By: Juan Vasquez, Maintenance Service Director, Southern California Multi-Family Division
Interested in a career in apartment maintenance but not sure where to start? I’ve helped many people land full-time jobs in the apartment industry, and the good news is that there isn’t just one path that leads to a successful career in maintenance. The maintenance professionals I work with come from all types of backgrounds, and I’ve assisted many of them in acquiring a full-time role at apartment communities.
Using a combination of my personal experience, along with the information gathered from successful colleagues, I’ve compiled this guide for you on finding success in apartment maintenance. It will review how to get started, the skills you’ll need (or can acquire), and the potential growth opportunities.
The educational requirement for maintenance positions is a high school diploma or equivalent. A 0*Net online report found that less than 50% of maintenance workers have completed college or secondary education. It is not uncommon for someone going into a maintenance career to have experience gained from previous work, vocational training, life experience, or tutoring from others in the field. Whether you are an experienced handyman or just getting started, you can take your skillset and turn it into a successful maintenance career.
One of the guys I worked with (to place on a temporary job assignment at JWilliams Staffing) started with a high school diploma and experience assisting with various projects through his father’s maintenance company. A client asked him to do some temp work at their apartment community and, because they were impressed with the job he did, they hired him on full-time!
I’ve seen similar scenarios happen quite often, so it’s clear that you are better off focusing on gaining hands-on work experience, rather than higher education, when you are getting started. There are a few ways you can accomplish that…
Some maintenance workers gained experience by working as contractors or as an independent handyman. They typically troubleshoot household appliances, plumbing, and electrical issues, do minor window repairs, and painting. They may also occasionally work on (or assist with) larger-scale remodeling projects, such as carpentry work on cabinets, kitchen islands, porches, and decks.
Contractors typically find work by marketing themselves continuously through sites like Craigslist, Facebook, or Offer Up, posting flyers, other paid advertisements, and (eventually) word-of-mouth referrals. If you decide to go this route, you’ll need to obtain a contractor’s license and insurance, read up on your local contracting laws, and find out which services you can and cannot provide without a certification or license. For example, if you don’t have an electrical, plumbing, or HVAC certification, there may be certain services you cannot legally perform.
You will need to provide the materials for each project yourself, own and use your own basic tools, and may also have to acquire specialized tools if they are required for the project at hand.
You will spend a lot of time providing quotes to potential customers for your material and labor costs. Most potential customers will call multiple contractors and give the task to the lowest bidder, so working contracted maintenance jobs requires a strong familiarity with material prices and competitive rates for your services.
JWilliams Staffing places both Maintenance Technicians and Day Porters on temporary and temp-to-hire job assignments at apartment communities. Working with a temporary staffing agency, such as JWilliams Staffing, allows you to work with various property management companies. As such, you’ll gain hands-on experience and exposure to different teams and procedures while you work towards landing a full-time position. You will also have a dedicated recruitment manager, like myself, who will provide career guidance, feedback, and will promote your skills to clients (all for free).
If you have limited or no experience in maintenance, a temporary day porter role is a great place to start. The work that porters perform is a mix between a groundskeeper and janitor, plus some light maintenance tasks. You can work your way up from a porter to a residential maintenance technician by showing dedication and taking on more maintenance tasks as you gain experience. Quite a few employees find success by starting in a porter role.
For example, I recently hired a temporary Porter – we rewrote his resume together (outlining a few key skill sets), marketed his skills, and got him job assignments right away. Through these various placements and his dedication, he was given opportunities to assist with apartment maintenance work orders, and soon moved into a maintenance technician position. Shortly after, he was offered a handful of full-time opportunities and was able to start his career with a management company that was a good fit for him. His willingness to learn was the key to his success.
A good number of the maintenance technicians I’ve hired worked for themselves at first, but now prefer to have me, and the team at JWilliams Staffing, find work for them. We find them job assignments that suit their preferred schedule and commute time, and they don’t have to worry about being on-call, marketing themselves, buying materials out of pocket, or working long hours.
If you decide to go the day porter route, you can find maintenance courses to take on the side. Be sure to do some reading about the course you’re considering, and only sign up if it will prepare you for the next steps of your career. Many trade schools only offer highly specialized coursework, which doesn’t transfer well to the broad nature of residential maintenance. I recommend education on general maintenance, plumbing, and electrical, all in one.
Try checking out your local apartment association to see what they offer. For example, here’s the Apartment Association of Orange County’s maintenance course offerings. Another useful resource is your local school district’s adult education program. For example, here’s LAUSD’s Division of Adult and Career Education’s Building & Grounds Worker course.
Sometimes you may find position openings for entry-level maintenance, which require a basic knowledge of tools and general handyman work (e.g.. doing repairs around your house) and a coachable desire to learn the trade.
If you want to take an entry-level position in apartment maintenance, those are often temp-to-hire roles. Temporary apartment maintenance technicians will spend a lot of time performing apartment turns to gain their experience. An apartment turn or turnover happens any time a resident moves out, and the apartment needs to be prepped for the next resident. A turnover checklist, aside from inspecting the entire unit, includes tasks such as wall repair, replacing air filters, inspecting for water damage and leaky drains/pipes/faucets, ensuring all light switches and outlets are working properly & safely, and troubleshooting appliances.
I also recruit applicants who are currently working in an entry-level maintenance position at a hotel. Hotels will typically provide training for their maintenance workers (who are commonly titled “Engineers”), making it a good way to gain experience.
Experience as a hotel engineer is highly transferrable to apartment maintenance because engineers are responsible for very similar tasks: preventative maintenance, repair of mechanical/electrical equipment, cleaning the pool and other amenities, maintaining the building’s exterior and “curb appeal,” and troubleshooting and repairing malfunctions in mechanical systems.
The following are some of the skills that property management companies will want to see in their apartment maintenance technicians. While these skills will be necessary as you advance, it is entirely acceptable to have just some technical knowledge when getting started, and then learn more as you are on the job.
*It is crucial for maintenance workers to have strong personal and interpersonal skills. Once in a full-time position, maintenance workers will be responsible for addressing work orders where the resident is still in their apartment home. They must be able to communicate issues or solutions to residents clearly, mediate misunderstandings or delays, and calmly talk with any disgruntled residents.
A career in residential maintenance can be an exciting and lucrative path to follow. There are several positions you can grow into, depending on your skills and desires. Here are some possible growth opportunities, ordered by the typical sequence of the maintenance career path.
Porter: A porter position is similar to a groundskeeper or custodian. Their duties typically include cleaning public spaces and amenities, clearing debris, and returning equipment to its appropriate area. They also conduct light maintenance tasks, such as paint touch up and basic hardware replacement (such as door locks and lightbulbs), with some troubleshooting of common equipment. This is an entry-level position that requires a certain physical ability (such as being able to lift up to 50 pounds, moving or walking for hours at a time), and custodial experience. Porters are an integral part of the team in keeping the community clean and presentable to residents and future residents.
Service Tech 1: This position requires at least one year of previous maintenance experience and a strong ability to complete turnovers. As a service tech 1, you typically know how to assist with turnovers, including preparing the unit for vendors such as painters or flooring installers. Also may include inspecting and following a checklist per vacant unit and preparing tools commonly needed for repairs & troubleshooting. This role will typically receive guidance.
Service Tech 2 or 3: A level 2 or 3 service technician will typically have a few years of experience in maintenance and the ability to complete turnovers, work orders, and other general maintenance without any supervision. This is also the level in which certifications come into play. An HVAC certification at this level isn’t required but is preferred. Plumbing or electrical courses will also look great on your resume.
Maintenance Lead or Supervisor: A maintenance lead or supervisor is responsible for managing their team (of porters, maintenance workers, and vendors), upholding industry standards and methods, and monitoring expenditures. Another critical requirement for this position is the ability to provide valuable customer service, addressing all work order requests, and planning ahead. Certification in Fair Housing Laws and how it pertains to the maintenance team will also be vital. A maintenance lead or supervisor will have more than a few years of experience in maintenance, as well as education and certifications in plumbing, electrical, and HVAC.
On-Site Service Tech: Lateral to a supervisor position, the on-site service technician serves as an on-call technician with strong problem-solving skills and adaptability. Someone in this role is also able to work with no supervision and is trained or experienced in all necessary maintenance skills. They are also able to assist urgent resident maintenance requests and demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills when speaking with the community residents. Knowledge of and experience with Fair Housing laws is also required. In some communities, the on-call role will be rotated with other service technicians every week.
Regional or Area Maintenance Manager: The regional or area maintenance manager is in charge of supervising all maintenance processes and operations for multiple properties. In the apartment industry, this typically means managing and overseeing 5 or 6 communities, the maintenance team (including porters, service technicians, and vendors), turnover durations, and costs. They also assist in developing and implementing processes that are time and cost-effective, including safety-related programs and audits on maintenance activity. Resident and vendor communication skills are frequently needed. This is an upper-level position that will typically require at least 5 years of experience in maintenance and previous experience in a managerial or leadership role. It also may require coursework certifications and knowledge of maintenance work order software.
Maintenance Director: The maintenance director position is similar to an area maintenance manager, but on an even larger scale. The maintenance director oversees the maintenance operations for an entire property management company. The director will also manage and supervise programs to maximize revenue, reduce or control expenses, and enhance resident relations. They will monitor maintenance department safety procedures, the department operating budget, and will inspect communities to ensure they are up to company standard. This role will have over 5 years of experience and property management knowledge.