Pressures On The Multifamily Job Market

We are all familiar with the US economic recovery over the past few years. Increased corporate economic development is resulting in growing GDP and increased consumer confidence. The net result, at the end of Q3-2018, is near historic-low unemployment levels and the largest increase in wages & salaries in a decade.

This is all good, right!? Absolutely. But, bull-market growth does present new challenges that small & large businesses alike have to solve for. So what is the impact to multifamily operators?

Due to increases in all construction segments, especially commercial & residential, multifamily operators nationwide are seeing growing pressure with filling positions for apartment maintenance technicians.

The reason being, the skillset of a good maintenance technician is similar, sometimes identical, to positions in high-demand in the construction and home-improvement markets. The resulting impact is higher turnover, and increased wage pressure, not to mention more unfilled openings. The blast radius extends to longer wait times for resident service from being understaffed and blown budgets not only due to paying increased wages in order to attract and retain maintenance team members, but rate increases from outside vendors critical in the make-ready/unit-turn process.


“We’ve Had To Adjust Our Hiring Standards”

As every multifamily operator knows, and previously written about on this blog, the role of maintenance technician is HUGE as it relates to resident experience. Being understaffed in this space can have dire consequences, including direct impact to a property’s online reputation.

A senior executive of a large multifamily owner/operator recently expressed their feelings on the problem:

“We’re in a situation now where ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, so we’ve had to adjust our hiring standards just to fill headcount. Ultimately though, we have to think outside of the box with recruitment, development & retention of maintenance tech’s & supervisors.”

The statement, “we’ve had to adjust our hiring standards” is not unique to this operator. It’s actually a common practice in the multifamily industry right now, especially for operators working in high-growth cities across the country. Simply put, it means a reduced expectation of experience and/or qualifications required for the job.


English Optional

In surveying operators across the country on this issue, specifically concerning how they reduced qualification expectations, exposed a very interesting common thread: English-Optional.

Very generally speaking, non-English speaking applicants weren’t considered candidates for most open positions, especially for market-rate operators. Now, based on job-market pressures, innovative operators are tapping into a whole new community of technical workers with the applicable skillset….sans-English!

Non-English speaking technicians (predominantly Spanish-speaking) are paired with bilingual colleagues that not only train, but actively translate work orders and resident interactions for them throughout the day. This practice is especially prevalent for companies operating in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest & California because of a growing population of workers of Hispanic & Latino ethnicity.


How Technology Is Helping To Bridge the Gap

Peer-staffing is not sustainable long-term and there are three major barriers to getting non-English-speaking team members independently-operational:

  • Reading & understanding work orders
  • Communicating with residents
  • Documenting repairs, parts and other unit information

To bridge this gap, innovative operators, like General Services Corporation (GSC), are turning to technology by leveraging smartphone apps that perform real-time language translation for their maintenance technicians.

Both English and non-English speaking team members routinely use the Google Translate mobile app when they need to communicate with residents when they don’t share a common language (read more about that here).

For interacting with work orders and documenting repairs, GSC’s property teams leverage ServusConnect’s Maintenance Automation system to electronically dispatch work orders from their property management software directly to the smartphones of maintenance team members in the field. Not only is this saving time and speeding up service cycle times, ServusConnect’s native technician apps have Spanish language support and real-time translation that auto-converts English-to-Spanish and visa-versa, based on the user profile of field and office staff.


As for the repair data, along with enabling the capture of photos & videos, technicians can use speech-to-text capabilities in the app to capture repair details in Spanish. Speech-to-text is a highly utilized feature, allowing maintenance team members to articulate more-complete repair descriptions than they would with pen & paper. ServusConnect auto-translates technician comments back into English for office review & closeout procedures.

This innovative use of technology will enable operators to attract prospective maintenance team members from a wider pool of applicants, and facilitate non-English speaking technicians to become valuable independent contributors much faster than in the past. If you are interested in learning more about multifamily maintenance automation & mobility solutions from ServusConnect, contact us to learn more.