Difficulties recruiting and retaining facilities management professionals are barely the tip of the iceberg of challenges facing higher education these days. But solutions do exist, according to APPA President and CEO Lander Medlin, and they don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Medlin outlined recommendations—such as providing an appreciative and welcoming culture, a sense of belonging, and professional development opportunities—in early-October during a panel discussion at the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo in New Orleans.
Joining Medlin on the panel, the conference’s closing keynote, were Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA, and John O’Brien, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE. The convener/organizer was CUPA-HR’s president and CEO, Andy Brantley. Jami Painter, senior associate vice president and chief human resources officer at University of Illinois System, facilitated.
The context for the discussion was the sharp increase in voluntary turnover for higher ed staff in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among full-time exempt staff, turnover rose from 7.9% in 2020–21 to 12.0% in 2021–22 to 14.3% in 2022–23, according to the CUPA-HR 2023 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey. Turnover for full-time nonexempt staff increased from 9.4% to 15.2% during the same period. Released in September, the report also found that 35% of employees in college and university facilities, materials management, and operations positions are likely or very likely to look for other jobs within the next 12 months.
In her remarks, Lander underscored the challenges finding and retaining facilities management staff, noting that the U.S. Department of Labor places skilled tradespeople and engineers among the top 10 talent shortages. But in addressing the solutions, she invited higher ed leaders to look for “the levers that can make a difference.” Besides competitive pay and fewer overwork burdens, these levers include supportive and encouraging supervisors, a sense of “voice” in decision-making, and professional development fostering career-enhancing skills.
“It’s that sense of belonging that is so critical,” Medlin said. “How we treat people matters.” Building a culture that recognizes workers’ contributions “will go a long way in creating that critical sense of belonging so desperately needed in today’s (and the future) work environment.”
APPA will explore the industry’s recruitment and retention challenges much more in the months ahead, particularly in Facilities Manager magazine. Member contributions are welcome; see the 2024 Editorial Calendar and Editorial Guidelines for details.