, and attention to detail. Consider how well they plan, whether their scheduling process is neat and organized, and how well they know what’s going on when you ask where a project stands. Use some of your customer satisfaction surveys to give you an idea of where problems may exist.”
Non-management personnel may have additional measurements reflected on their appraisals. This could include things like tardiness, attendance, technical skills, and safety performance (as measured by the frequency of incidents you have to record for OSHA), as well as interpersonal items like “going above and beyond the call of duty, willing to work overtime, and having a can-do attitude,” says Cowley.
Also take a look at the job descriptions for your department. Are you giving feedback on every responsibility? What about the indirect qualities that distinguish good employees from great ones? Tie all appraisals – both the routine annual one and the one you should be giving any individual whose performance has changed significantly, good or bad – to promotions and raises, Cowley suggests.
“The hard part is sitting down and discussing that written appraisal with the employee. Do it honestly and in a timely manner,” Cowley recommends. “You don’t want to be saying ‘I didn’t like what you did last year.’ It will be meaningless by then.”
4) Assemble Resources
What’s available in your area to boost your employees’ training? Before incurring the cost of bringing in a consultant, check with your local community college. Many offer courses and certifications in FM-related disciplines, such as HVAC, LEAN, and electrical work.
Some, like the North Carolina Community College System, can even help with your master planning by determining what skills are necessary for each job on your team and crafting a customized program.
“North Carolina developed a program called customized industrial training, where they ask what skills you need to work at each facility. You might list things like Microsoft Word and Excel, safety, first aid, management, and maintenance training,” Goebel says. “Then the college will put together a program for you and say ‘Here’s what you asked for and here’s how we’ll address it. The company, the community college, and third-party providers all work together to identify the skill gap and come up with the plan that’s best for the company. That’s the holy grail of getting things done efficiently.”
Vendors can also be a rich source of knowledge. Approach a vendor you have an existing contract with and request a seminar related to their expertise – for example, a two-hour HVAC 101 class from the vendor that conducts annual preventive maintenance on your chillers. “I guarantee every one of them will do it for free,” explains Cowley. “Make those mandatory classes, especially in HVAC and electrical.”
As you build up your FM crew from all four sides, also pay attention to a fifth requirement for improvement – attitude. You’re the head of your FM crew, so be ready to lead.
“Be confident. Even if you’re going to make mistakes, you have to go full-force,” says Cowley. “If you make mistakes, say you made them, then turn around and fix it. You have to understand the process and what your people are doing, because if you can’t understand it, you can’t help them fix it. You’ve got to set the vision.”
Janelle Penny firstname.lastname@example.org is associate editor of BUILDINGS.