Staffing shortages and mounting retirements among skilled trades professionals are top challenges facing educational facilities departments in 2024, according to preliminary findings of a new survey of APPA members. The survey, which launched October 20 and is still fielding responses, suggests a long road ahead resolving the staffing crisis facing the field. Exacerbating the challenges are both diminished financial resources and “the double whammy of increasing costs and increasing demand for services,” as one respondent put it.
In addition to challenges finding and keeping facilities staff, respondents point to struggles boosting employee morale, motivation, and professionalism; declining enrollments and operational resources; meeting demand for green/more sustainable buildings and technologies; and getting facilities a “seat at the table” among top campus leadership, among other causes of concern.
Overall, APPA’s survey responses so far align with a Chronicle of Higher Education survey in early 2023 in which 61% of higher education leaders identified hiring facilities staff as a “serious” or “moderate” problem compared to the previous year. As a result of these and other factors, colleges and universities have underinvested in capital improvements and face growing deferred maintenance backlogs, according to Gordian’s 2023 State of Facilities Report.
Are there solutions? None that will be easy, but that doesn’t mean facilities leaders and departments aren’t trying, APPA’s survey has found. These include creating or expanding apprenticeship programs, recruiting more aggressively and creatively, emphasizing the intangible benefits of job opportunities, and, reflecting a suggestion made by APPA President and CEO Lander Medlin in an August Chronicle article, hiring students to work in facilities.
The talent shortage will be a key topic at the APPA 2024 Spring Conference in Nashville. In addition, APPA will explore this issue along with other survey findings in upcoming issues of Facilities Manager magazine.