Finding And Retaining Qualified Critical Facilities Operators
Creativity is needed to find the best people and keep them
A conference presenter recently shared an alarming statistic which served to validate a serious challenge many critical facilities owners have described over the last five years. For every seven open critical facilities positions in the United States, only one candidate is actively looking for a position. This largely explains the dramatically prolonged search and hiring process many managers have experienced lately. The significant number of baby boomers retiring is the most widely assumed reason for this scarcity of available candidates.
How does a hiring manager overcome these formidable challenges and motivate quality candidates to consider an offer to join their mission critical team? Here are several strategies you may consider that could offer you an advantage over your industry peers:
• Travel to find the candidates instead of waiting for them to find you
• Enlist the help of a search firm with a specialty in mission critical facilities candidates and positions
• Determine the most effective media for advertising your open position
• Offer incentives to your current team members to help find candidates
• Motivate favored contracted service technicians to consider your open position
Few facilities managers have taken the initiative to travel to the talent. If you target optimal sources for the types of candidates you are looking for, two to three trips should produce notable results.
You can easily secure a small meeting room at a national industry conference, with exposure to hundreds of critical facilities operators who will attend the conference each day. Conference exhibit organizers will reserve the room for you. For a modest fee, they will send an e-mail blast to attendees, letting them know you have positions available and to contact you to set up a personal meeting during the conference. Service vendors do this frequently to meet prospects and existing customers. Take advantage of these gatherings of talent. There are at least eight to 10 national conferences annually.
For a similar investment, you can plan a trip to an armed forces location where those completing their military tenure are attending a job fair. Many valuable critical facilities employees have come from the military because of the excellent technical training provided in addition to the experience gained in the use of procedures and cross-training programs. By traveling to them, you can advertise your open position and the benefits of a career with your organization before they begin their own search for available career positions. You will have access to many individuals within a short time period, much like a corporate recruiter would at a university campus. To learn more about locations where you can meet candidates in person, search the internet for Military Installations: http://www.militaryinstallations.dod.mil/MOS/f?p=MI:ENTRY:0, where you can access a list of installation locations. Once you identify the location(s) you are interested in, look for their Transition Assistance Program office contact information.
Local or regional trade schools and community colleges often provide training programs for electrical and mechanical systems maintenance. Ask your existing employees for any contacts or information they may have, including which of these provide quality training. These programs are generally very receptive to on-campus visits by employers.
Only in recent years have search firms recognized our industry and the need for specializing in mission critical positions and candidates. Internet searches for “critical facilities search firms” and “mission critical search firms” each produce several results. These firms operate on a fee basis. You will typically need to go through your human resources department to engage them.
Determining which media to choose when advertising your open position is not an easy task. Results will vary considerably. It is important to first identify the profile of the candidate you are seeking. Then tailor your selection to the types of media you believe that type of candidate will most frequently access. The desired candidate’s education, skills, training, and work experience will all factor into your decision.
If you don’t have a feel for types of media most frequently accessed by people with different profiles than your own, ask your human resources group to help. You may also ask others at your workplace with similar profiles to those of your desired candidates where they would look.
Media choices may include Monster.com, Dice.com, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Snagajob, industry trade magazines, and local newspapers, just to name a few. In addition, some branches of the military now offer electronic drop boxes where you can post your position and receive interest from candidates. Just contact the previously referenced Transition Assistance Program office for the location(s) you wish to target.
If your organization will permit, you may wish to offer an incentive to subordinates or co-workers to help you fill the open positions you have. Incentives may be tied to producing interested candidates and to successfully filling the position. An incentive need not be monetary to be attractive. Extra days off or a meal at a nice restaurant are just two alternatives.
The last strategy suggested carries some nominal risk. It is common practice for facility owners to hire selected individuals away from contractors at the end of the construction of a new building. Contractors expect a little of this and are often not impacted significantly because their labor force often decreases at the end of a project until another sizable project begins. However, relationships with ongoing service providers are more likely to be strained if you hire their technicians without adequate notice and advance discussion. They will not typically have the depth to cover for someone who leaves on short notice.
Astute service providers will recognize that it is to their advantage to work with you if one of their employees wishes to find a position with less travel, more consistent hours, and perhaps improved benefits. If you handle the issue with appropriate notice and tact, most will cooperate. The opportunity to observe an individual’s skills and personality for months or years is an obvious advantage over hiring someone you have just met.
RETAINING STAFF MEMBERS
A direct correlation exists between continuous operation and continuity in the individuals operating the facility. Cross-training and site-specific experience breeds better decision making when infrastructure system incidents must be resolved. Fortunately, facility operators have been noted for long tenures with a single employer, when certain basic wants are met. This partially explains the scarcity of candidates looking for open positions today. Managers should focus on creating or providing these key essentials:
• Challenging objectives
• Consistent feedback and validation
• Compensation and benefits commensurate with the critical nature of the work
• Career growth potential
Although most organizations require managers to provide written objectives to employees and review them annually, it is uncommon to find critical facility operators with measurable objectives — tied to daily tasks they are individually expected to carry out. Instead, most receive general objectives which essentially broad-brush the duties expected of the entire department. This makes the work less challenging and makes it unlikely the individual will be able to quantify his or her performance during a review. A simple rule of thumb will help ensure your subordinates are challenged: Define two to three objectives that the group will work toward collectively, such as a continuous uptime record for the year and a no accident workplace. These will effectively cause caution to be emphasized via peer pressure.
Two to three additional objectives should be assigned to each staff member individually. Examples include: successful maintenance and operation of a specific infrastructure system; effective management of an upgrade project; and development and testing of a prescribed number of needed procedures. Substantial benefits result from this level of detail: The operator develops pride of ownership and the manager can divide critical tasks equally, while establishing accountability.
Remember to define how success will be measured for each objective. Describe what will qualify as satisfactory, good, very good, and excellent.
Most organizations require an annual appraisal session between the manager and employee. These should be given adequate time, roughly an hour. You can enhance each employee’s feeling of worth and valued contribution by increasing the frequency and type of performance feedback, particularly when it is quantifiable. With a new employee, feedback after the first month is appropriate. Less formal feedback sessions (15 to 30 minute “check-ups”) should be scheduled between the manager and each employee quarterly. To consistently foster the importance of a team attitude, gathering and sharing feedback from each employee’s peers several times per year can be very effective, if facilitated in a positive fashion. Criticism and praise can be accepted equally when delivered in a positive fashion.
Compensation is a key component in retaining quality employees. Your company will have guidelines and established ranges, so it is incumbent upon you to ensure the ranges are realistic for the type of work being performed. Commonly, human resource groups assume facility operator skillsets are equal for all types of properties managed. As a result, critical facility operators are often inadequately compensated and may be easily motivated to look at another organization where the pay is commensurate with the skills required to successfully operate a critical site.
The best way to convince your human resources department to modify your team’s pay ranges is to conduct a benchmarking survey with comparable critical facilities in your geographic region. By focusing on the same region, you will ensure survey results are not skewed by dramatically different pay scales in other parts of the country. You can conduct a survey yourself or hire a third party to do so.
To ensure participants provide data for comparable positions, you should generically describe the positions you desire compensation data for. Then ask for the lowest and highest annual (or hourly) wages paid for each position; quantify the percentage of salary that the value of benefits are calculated by; and identify if the position is union or non-union. Another data point to request is educational level required. Peers will usually participate if you copy them on the results, as long as the results are kept “blind,” so they cannot tell which company provided specific answers. If you find just three to four peer organizations willing to participate, you can build a compelling case.
When you view the potential impact of downtime at your critical facility, your company’s philosophy should be to consistently offer a slightly higher pay range than your regional peers. Continuity directly equates to prolonged uptime.
Career growth is often minimally available in a facilities department. In most cases, an individual with technical skills may have the opportunity to advance from technician to engineer, and then perhaps to lead person within the critical facilities group. You can expand opportunities for your employees in several ways:
By implementing a cross training program, those with primarily electrical experience are taught the necessary skills to isolate a problem with a mechanical system and vice versa. Not only will this better prepare individuals to supervise a team of electrical and mechanical technicians, it will strengthen the group’s ability to respond successfully to any incident at any time of day and week.
If your organization has other facilities, you should encourage interested individuals to relocate when an open position offers additional experience or greater responsibility. This helps the organization maximize their investment in training and reduces the orientation time for the individual filling the open position. “Cross-pollination” is also effective in spreading the use of best practices.
Recognition is a strong motivator, and surprisingly easy to apply. Many employees prefer public thanks for a job well done to receiving a monetary bonus. A creative manager can readily motivate team members by looking for new ways to demonstrate they are appreciated. Examples include newsletter articles, certificates and wall plaques, presentations at company and department gatherings, recognition meals with a company executive, gift certificates, concert tickets, and extra days off. If you consider how often you have received public recognition, it becomes readily apparent a positive impression will be made by practicing it.
Filling critical facilities positions in today’s environment will continue to be challenging for the near future. By applying some creativity, you will be able to access a greater selection of candidates than most managers. It will be best to leverage multiple ideas as you implement your strategy. You should budget more for the search process than previously to cover travel and additional fees.
Staff retention should be an easier and less expensive task if you deploy the processes defined above. Once in place, only a modest investment of time will be required to maintain them. Ensuring your group is challenged, motivated, and adequately compensated will save you from repeating the search process frequently. More importantly, this strategy is a crucial component in achieving extensive uptime.