Training is a great way to engage and motivate a technical staff, and there are many resources available across the field.
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Hospital facilities and engineering departments are in constant competition with other fields for qualified technicians. But a hospital system can provide a unique career path for a technician, as well as benefits and opportunities that other industries may not offer.
Providing a path to a fulfilling career as well as training opportunities to expand knowledge and skills help to keep employees engaged and motivated. Hospital systems should highlight these advantages to recruit and retain technical staff.
With the rising rate of retiring baby boomers, finding ways to bring in new technical staff is critical. There are several different avenues to find competent, qualified technicians that can be an asset to a health facilities management team from day one. They include:
Partnering with a local community college or trade schools. Community colleges are a great way to connect with students who are trying out different classes and searching for their career paths. Facilities leaders should consider reaching out to these colleges and asking if they can speak to HVAC, electrical, construction, welding, or business or management classes to introduce these students to a career in health care engineering.
Trade schools such as Lincoln Tech, Remington College and Fortis College have physical locations in multiple states and can provide skilled training programs for facilities maintenance, HVAC/R, electrical systems and welding. Students from these schools will complete these programs ready to join a facilities staff with sought-after skills and abilities that will add value to a department and give them a lifelong career.
Some hospital systems are creating a partnership with their local community colleges or trade schools to guarantee students a job once they complete select courses or programs. Another option would be to hire students after they graduate high school, with the stipulation that they complete one of these selected programs while employed. Some health care systems even may be able to provide tuition assistance for these students.
One of the challenges that facilities management faces is lack of awareness of the field and the potential career paths. SkillsUSA is a career technical student organization that provides middle school, high school and college students with personal, workplace and technical skills that help prepare them to be job ready as soon as they graduate.
SkillsUSA has partnered with the FM Pipeline team from The International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) to create The Facilithon. This event includes a test, role-play and an emergency situation to which the student must react on the fly.
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of The Facilithon is that it creates awareness of facilities management as a career and the unique benefits and challenges it can provide. With the skills gained through SkillsUSA, these students graduate not only with the tools to enter facilities management but the awareness that the career exists. Leaders should reach out to FM Pipeline for more information and to find a local chapter. Experienced facilities managers may even consider volunteering for The Facilithon to share the unique career paths that health care facilities management can provide.
Utilizing experienced construction contractors. Health care systems are in a unique position to provide trade jobs in a stable, conditioned environment, usually without extensive travel involved. These positions may be attractive to experienced construction contractors who are looking for more stable hours with fewer physical demands. Health care facilities will benefit greatly from the construction and trade expertise of these individuals.
Hiring a veteran. Veterans transitioning to civilian life can be an excellent addition to a technical staff. There are military occupational specialists who have gained the experience and skills needed to maintain critical equipment while in the military who can join a facilities team ready to hit the ground running. There are a number of organizations that provide resources and job fairs for companies to connect with veterans. Hire Heroes USA and Hiring Our Heroes both provide a platform for health care organizations to connect with veterans and their spouses.
Networking and word of mouth. The ASHE Annual Conference & Technical Exhibition, International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction and other events are great ways to network with other facilities leaders. Facilities leaders can lean on these relationships when they have open positions or employees who may be relocating and in search of a new opportunity.
Facilities leaders also should build partnerships with other health care facilities organizations in their areas. These relationships can provide a great local resource for knowledge and tools or equipment and may provide career opportunities for leaders or their staffs.
Retaining technical staff
Another challenge facing health facilities is retaining experienced technicians. Providing a sustainable career path, diverse training opportunities and reminding them of their value can help keep technicians engaged. These include:
Providing employees control over their careers. Employees want to be in control of their own career paths and will utilize and appreciate tools and resources to expand their knowledge and skills. Facilities leaders should consider implementing a set program for technicians to participate in training programs, demonstrate their abilities and skills, and prove their knowledge through competency exams that will allow them to move to the next level in their careers. Employees are more likely to stay with their current employer if they feel there is an opportunity for advancement.
Children’s Health System of Texas, located in Dallas, is currently in the process of developing a technician training and competency program that will allow engineering technicians to demonstrate their skills in order to be promoted to the next level of technical skill, ranging from Technician I to Technician III.
A Technician I possesses basic level skills and is considered to be a first responder to routine corrective maintenance issues in the facility. A Technician II is responsible for most preventive maintenance and will assist a Tech I with maintenance issues as needed. A Technician III possesses the highest level of skills in the department. They are considered team leads, and their primary responsibilities are assisting a Tech I and Tech II as needed and providing training to the department. Only a Tech III is considered for supervisor positions as they become available.
Employees are provided with a checklist of expected competencies for each technician level. Training opportunities are provided for each competency, and technicians must demonstrate to a supervisor their ability to complete each competency.
Once they have checked off each competency, they are eligible to take an exam consisting of multiple choice and scenario-based questions surrounding the competencies for their current technician level. If they pass the exam, a group of managers and directors considers the employee’s attendance record, performance history and overall attitude, and determines if they are approved to the next technician level. An advancement to the next level is considered a high achievement and is celebrated at the department meeting.
All Level I technicians are considered general maintenance technicians and, as employees advance to Tech II and Tech III, they are able to either stay with general maintenance or follow a specialty path of electrician, stationary plant operator, HVAC, plumber or painter. However, each specialty is required to possess basic general maintenance skills and is expected to assist with maintenance issues as needed.
Competency exams covering a wide range of mechanical, electrical, plumbing and administrative skills will be given to those interviewing for open positions, which will help to determine their current technician level and corresponding pay rate. It is expected that anyone with a license will likely enter the department as a Level II technician.
Technicians will move through the program at their own pace and are free to remain at their current level for as long as they wish. Children’s Health is hopeful that this program will provide training and advancement opportunities that will give employees control of their own career path. Additional expected outcomes are increased collaboration, cross-training between trades, and enhanced camaraderie and teamwork.
Providing training opportunities. Providing employees with a wide range of training opportunities benefits both the employer and employee. It’s also a Joint Commission requirement. Standard EC.03.01.01, EP 1, requires that “Staff responsible for the maintenance, inspection, testing and use of medical equipment, utility systems and equipment, fire safety systems and equipment, and safe handling of hazardous materials and waste are competent and receive continuing education and training.” A surveyor will likely ask what recent training a facilities leader has provided to employees and how they determine if staff are qualified to maintain critical equipment.
Facilities leaders should encourage employees to study for and obtain certifications. There are many certifications offered by the American Hospital Association that benefit those working in health facilities, including the Certified Health Care Facility Manager (CHFM) certification and Certified Health Care Environmental Services Professional (CHESP) certification. Encouraging technicians to study for these exams will expand their knowledge and prepare them for a leadership role in the future. It also shows that a facilities leader is willing to invest in their future. Although there may not immediately be a management role available for those who obtain a certification, facilities leaders should consider offering a financial incentive.
Cross-training is a largely untapped resource within health care facilities departments. Leaders should encourage employees in different specialties to cross-train with other technicians within the department. When employees share knowledge with their co-workers, they will feel empowered to take training into their own hands and move the department forward, while also instilling confidence in their own skills.
Sharing the value of the department with the C-suite. A hospital’s facilities department tends to go unnoticed until something goes wrong. Facilities leaders should tout the successes of the department at every opportunity and highlight the everyday work of technicians. They should consider inviting executive leaders to department meetings or employee engagement events to allow employees to put a name to a face and ask questions directly. Facilities leaders should have employees periodically provide a list of accomplishments that they are proud of and choose a few to highlight to the department and to hospital executives.
National Health Care Facilities and Engineering Week on Oct. 25-31 is a great time to highlight the value of the department. A building tour for hospital employees and administration can show off areas and equipment that they may not usually see and allows the technicians themselves the chance to explain how the equipment they maintain serves the hospital and helps to care for patients.
Reminding employees of the “why.” Technicians can easily become siloed from the rest of the hospital. Consistently remind employees of why the work they do is critical and provide specific examples of how they have directly affected patient care. For example, the positive air pressure they corrected kept a immunocompromised patient from becoming sicker; the fire door latch they repaired ensured those in the area would have time to move patients out in the event of a fire; and the emergency lights they tested in the operating rooms reassured surgeons that they could keep a patient on the operating table safe.
Facilities leaders should ensure technicians stay engaged with the department and organization. Technicians want to feel that they have a voice and that their opinion matters. They should conduct periodic rounding with individual staff members to give them a chance to express their thoughts. When multiple technicians have the same opinion or idea, it should be addressed with the entire department during meetings. Facilities leaders should give technicians the opportunity to praise their co-workers during rounding and highlight these kudos to the rest of the department.
Technicians play a critical role in caring for and healing of patients. When they feel valued by their organizations and included with the staff, they are more likely to stay motivated and want to continue their career with their current employer.
By highlighting the advantages of working in a health care organization, empowering employees with a career path, providing training opportunities and keeping them engaged with the overall mission of the organization, health facilities leaders can recruit and retain quality technical staff for the long-term benefit of their organizations.
Taylor Vaughn, MBA, CHFM, is facility manager at Children’s Health in Dallas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.