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The Impact Of Labor Shortages On Facilities

A competitive market and an aging workforce has created the perfect storm to make finding and retaining workers a challenge for facilities professionals.

By Jennifer Goetz


In a report from the Hiring Lab, economists anticipate 2024 will be the year the fallout from the pandemic and The Great Resignation subsides, and the rate of hiring will slow. At the same time, several companies have announced mass layoffs, and have chosen to restructure their operations and eliminate roles created during the pandemic. But, this is not the reality for many facilities; some areas of the U.S. aren’t impacted by mass layoffs at all and instead are still searching for both skilled and unskilled workers.

“In Central Ohio, you don’t hear about anyone losing jobs, it’s the other way around,” says Phil Miller, Assistant Director, Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board for the Ohio Statehouse. “As a matter of fact, finding talent continues to be a challenge.” The Statehouse has seen employees move on or retire and has found replacing them is not easy.

While the outlook from the Hiring Lab is cautiously optimistic, the fact remains that the U.S. is dealing with an aging workforce and unless more workers come to the U.S., there will continue to be a decrease in U.S. labor force participation.

For facility executives, it’s critical to have workers that can hold skilled positions, and it’s no secret that many commercial facilities are struggling to find maintenance workers, HVAC techs, and custodians, among other positions both skilled and unskilled. Facilities teams have to anticipate that when an employee leaves, there may be some time before the position is filled again. “We just recently filled a position that had been vacant for over a year,” says Matt Simpson, Corporate Director of Facilities and Safety for New Vista.

Expanding Vendor Teams

One way an organization can manage a labor shortage is by expanding its vendor teams to fill labor gaps with outside personnel. “You have to marry and merge an existing team with outside vendors,” says Derek Blackmore, President of AkitaBox. “You may be managing a multidimensional team. School districts are starting to outsource their maintenance work due to costs.”

Whether organizations are relying on their vendor support or sticking with in-house teams, it’s critical for there to be clear communication across all stakeholders. Blackmore asks an important question: “How do we standardize and have one element of truth when there are too many stakeholders involved to just rely on word-of-mouth?” One solution many facilities professionals are turning to is updating their building technology to make all building information more accessible for every stakeholder under one system.

Solving The Staffing Challenge With Technology

A facility management system that details every aspect of a facility—including energy usage, space utilization, a maintenance schedule, and a vendor portal for contacting outsourced workers—is critical in 2024. When organizations are understaffed, having a one-stop-shop for information about your building is key to making sure nothing slips through the cracks—especially when employees can come and go at any time. Facility managers have grown to learn, especially as key workers retire, the importance of keeping critical building information with the building. “If we’re disconnected, we may not realize something isn’t being done and by the time we do, we’ve created a risk within the facility,” says Blackmore.

While building automation may not replace the skills and expertise of an experienced maintenance worker, having building management systems makes life significantly easier for facility managers. “One facility manager shared with me that he feels technology needs to help him do more with the same amount of resources, or just more with less,” says Blackmore. “Facilities managers can’t deliver education, they can’t run a business, or they can’t manufacture their products if the facility isn’t operating properly.”

Instead of relying on excel spreadsheets and Microsoft documents, today’s facility management software is capable of keeping track of building operations and providing updates on the status of different parts, when maintenance is due, and can identify issues before they develop into costly issues.

“AkitaBox helps us by giving us more information about the equipment in any given location,” says Simpson, who uses the technology at his facility. “This allows our technicians to have a better idea of the problem they are going to solve. They can go to a location better prepared for the task at hand and have the supplies they need when they get there rather than going to the site to figure out what supplies they may need.” Ultimately, having technical solutions can help save money and time, which is an incredibly valuable resource organizations can’t afford to lose.

 “Facilities teams need to leverage technology to maximize the amount of their day spent doing the job they were hired to do—that they want to be doing,” says Blackmore. “If we can reduce the amount of time it takes to do a task by 50 to 80%, how much more productive could a team of 10-20 people be? Technology can help them know what to do and where to do it, so standardization is a big thing. The more we can standardize and show people what they can expect, then they can do that work.”

Goetz is the editorial director of the Facility Executive and Continuity Insights brands.

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