Strategizing for Success

09/01/2013 | By Janelle Penny

How to bridge your team’s skill gap brick by brick

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.

3 More Places to Expand Your Team’s Knowledge

1.) The online home of BUILDINGS magazine offers dozens of webinars and other online-only content in addition to an archive of articles from the print edition.

2.) Professional organizations: If you’re not already a member, consider joining local branches of organizations like the USGBC, the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), or the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). Local groups often bring in speakers or host other events that can further your team’s knowledge, and the social aspect allows you to learn from other FMs’ successes.

3.) Trade shows: If there’s room in the budget, facilities management conventions are great places to learn, network, and gather ideas for your next project. If you’re looking to gain ground on multiple subjects, annual conventions like the Every Building Show (co-presented by BOMA and BUILDINGS) and World Workplace (IFMA) offer multiple tracks on diverse subjects. Others, like Lightfair and ASIS, concentrate on lighting and security respectively and can be a good choice if your team needs to explore one facet of FM in depth.

Some even make speaker presentations available for download in case you need to expand on your notes.

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.”

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