Although no one wants to hear another “inconvenient truth,” it is crucial to be aware that health care facilities departments will be facing a critical labor shortage within the next 10 years. Up to 60 percent of the current front-line technician labor force is older than 55, and currently there are not enough people entering the pipeline to succeed them.

The practice of adding square footage without adding staff, budget reductions that negatively impact staffing levels, and reduced funds for education and training have put significant pressure on remaining staff. The result has drained our collective technical knowledge and skill base and limits our ability to attract and hire new talent.

Additionally, there are recruiting challenges driven by societal changes. Today’s culture expects youth to attend college immediately following high school graduation. This pressure, coupled with an inaccurate negative image about facilities maintenance careers, is restricting the recruiting pool.

The administration at Advocate Aurora Health acknowledged the need to act on this problem, and they allocated additional resources to the facilities budget in order to develop an internship program. The key objectives of the program are to create a path to prepare youth for a job in facilities and to raise awareness of the maintenance and repair trades as viable and rewarding careers.

Championed by Kelly Noel, system vice president of facilities, an internal multidisciplinary team was formed. The team quickly realized that in order to develop a truly impactful and sustainable program, it would be best to partner and collaborate with other organizations. Additionally, the potential pool of intern candidates was relatively large and geographically spread out. These factors led to the formation of the Multi-Organizational Facilities Internship Program (MOFIP).

Partners such as the Wisconsin Healthcare Engineering Association were used to promote the concept and solicit organizational members. The MOFIP committee consists of representatives from health care systems across southeast Wisconsin, technical schools, Veterans Administration workforce staff, and business partners who work closely with health care facilities departments.

MOFIP is charged with the development of statewide standards for internship and apprenticeship program curriculum and competency assessments. A standardized process provides flexibility so that when an intern completes a program at any health care location, they leave with the competency necessary to be considered as a candidate for entry-level positions in any health care facilities department.

Now is the time to begin your strategy to mitigate the critical labor shortage we will all be facing soon. While we have rightfully given a lot of thought to facilities leadership succession, an even larger gap will soon appear in the front-line health care maintenance and repair trades. By developing networks and partnerships now, we can position ourselves to support and advocate for front-line facilities department careers long into the future.