There’s no denying it: Maintenance training can be a big—and challenging—endeavor. But property managers need to find the time and resources necessary to keep their staff up-to-date on constantly changing knowledge and skill requirements, according to the “Maintenance Training Roundtable” panel discussion at this year’s National Apartment Association Conference & Exposition in San Francisco.
Determining the type of training necessary for the modern-day maintenance staff is key, according to the panel experts. David Jolley, national director of maintenance and purchasing for Pinnacle, said training needs to be hands-on and interactive. Maintenance personnel have to see, feel and touch while they learn so that they are more prepared when they go out into the field, he added.
Paul Rhodes, national maintenance and safety instructor for the NAA Education Institute, said that the goal of any training program should be to help maintenance staff translate classroom knowledge into action in the field. But maintenance personnel must understand the underlying principles of the work before they go out and do it, he added.
Technology also plays a big role in facilitating learning—and as an area to master for better job performance. Scott Ployer, vice president of operations for Trinity Management LLC, said his company focuses on developing the hard skills of maintenance staff while also keeping up on all of the latest training technology available. Programs such as the Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians have been instrumental in teaching new skills, he added.
Mark Vanderhoof, instructional designer for MARQ E-Learning, said maintenance staff must learn how to use computer software not only for training purposes, but also for processing service requests and filling out time sheets. Many people have trouble with these tasks despite the ubiquity of electronics, such as laptops and smartphones, he added.
To help its maintenance workers get up to speed on technology, Pinnacle gives maintenance personnel a timeline to complete online training programs—90 days, for example—and they can do the work on a computer at home or in the office, which allows them to ask questions if necessary, Jolley said. The programs make use of dropdown menus and other helpful features to guide the user, he added.
These types of interactive online training programs are most effective when they measure results and engage users so that they enjoy the learning process and want to keep advancing, Vanderhoof said. Breaking content down into more manageable pieces and offering incentives, such as badges, help encourage employee participation. And more participation means that online training programs can also align corporate initiatives with strategic planning and are, therefore, a vital tool in the development of maintenance staff, Ployer added.
While technology was a clear focus of the discussion, all of the experts agreed that core soft skills should also be a priority. At Trinity, for example, many of the soft skills were being overlooked, so the company created a program that focuses on effective communication.
And the problem isn’t limited to longtime maintenance staff. New employees are often rushed into the field because of overriding maintenance needs on a property and end up working on their soft skills during downtime, Jolley said. To get new hires on the right path, Pinnacle gives them an assessment so the company gets a better idea of their knowledge base and what they must learn in order to be successful in the job.
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