No Train No Gain: Why Your Staff Needs Training

 

Multifamily housing employees want more training. At least that’s what a recent Pew Research Center survey about the American workforce and changing job market suggests.

The U.S. employment landscape has morphed from hands-on tools to fingers on keyboards. Over the last 35 years, workers are rethinking the skills they have and what they will need to compete. Some 54 percent of adults in the labor force believe they will need to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life just to keep up.

About a third of workers say they don’t have the education and training they need to get ahead, and many are trying to do something about it. Nearly half of adults are already trying to either bone up for new jobs or to stay on pace where they currently work. Many are doing so on their own accord.

Workers need to be prepared in changing work environment

As with many industries, rapidly changing technology has altered the multifamily housing workplace and culture. The days of manually accepting rent payments and exercising leases, for example, have gone from pen and paper to computer and mobile technology. Establishing rent rates based on what competitors are doing have gotten far more sophisticated, and maintenance technicians are now armed with tablets and mobile devices in addition to hammers and power tools to do their jobs.

Technology also has transformed workplace environments, from cramped downtown cubicles to home offices.

A Gallup poll in 2013 found that on average workers were more productive working from home. In 2014, Harvard Business Review reported that those who worked from home were not only more productive but happier and less likely to quit their jobs, much to the benefit of employers.

But working away from traditional offices is one reason why some industry leaders believe that additional training is essential.

“With the number of people who are working remotely now, they are not as connected face-to-face with people as they used to be,” says Doug Bibby, National Multifamily Housing Council President. “I think that really calls for making sure that people are prepared to do their jobs, particularly when they are working remotely, and even in the team environment.”

“With the number of people who are working remotely now, they are not as connected face-to-face with people as they used to be,” says Doug Bibby, National Multifamily Housing Council President. “I think that really calls for making sure that people are prepared to do their jobs, particularly when they are working remotely, and even in the team environment.”

‘There is a lot of catch-up work to be done right now’

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According to Pew, employment has been rising faster in occupations requiring more preparation. Last year, about 83 million people worked in jobs that require an average or above average level of preparation – education, experience, and job training. That’s 68 percent more than the number in 1980.

Bibby says training expenses often can be a casualty during budgeting, especially during tough economic times. Since the recession, technology has played a greater role in apartment management but empowering employees to keep pace with it has been lacking.

“What I’m hearing is people have been backing away,” he said. “During the recession and coming out of the recession training was not emphasized. I think there is a lot of catch-up work to be done right now.”

Onsite personnel need training to maintain technology’s pace

Veteran industry consultant Anne Sadovsky, who has worked in multifamily for 48 years, knows first-hand how the apartment industry has grown.

“It’s getting so different compared to back in the day, in the 70s when I was onsite,” said Sadovsky, “It was sort of like you tried to be nice, hand out keys and take checks. And everything was on the peg board. You did everything by hand.”

Today, onsite personnel are managing units and handling resident requests online, and in some cases, on various platforms that require knowledge of new or advanced workflows. While many onsite positions don’t require a college degree, employees need up-to-date skill sets to negotiate technology not only for today but as it changes.

“For multifamily, as fast as the pace of technology is changing, that really calls for people to be as prepared as they can be,” Bibby said. “Many of our NMHC members have multiple platforms. They’re using a variety of suppliers, who may not always talk effectively and efficiently to each other. That’s another area where training is important.”

Aging out of maintenance techs may present industry a problem

Sadovsky fears that unless apartment leaders address a changing of the guard among maintenance technicians that the multifamily industry is could stumble on the service side. She is concerned that as older maintenance techs age out there won’t be enough younger workers to take their place.

“I’m predicting there will be a huge, huge lacking of service techs and our industry will be hurting because of that,” she said. “It’s hard to find anybody decent now. Can you imagine as the Baby Boomers continue aging out, it’s hard to find young people who want to do that kind of thing. A thermostat can’t be replaced by a computer.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of general maintenance and repair workers in the U.S. − not specific to the multifamily housing − has actually gotten younger, from 48.4 in 2011 to 47.6 in 2015. Also, more workers ages 20-24 and 25-34 have maintenance and repair occupations than four years ago.

However, six percent fewer workers ages 35-44 and 45-54 combined are in the occupation since 2011, suggesting that there are less experienced workers in the trade.

Also, building and grounds cleaning maintenance occupations are getting older. In 2011, the median age of workers was 43.8; last year is was 44.4.

Training starts with employers

And while U.S. workers say they should bear the responsibility of getting trained, Sadovsky says the onus should be on employers to ensure that their workforce can do the job, especially when it comes to people skills.

“When you’re in housing and work where people live, you have to have more training in soft skills,” she said. “You can have all the technology in the world, but it’s about when the rubber hits the road and you’re face-to-face or at least ear to ear on the phone with a customer.”

 


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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