Liberty Military Housing is proud to be among the leaders in the industry maintenance satisfaction. With oversight by our National Maintenance Director, Elmer Salgado, and Senior Regional Maintenance Directors, Kamil Konopka, Checo Martinez, and James Meehan, we are able to provide exemplary service to our military families.
Recently, these leaders gathered to share their expert insight with Multifamily Dive and the National Apartment Association about how companies can attract and retain professionals across the multifamily industry. Read excerpts from the Q&A below.
What are some of the largest problems that properties face in hiring and retaining maintenance workers?
One of the problems we face in the industry is simply the lack of interest in hands-on work. Technology, remote work, and more flexible work opportunities across the board have offered people many different career paths. Additionally, the maintenance industry is not just 9-5, but 24/7. Our dedicated maintenance teams may need to work on holidays and weekends, putting their personal lives on hold. In the military housing industry, we have a duty to provide our military families with exemplary service, so it is important to us that we directly address these factors with candidates and set expectations upfront.
What are the best ways to solve these challenges?
In our interviews with prospective employees, one of the things we focus on is our “why.” Our mission is to provide exemplary service to our military families, which we take very seriously, and in turn, Liberty takes its commitment to its employees very seriously, too.
I’ve been in the multifamily industry for many years, and I can confidently say, that Liberty goes above and beyond in taking care of our team members, not just in the military and multifamily housing industries, but in general.
We have our bonus programs, such as our Exemplary Service Incentive, across the board for all team members, which is not typical in multifamily. I think the company's done a really nice job measuring ourselves to the market and then seeking to go beyond that.
In December 2020, Liberty transitioned to an employee-owned company through our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). We are the largest employee-owned multifamily housing company and one of the top 100 largest ESOPs in the United States. Having that vested interest separates us from our counterparts in the military housing industry, but even more so from multifamily. Our team members have an ownership stake in the company and real wealth-building opportunity, which helps our team members look at Liberty as a long-term career and investment in their future. Not only has our ESOP model had a noticeable impact on our company culture, but it has also impacted our operational markers for success. Nearly across the board, we’ve seen improvements. We completed 180,000+ hours of team member development in 2022, reduced our turn times, increased our completion percentages for Preventative Maintenance Inspections, and, most importantly, in 2022, we earned an all-time high score in resident satisfaction.
We have also invested heavily in our training. We are in the process of developing in-house training facilities that directly support our technician onboarding and career development.
We are constantly soliciting feedback from our team members in the field through surveys and personal interviews. We harness that feedback and then put new action items in place. A lot of what we have done over the last few years has come from the feedback that we received directly from those in the field because it's so important to always stay connected with those individuals. In many ways, you need to empower them in the field and make them feel like they are a part of the many changes that come out of a corporate office. They are employee-owners. Their voices are important, and we want them to stay connected and empowered, fully embodying the philosophy of the ESOP.
Which solutions are easiest, and which are the most difficult for apartment managers to solve?
The benefit packages may not be easy to implement; however, they are essential. Since Liberty rolled out some new benefits and policies, our turnover has been reduced by double-digits. Focusing on the people aspect of business is simple, as mentioned, soliciting feedback and listening to the team members is pivotal to success.
Multifamily is different than the more traditional service industries. There is a slower path to promotion than, say, in a restaurant or a department store. Sometimes, a career trajectory might be three or four years, and then the position must be available for us to promote someone to. It’s not based solely on how long you’ve been with us but on what people bring to the table. These things take time.
How has the state of the maintenance talent pool influenced difficulties in retention?
I think the talent pool has shrunk, and the benefit of studying a trade isn’t a direction that's been pushed to our young adults and teenagers. Therefore, they're not out there. Liberty focuses heavily on career development and provides a very good ladder for people to move up. Someone can start as a Groundskeeper or one of the entry-level positions and can work their way up the employment ladder. We want to offer people not just a job but a fulfilling career for anybody who joins the team.
Many managers are centralizing their operations. Does that pose any issues for maintenance retention?
From working onsite in a conventional setting, team members build relationships, not just with the residents and their customers but with their peers, too, which is a big part of getting up and coming to work. Each day is all about enjoying not only what you do but the people that you do it with. The further removed someone gets from that, the unhappier the individual will be, and that's when they start to look for other opportunities. That is where the issues are. When people don't have that connection with their co-workers, it hinders their experience and effectiveness.
End of Interview.
We’re always on the lookout for talented members to join our experienced team. If you are interested in exploring career opportunities with Liberty Military Housing, please visit www.livelmh.com/careers to learn more.