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Leading Maintenance Excellence

RELEASED ON 3/3/24

Bryan Middleton, Director of Maintenance at Morguard Management, shows Adrian how he drives capital budgeting, project management, and health and safety programs. He brings extensive expertise and dedication to optimizing maintenance operations.

[Intro Voiceover] (0:00 - 0:22) Welcome to Multifamily X podcast series, Masters of Multifamily Maintenance Conversations. Ready to engage in essential dialogues exploring the multifamily universe alongside top industry leaders? Join us as we explore fundamental conversations for the multifamily space.

Let's dive in.

[Adrian Danila] (0:23 - 0:36) Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Multifamily X podcasts, Masters of Maintenance. I'm Adrian Danila, your host, and right here in the studio with me is my co-host, Joelys Barandika.

[Joelis Barandica] (0:36 - 0:47) Hey, hi everyone. Again, just Joelys Barandika, founder of Latinas in Property Management. And Adrian, such a pleasure to be here with you today and our guest.

I can't wait to hear all about him.

[Adrian Danila] (0:47 - 1:01) Let's go ahead and say thank you to our sponsors, Kairos Water and Upwork for making this broadcast possible. And with that being said, I want to go to our guest, Brian Middleton. Brian, welcome to the show.

[Bryan Middleton] (1:01 - 1:06) Thank you for having me, Adrian. I appreciate connecting with you on LinkedIn and making this happen.

[Adrian Danila] (1:06 - 1:24) Brian, you're the Director of Maintenance Services for Moorgard.

Tell us a little bit about your current position, what your responsibilities are, and a little bit about Moorgard, a little bit about your company. You know, is it third-party managed, owner managed, you know, size of the company, things of that nature. And yeah, I think that you may like to share.

[Bryan Middleton] (1:24 - 2:34) Absolutely, yeah. So Moorgard, we're fully integrated. So we own and manage everything.

We do both multifamily and commercial. So we are in mixed-use, multifamily, typical garden-style, high-rise buildings. We're in 13 states across the U.S., so spanning from South Florida all the way up to Chicago, all the way over to California. So we really cover the entire U.S. It is a Canadian-based company, but we do kind of separate operations. So we kind of operate independently in the U.S., but, you know, from a Canadian perspective, a very large company up in Canada. So $18 billion in total real estate between both.

I've been with Moorgard for 10 years now. I started off as a maintenance technician and kind of worked my way up to Director of Maintenance Services. Pretty exciting there.

We have about 9,500 units across the states, and then we have 14 shopping centers. They're mostly grocery-anchored shopping centers or big-box retailers, Home Depot, you know, Strip Mall. So that's kind of a little bit about Moorgard.

[Adrian Danila] (2:34 - 2:47) Before getting into additional topics, Brian, I'm curious about your journey before property management and then what made you transition to property management.

[Bryan Middleton] (2:47 - 5:28) Yeah. So my journey kind of was very retail-based. And then I joined the U.S. Army and I was a combat medic there. I was medically discharged. You know, I have a little bit of a heart condition, so unfortunately, I couldn't continue my service there. And when I got out, I was just doing some retail work.

I kind of walked out my front door one day and walked up to the maintenance supervisor and said, you know, hey, are you guys hiring? He said, yeah, we're looking for a part-time groundskeeper. Do you have any experience?

And I kind of just told him, hey, no, I don't. But you teach me something one time, and I promise you that I'm going to know it and I'm going to show up and I'm going to work hard and do the best that I can. I kind of looked at it at first as like it was just going to be a job, very easy commute.

It went right out my front door. Didn't even ask about rent discounts. I think at the time, they paid me $9.50 an hour. So, you know, when you talk about what wages have sort of become for groundskeepers and entry-level positions now, a far cry from what it was back then. And it was only part-time. And I worked from 8 a.m. to 12, Monday through Friday. I was responsible just simply for picking up the grounds. They had an assistant maintenance supervisor role, and he was, you know, let go for, you know, reasons that I didn't know about. But basically, you know, the maintenance supervisor came up to me and was like, I'm going to need your help.

And I said, whatever I can do. And they just started giving me full-time hours. He started to really train and develop me and show me the ropes and kind of show me what this industry was all about.

Started off with smaller work orders and just sort of worked my way up there. A lot of it was on me. I volunteered to be on call.

I think I ended up taking call for about four months straight, simply because I was just trying to learn. And like, it was all about, how can I get the most experience in the quickest way possible? And you know this, being in the industry, you're going to get exposed to a lot of stuff when you're, you know, getting emergency work orders and after-hours calls and that kind of stuff.

So I really cut my teeth in plumbing. It was a 44-year-old community and we had poly pipe piping. So you know that that just means a lot of pipers, a lot of after-hours calls, a lot of dealing with floods and restoration.

So that's kind of how I got into the business and just really fell in love with it. Really fell in love with the service aspect of it, taking care of residents and really providing a service to them.

[Joelis Barandica] (5:28 - 5:54) Wow, Brian, that's really impressive. And something that really caught my attention while you were telling us a little bit about your story is your mentorship journey. So you mentioned that you had someone that truly mentored you when you started.

What did that do for you? How did that create a path for your career? And how does that mentorship that you had back then kind of play a role in how you mentor or how you lead your teams now?

[Bryan Middleton] (5:54 - 8:30) So my first mentor was Steve Howard. Hi, Steve, if you're out there still. You know, so he took me under his wing and I think that this is kind of a gap in multifamily and really why I wanted to do this podcast and kind of talk about it.

I don't see that happen a lot where you have maintenance supervisors that really wanna share knowledge or take people under their wing or really take a chance on people. And that's how you're gonna continue to develop the next generation of maintenance professionals is you gotta share the knowledge that you have. And so his guidance and his chance on me is kind of how I've approached maintenance throughout my entire career.

When I started with Moorgard, I was at maintenance tech and quickly moved up to maintenance supervisor and everybody that I hired on actually had no experience. And I did it the way that he taught me and I kind of followed that kind of same pathway of I'm gonna take a chance on somebody, not saying that I know everything, nobody knows everything right and not saying that everything I do is sort of the right way, but I don't take a lot of shortcuts. I don't fall into some of those bad habits that I'm sure Adrian has seen in the past and things like that, right?

So I tell people take your time, fix stuff the right way. You don't wanna go back and forth into a residence apartment for multiple times. It's embarrassing to me if I get a call back on something.

That's what I instill in my maintenance professionals is it's embarrassing. You have to go back like you were supposed to fix it the first time, now you gotta go back. So take the time to diagnose things correctly first.

When I'm training somebody new, you can teach them that. You don't get any bad habits, you don't get any previous things that, oh, I know this shortcut here, or hey, one of the ones that drives me crazy is when you talk about pre-on and people just sort of going in and just charging the system, right? Well, it's a closed system.

So if you're needing to charge it, that means that there's a week. So let's find where the week is and let's fix the week properly. Not like let's just continue to put pre-on into it every three weeks or four weeks.

And then I see Adrian laughing because that is a bad habit, I think, that forms over time in multifamily, in any industry that deals with refrigerant, not just multifamily. But that is how mentorship and Steve's mentorship more specifically really shaped how I approach training, developing, and mentoring people today.

[Adrian Danila] (8:30 - 10:28) It's interesting what you just said. Pump the system with pre-on. We got to add some pre-on.

So there's a lot of bad habits that have been passed on to generations of maintenance technicians. And there's also misconceptions, right? So let's start with the bad training.

It's very often that, you know, I'm looking at service requests and the resident actually states, says, my AC is not cooling. It needs pre-on. So even the residents now are telling us what exactly we need to do.

And sure enough, we never question. Well, I won't say never, right? That's the wrong, because it's not a case really.

But we don't question, you know, we have technicians that don't question that. And the first thing they do, they pick up the jug and they pump the system up with pre-on without even checking the base. It's like a clean filter, a clean evaporator coil.

Misconceptions, you know, going into the misconception area right now, everybody thinks that hiring a certified technician, it's all you really need to solve all of the maintenance problems and issues. And that's far from being the case. Being certified, you know, the EPA certification, as we all know, it's a test that, you know, you could, you know, read like a 30, 50 page booklet and just take a test, pass the test.

But that doesn't give you any type of, you know, actual knowledge, troubleshooting knowledge in HVAC. For some reason, you know, it's a misconception. Everybody thinks that, you know, if someone has that EPA card, the certification, they're actually qualified.

Like they're actually having the knowledge to work on HVAC. So with that being said, Brian, that was a kind of long rant out here, but I couldn't help myself. With that being said, what other big misconceptions you see in our industry, apartment maintenance?

What are some things that, you know, you've been doing as a, you know, from your position to influence, to change the perception of others from outside looking in of the work that we do as maintenance?

[Bryan Middleton] (10:28 - 14:39) EPA, I agree with you 1000%. I think that people put that down and unfortunately, I think that property managers, community managers look at that and they assume, okay, this is a certified person just because they have their EPA 608. Well, to your point, Adrian, I got that when I was a part-time brownspeaker and I got my universal certification.

I never touched an air conditioning system before I got it. And I scored 100 on the type A, 100 on the type B and an 87 on this permit. And I got a universal certification right out of the gate.

I knew nothing about air conditioning, like literally nothing. So unfortunately, there's a big misconception that that means that they know how to work on and diagnose the system. It just simply isn't the case.

All that that means is that you know how to handle refrigerant and that you're going to do so safely and that you're not going to leak it in out into the environment, right? Which is a very important certification to have. I don't want to diminish the need for it, but it does also does not mean that you know how to change a compressor or you know how to, you know, work on an evaporator or even simpler things like replace a capacitor or, you know, even diagnose anything that is wrong with the system because it does not teach you that.

That's misconception number one. I think misconception number two also does, and it really, I think, depends on your instructor on your CAM-T because I've been through CAM-T myself and it was a very fast paced and we did not get a lot of hands on training during the CAM-T. It was more of the book side of it.

So I think that that is also a gap that we have that I think as an industry, we should probably do a little bit better on getting some more hands-on training in some of these programs because we're looking at certifications. We're assuming that people know things and we're sort of just throwing them to the wolves, so to speak. What happens on the flip side of that, and this is just natural for anybody, right?

It's very difficult for you as an individual to go to your boss, to go to your manager and say, I don't know. For whatever reason, no matter how many times the leaders, the yous, the mes, the joeses of the world say, tell us if you don't know how to do something, there's still this misconception that they're going to either get in trouble or they're going to like lose their job or they're going to, whatever the case is, because that's probably been ingrained in them from years and years of what I would like to consider probably bad leadership. It's never bad to say you don't know something. I say that I don't know something probably every single day to my boss, and I've gotten to where I'm at.

You probably have said it thousands of times in your career, Adrian. Nobody knows everything. Collectively, we can get pretty darn close and that's why we build support systems.

That's why we have regional maintenance directors. That's why we have directors of maintenance. That's why we have training opportunities and all the people around us so that we can reach out to them and say, hey, I don't know how to do this.

I'm not comfortable with this. And then we, in turn, need to do a better job of saying, okay, how can I help you? How can I show you how to do it?

What can I do to make you comfortable? And sometimes it's a confidence thing for them. Sometimes they, maybe they've only braised a couple of times.

Maybe they come from a property where you don't have washer dryers provided, and so they don't work on them. It doesn't mean that they're not capable. It just means that they just haven't had the repetition and practice makes perfect.

Like with anything, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird didn't become the greatest players in the world because they just walked onto the court one day and started playing basketball. They practiced for hours and hours and hours. Maintenance professionals are no different.

So if we can create environments for them to really practice and hone their skills, that's how we do it.

[Joelis Barandica] (14:39 - 15:42) Ryan, you said so many takeaways in everything that you just explained, and I'm in training and development, so I am all about accreditation and working with our organizations like the National Apartment Associations, like your local affiliate, on empowering our maintenance associates to really seek that leadership that is so needed out there. Can you give me some advice on, or can you give maintenance personnel on these calls, on listening to us today, what can we do to want to encourage maintenance personnel to get more involved in the industry, to get more involved with your local affiliates at the national level? I also love that you said for the CMT, you wish it would be a little bit more hands-on.

Those are all really important topics that you mentioned. Have you reached out to NAA and maybe proposed something like this? How do you get involved and how can we make a difference?

[Bryan Middleton] (15:42 - 19:29) I'll start with the easier question there. NAA and Apartment Associations, it's actually a goal of mine to get more involved in, and I'm hoping that maybe the takeaway from this is I can get a little more connected with Adrian here and maybe use him to get my foot in the door there. It's certainly a goal of mine to be more involved because I do want to make a change and I do see this as a big issue within the industry.

In terms of the learning and the development of maintenance professionals and everything like that, the starting point, I think, needs to be that we need to do a better job of showing that this is a really rewarding career. You do not need a ton of education to enter this career path. Like I said, I walked in with no education and within 15 years, I'm a director of maintenance and there's obviously a lot of hard work on my part that has got me there, but there's also the willingness to learn and I just always push myself to continue to learn and continue to learn.

You mentioned, from a leadership and from a training and development standpoint, this is not just a takeaway of multifamily. This is a takeaway probably of any organization in the world. We don't provide leadership training to people.

We do not train soft skills. Like nowhere in the world, very, very minimal people focus on soft skills, right? So what ends up happening?

You take a community manager that was really good at maybe accounting or really good at getting a lease and then you promote them into a position where they manage people and that is a skillset that needs to be developed and that needs to be trained. The same thing for maintenance supervisors. So you take a maintenance supervisor that shows up on time, works really hard, does a lot of really good work orders and does a great job and you say, okay, now we're going to make you a maintenance supervisor.

Well, now he's in charge of leading a department. He's in charge of leading people. He's in charge of developing people and you don't train him on the skills of leadership at all.

Like no, to my knowledge, not many people are doing that. We are trying to do better at that ourselves to where we are giving leadership training to our maintenance professionals. But it is a skill and it's a skill that constantly needs to be honed.

But it goes further than just the leadership skills. We also don't train customer service skills very good in this industry. And maintenance professionals are the face of any organization, whether or not people want to admit that or not.

I mean, I can promise you that Adrian and myself in our career have probably interacted with more residents than any manager, any leasing agent, any office professional because we are going into their home all of the time. Providing customer service training to them is something that really needs to be at the forefront. What can NAA, what can CFO, what can local apartment associations do better?

Incorporate that for maintenance professionals. Incorporate that into CAMT, but also incorporate that into regular classes that can be offered. We always have an HVAC class available.

We always have like a CPO class available. Well, why don't we have a leadership class available? Or why don't we have, you know, how to interact with residents available for these guys?

And I think if we push that, I think you get better service to the maintenance professionals that are there, right? They're going to be led better by that maintenance supervisor. You also get better interactions with your residents and that's just going to increase your retention.

That's going to have a major impact on the community itself.

[Adrian Danila] (19:29 - 20:54) I love Brian that you took things, you know, very high level and you know, you spoke at length about leadership. I want to go very basic now. The typical way in which someone gets promoted from a service technician to a service manager is that something happened with the service manager.

They moved on. They're just not around anymore. The most effective ticket runner, I should say, you know, the person that solves most technical problems quickest, the quickest, they're the next in line to be promoted.

And the way it goes is typically like this. Congratulations. You know, we think you're doing an amazing job.

Here's the keys. Figure out how to manage an $80 million asset or $100 million asset. Like this is a very common way in which we do things.

And there's no formal training for service managers to teach them how to become managers, right? I'm not even going like, you know, the high level that you just described of leadership, but how to manage these, how to manage your budget, how to manage an $80 million asset, how to manage inventory, your staff, how to manage your vendors, how to manage, manage, manage. So what's your take on that?

What can we do better in the industry? And, you know, maybe if you have like some personal examples that you, you know, from your career, from your past or present, that you wanted to share about, you know, how things are done or have been done in your experience, you know, share them with the audience. I think that'd be very valuable.

[Bryan Middleton] (20:55 - 25:04) The number one thing that I see where people make a misstep on this is that, and it's not just maintenance supervisor, it's every role in every organization. People are scared to share information or they're scared to train the next person up because they're scared that, oh, if I show Adrian how to do this, Adrian's going to take my job. You cannot think about that.

And I think that a lot of where I get that from is probably my time in the military. So the military is very, very similar to like sports. You hear this with like New England Patriots, right?

Next man up. You hear these mantras or these cliches and they're not cliches. They're literally there for a reason, okay?

So it's always good to be training the next person on certain aspects. When I was a maintenance supervisor for Moorgard, I was involved in the review process, even though technically they don't report to me, our reporting structure is that they report to the community manager. But when that community manager hired me, I said, listen, I want to be involved in developing them.

I want to be involved in leading them as a team and giving them their reviews and all that kind of stuff. And I think that that maybe comes from my retail management background. So I was a little more accustomed to doing it.

What I would do is I would give them certain smaller things to manage, right? So like for the guy that took my place, once I got promoted to an operations manager as a development tool on his review, I told him, okay, I'm going to give you the make ready board to manage you for the year. And this is what I'm going to do.

I'm going to start off. I'm going to show you how to do it. So I'm going to mentor you.

I'm going to guide you through it. Then you're going to show me what I just did for you, right? So it's kind of a train the trainer philosophy.

And then for the final six months, you're going to run the make ready board. You're going to schedule all the vendors. You're going to do all of those different things.

So that when he finally made that transition to taking the next step, he knew how to do that. And if you're able to manage the make ready board, that sets you up for being able to manage the other things. Managing a process doesn't matter what the process is.

The same philosophies go into it, right? So it's like, okay, you have to manage the ordering, right? Very similar, right?

You want to plan, you want to look at it. You want to come up with it. You don't want to wait for the last minute.

All the same principles apply for the make ready board. It's just a different process, right? So if you're able to give them small things to manage to, lighting on it, that's one that I really like to give as an example to my regional maintenance director.

I say, hey, give the maintenance technicians light management as part of their goals for the next upcoming year. Tell them that you want them to manage the lighting on the site. You want them to come up with like a monthly inspection that they perform.

And then that gives them some responsibility. So then now they have to manage to a program. They're responsible for the success of the program.

And they learn how to do that. That also gives them some more ownership, gives them some more buy-in. It incentivizes them, gives them a little more purpose, gives them a little bit of growth.

It also gives you the ability to say, can they manage to this small program? Because if they can't manage to a small program, then you know that you're going to have to really work with them if you're trying to get them to then to your point, go up to managing an $80 million asset. If somebody can't manage to performing a monthly light inspection, they're probably not going to be able to manage to four or five maintenance technicians, 44 turns and any given number of work orders that are open.

So I think that parsing out small tasks and letting your team really manage them and guide them through it and mentor them through it through the process really has helped me kind of develop technicians to be ready to take the next step.

[Intro Voiceover] (25:04 - 25:08) And now a word from Sean Landsberg, co-founder Appwork.

[Adrian Danila] (25:09 - 25:22) Most prop tech companies are built this way. We're hiring people that could write code. We're hiring people that are selling the product, but the end user is nowhere in this picture.

How's Appwork different than the scenario just described?

[Sean Landsberg] (25:22 - 25:54) Well, we're fundamentally different because we are the end users ourselves, we meaning myself. I am an end user of the product. I use the product myself on a daily basis, but something that we're a little bit different that I always like to look at us as we're almost like a community of people, us, Appwork and all of our clients, where we leverage everybody's feedback, collective feedback to help make Appwork the incredible product that it already is and to help continue improving it.

So we're constantly innovating and all of our innovation, all of our pipeline really comes from the feedback and the ideas that our clients are giving us.

[Joelis Barandica] (25:55 - 26:23) Brian, you said so many amazing things. I'm really taken back. One thing I do want to hear all about, because I feel like they're all about leadership and about promoting our maintenance to really elevate themselves.

And that really sings to my heart. I think that's something that is really important to me. Can you walk me through your, is that the Moorgard Maintenance Academy?

Am I saying it correct? I want to hear all about this. How can I enroll?

What is it all about?

[Bryan Middleton] (26:23 - 31:04) Post-pandemic, and you know, I see Adrian talks about this a lot, is that we are struggling to find maintenance professionals. That is not just a Moorgard problem, that is an industry problem. So when I took over the role in 2021, I said to myself, how can I help?

How can I help Moorgard? How can I help the industry fix this hole? To the point that I spoke to earlier, me hiring inexperienced people.

This is a practice that I've always done. So this is something that I'm used to. I always train them to the academy.

It just wasn't written down on paper. So I just needed to get, how do I get to what I used to do in the field? How do I get that on paper?

They can then be rolled out across 13 states and get 34 community managers to buy into it and really change organizationally how we think about training and developing people. I set off on this journey to create this program. We call it the Moorgard Maintenance Academy.

It started off as a 100-day training program, has a lot of different monikers. But at the end of the day, the goal is to take somebody like an Adrian with zero experience, like the groundskeeper, like myself, that just walks out of their apartment and says, how do I get a job here? And turn them into a semi-skilled maintenance profession within give or take 100 days.

So it's a 12-week program. The first block of it, you really cover what the industry is about, what you're going to be doing, basic curb appeal, and then you build onto it. The bulk of the program is the next phase, bake readies.

This is where you're going to learn the majority of your skills. You're going to spend eight full weeks inside of vacant apartments, practicing and performing various different tasks until you are kind of signed off by your mentor that you're able to perform that task. And how we judge that is that when you are able to perform that task independently, as if you were training it to your mentor, that is what we consider you are now a master of that task, right?

So you're able to, because we feel that if you're able to take somebody like myself or Adrian and sort of walk us through and teach us how to change a light switch, for example, now we are 100% confident that you can walk into that resident's home with full confidence that you're going to do the job right, you're going to do it safely, and that you're going to make sure that that resident's going to do it right. The final phase of the program is your sort of final four weeks of it, is when we introduce you to work orders. And the entire time that you're performing work orders, you're performing them with a mentor so that you learn the skill of how to interact with residents, because I'm a firm believer that that is an acquired skill.

That is not something that somebody is going to walk off the street and just know how to interact with a resident, know how to speak to them, know what to say to them, and know how to really explain repairs, because as Adrian can probably attest to, sometimes you have to explain to residents what you're doing, because you'll all get that resident that asks questions, and guess what? They have every right to ask questions. It's their home.

Regardless of whether we own it and they're leasing it or whatever, we want them to feel like it is their home. So they have every right to ask us, hey, what are you doing? Why are you doing this?

And why is this broken? And I think that that is missed by a lot of maintenance technicians. Sometimes they get frustrated when they're asked questions, but I encourage them to think empathetically about the fact that this is their home.

If somebody went into your grandmother's house, you would probably want them to be doing the best job possible, right? So go do the best job possible for the rest of it, because that's somebody's grandmother, that's somebody's sister, mother, you know, whatever person that you want to apply that to. I try to give that advice to our maintenance professionals.

So once they graduate through the program, then they will be able to get their EPA 608, Adrian. So we'll put them through that toward the end of the program. And they will come out of the program being able to perform a make ready and being able to do probably 75 to 80% of what you would get from a work order perspective.

They won't be able to fully replace a compressor. They won't be able to, you know, do a full unit change out, but that comes with the next step of the development, right? We don't just stop and say, all right, you're done with the program and now we're going to walk away, right?

It's continuous development. Now at that point, we know they can do all of this. They can help manage to the work orders, to the make readies, to those sort of things.

Now we can start to develop them from a more advanced level.

[Adrian Danila] (31:04 - 31:14) There's a few questions that come to mind very interested in data points. How long have you been running the program? So we have been running it for about 15 months.

15 months.

[Bryan Middleton] (31:14 - 33:41) So how many people you've had through the program so far? We've had seven. So, and that's across multiple different states.

I do put that as a caveat because it's, as you know, Adrian, it's pretty challenging when you're trying to train across multiple different states. I think if you have a single state or a cluster of properties, it's certainly a lot easier to train individuals. So the biggest challenge that we've had is how do you train this across multiple different states, right?

Because we basically, how we had to go about it was we had to train our area service managers, think regional maintenance director. So we had to train them on how to train this to the team. And I say to the team because the way that we approach this program is this does not fall on one individual at a time.

If you bring a maintenance academy professional through your community, everybody is responsible for training that individual. And we parse that out based on the expertise. If the person, if the maintenance professional, the tech one or the lead maintenance technician is the expert in terms, we want that person to be teaching the bulk of the terms, right?

But if somebody else on the staff is the expert in the appliances, we want that academy student to learn from that expert in appliances. That way, A, training is more efficient. B, it's not falling on one individual.

And being out in the field, and I think that this is where a lot of people sort of throw training in the trash, which is an unfortunate thing. But I think what ends up happening is that that individual, that lead, that maintenance supervisor, it's so overwhelmed with trying to run the property that he needs to then take the time to train the person, which takes a lot of time to do if you do it properly. So not having it fall on one individual, we found to be very, very successful.

It also engages and gives the rest of the team purpose, right? It's you're teaching them training, you're teaching them mentorship, you're teaching them skills that they can take with them for the rest of their life, which allows them to develop as well. So it's not only are you developing a new person, but you're also developing your existing staff by helping them get better, by teaching them to share knowledge, by teaching them that, you know, hey, training and development is important for everybody.

And all of us are going to constantly learn.

[Joelis Barandica] (33:42 - 33:43) So again, where can I sign up?

[Bryan Middleton] (33:44 - 36:09) Sign up at morgargus.com. I'm going to have to do that. You know, we have positions on there, and we use it as a recruiting tool.

And to get fresh, fresh, fresh candidates through us. But what it has also allowed us to do, and the other unique part that I shared with you all is we have the 12 week version. We also have the four week version.

And the four week version is for experienced technicians that are coming in from other companies that you will go through a scaled down version of this. Most management companies, everybody does things slightly differently than the next person, right? So this allows an experienced technician to come in to learn our culture, to learn how we do things, to really learn how we approach preventative maintenance differently than other people do, to learn what we expect from a make ready perspective, and to learn how we service our residents.

Because we do put customer service at the forefront. We call it plus one service at Morgarg. And that's what we expect people to do.

But I can't expect you to do it if I don't show you how to do it. So we've actually been able to take that 12 week program, scale it back to four weeks, and have experienced technicians that are coming in from the Lincolns or the Graystars or somewhere else that have experience in the field, put them through that four week program, one week on curb appeal and preventative maintenance, one week on our culture, one week on how we do make readies, and one week on how we approach our residents and our customer service.

And then you're ready to go. That also gets them comfortability with the community, comfortability with where things are, the shutoff valves, the breaker panels, it really helps them learn the community before you sort of just throw them in and say, okay, you're on call. I think we've all been in that situation, day three, and then you're throwing a technician on call and all you're doing is setting that person up for failure.

You're going to overwhelm them and they're going to potentially fail. And then they might get so overwhelmed that they say, you know what, I quit. That's obviously the worst case scenario, but it does happen.

I think it happens almost every day.

[Joelis Barandica] (36:09 - 36:16) What would your advice be to a young person trying to just enter the business, enter the industry? What would be your word of advice?

[Bryan Middleton] (36:16 - 37:20) Come in with an open mind and be willing and ready to learn. This is not an industry that you can just sort of walk off the street. No, you do.

You're always learning. I'm still learning 15 years in. I'm sure Adrian's still learning to this day.

We're always learning and we're learning from each other. So that would be the number one thing. Whether you're coming through the maintenance academy or you're going to work for another organization, I think if you approach it with an open mindset and willing to learn, you're going to be successful in this industry.

It's a very rewarding career. I touched on it a little bit earlier. There's not many careers where you can come out of the gate with limited experience, make a pretty decent wage.

Most of us are paying a good living wage at this point for entry level positions and then sort of learn on the job and you will be rewarded with increases and raises and there's bonus potential and there's all sorts of things that doors are open for you as long as you're willing to learn and work hard and apply yourself.

[Adrian Danila] (37:20 - 38:11) So Brian, you mentioned that training the newcomers, like the students of this program, is not just one person's responsibility. So I want to stir that a little bit and just kind of ask you to walk us through like how does that work? Is it just like their co-workers, the other technicians and the service manager at the site?

They're responsible to train them? Is it anyone from outside that's coming in and training them? Is it them going to maybe assist their property and get like specialized training?

Let's say that you have an amazing appliance technician right down the street if you have a right down the street property, assist their property and then how much is it group knowledge or like class knowledge of the entire program and what percentage you would say is hands-on of the program to just kind of give me an idea?

[Bryan Middleton] (38:12 - 41:54) Yeah, so it's all of the above so in terms of who's doing the training. So who does the training? It's led by our area service managers so regional maintenance.

So they are responsible for that academy student and their success in the program. So they're the ones that are out there every day. They support our maintenance professionals.

They know our maintenance professionals. So they really know where the experts fly. They really know who should be doing what pieces of the training.

So they're the ones that really help out. They're also in certain situations the ones that literally dive in and will do some of the training with them. So the HVAC portions of it, the appliances, some of the stuff that I think is really specialized in terms of not everybody knows that on site or really knows it.

I think people have general knowledge of it but the ones that really know it have kind of like advanced their career up probably and are not on site. Right. So that's that in situations where like in my South Florida portfolio, I have seven properties that are kind of right within an hour of each other.

So there we can share the load, right? There we can have somebody go to a sister property if somebody is an expert. But in Colorado, I have two communities that are an hour and a half apart.

Not always feasible. So my next step and my next goal is that I'm working with a company called Interplay, which I believe has been referenced on your podcast previously, Adrian. And I think that this is a fantastic training solution that everybody, every company should be investing in this.

And so I have a demo with them and my goal is to get them on board and to really supplement that training solution with my maintenance department. And I think that will take what is a great program and turn it into an excellent, almost near perfect program for maintenance professionals. In terms of how much is hands-on, how much is book, probably 20% book, 80% hands-on.

We partner with Grace Hill Learning Management System. So we will supplement some of the hands-on training with classes that sort of reinforce that training from a knowledge and book perspective, Adrian. But for the most part, 80% of this is them learning hands-on in the field.

We give them a field manual at the start of their program. This is something that I also picked up from the military myself. You get a field manual when you go through basic training, gives you the basics on compass and direction and all the different stuff.

And I still have my field manual to this day, some 20 or 14, 15 years later. You have it, I think it's valuable. This is something that they can take with them.

They're going to be able to keep it. You don't take it back from them or anything like that. So when they're in an apartment, say they get stuck on an electrical outlet, how do I replace this or what wire goes where?

They could, in theory, take that field manual, grab it, quickly flip to the page, reference it, and then get themselves unstuck. But I think that using that field manual, along with if we can get this interplay added to it, interplay would also allow them to look at a video on their cell phone and really quickly reference that thing. That's kind of the methodology and the learning of it.

But from my perspective, it's very important it be as hands-on as possible because that's, in my opinion, how you learn in this industry.

[Joelis Barandica] (41:54 - 42:11) That's great, Brian. And I've used interplay, so it is a great system. I think it'll definitely give you a leverage.

And I'm so thrilled to hear more about your program. I do want to switch it up a little bit and just ask you a personal question. When you lose your focus or you feel overwhelmed, how do you get back on track?

[Bryan Middleton] (42:12 - 44:19) I stay pretty calm, cool, and collected for the most part. I don't know if this is a good answer or a bad answer, but I always kind of just realize that whatever that problem is, whatever I'm feeling overwhelmed with, it's not the worst thing that will have happened to me in my lifetime. And it's not the worst thing that happens to other people, if that makes sense.

So that really helps me put things in perspective and really stay centered on that. Everybody goes through challenges in their life. And I saw a graph the other day on LinkedIn, and it was a big circle and it was all filled in.

And then there was a small dot in the middle of it. And it was like, the small dot represents what you know about what's going on in somebody's life, which I think is very telling. And I think that far too often, people jump to conclusions about somebody, but you really don't know a lot about what they're going through in their personal life or outside of work.

And I think that as a leader, my senior vice president said this to me when we were going up to Orlando, you know, as a leader, your job is to try to get the best out of individuals when they're going through the worst moments of their life. So whether that's divorce, financial challenges or whatever, get the best out of them that you can. It doesn't mean give up.

And I think that too many people sort of just give up on individuals. And they sort of just say, you know what, they're not performing for this two week period of time, time to write them off, time to go down this road. And it's like, no, they ask them questions, ask them, you know, what's going on, get to know if there's a challenge.

So for me, I look at a problem like, you know, hey, that flood that happened in the that took out six apartments, it's like my idiot flood of my career. You know, I mean, it's just another flood for me. So I mean, I know that that's kind of like a bad answer in a way, because then it makes it seem like you're not taking the problem seriously.

I take the problem very seriously. It's just I don't get overwhelmed by it because it's something that I do every day.

[Joelis Barandica] (44:19 - 44:33) I don't think that's a bad answer at all. I think it's just you have a different approach, right? You just don't take that problem on.

You try to find solutions and make the best of it. So, I mean, what can I say? Hands down, I'm truly impressed by you.

[Adrian Danila] (44:33 - 44:46) There's a lot of chatter, a lot of conversations about centralizations in multifamily maintenance. Is centralization in maintenance a real thing, a real possibility, or is just a buzzword? What is like somewhere in between the two?

[Bryan Middleton] (44:46 - 46:38) I think it's somewhere in between. I think that if you have a portfolio that is very spread out, it's going to be very challenging to centralize things. I think that if you have a condensed portfolio, you can sort of look at certain things and say, OK, can I figure out a way to approach HVAC repairs differently?

Can I figure out a way to, you know, really sort of combine efforts and combine labor and that kind of stuff? But so I think it really depends on your portfolio and how it is laid out. I do think that there is some stuff.

I saw that question on here. HappyPo is a company that I've kind of been speaking with, and they have this great software called HappyForce, which I'm going down the road of really exploring if that could be a benefit to us. But what that does is it provides virtual maintenance technicians for on-call.

So this is a potential on-call solution that you could centralize that would really reduce the number of calls that go to your on-site technicians, because basically how it works is if you go through a call service, Adrian would pick up the phone, would be able to FaceTime with Jolice and diagnose the issue. As you know, Adrian, a lot of on-calls can be probably fixed relatively simply. So if you're able to walk that, walk Jolice through, oh, it's just simply switching on the breaker, or the breaker tripped, or the GFCI needs to be reset, or very simple repairs.

I think that's definitely something that people could definitely explore. But I think that we're a long way away from centralizing a lot of maintenance tasks.

[Joelis Barandica] (46:38 - 46:52) I definitely need to hear more about that on-call centralization. So we'll be in touch, Brian, apart from this. Let's talk about labor shortages in our field.

How do we overcome them? What's going on with that?

[Bryan Middleton] (46:52 - 48:32) I think being willing to take chances on people and provide them with opportunities is the first thing. I wrote an article on LinkedIn a few weeks ago where I talked about the culture of opportunity. So I wouldn't be where I'm at if people didn't take a chance and give me the ability to learn more, do more, take on more, right?

So if we as an industry can do that, then you're going to be able to develop your internal campaigns. You're also going to be able to hire external candidates by taking opportunity on people that don't have experience. I know that that is a risky proposition for a lot of people in multifamily, but if you have a labor shortage and there are individuals out there that are willing to work, they just might not be in our industry.

So if you look at training and development, if you invest in training and development a little bit more, and then you look at programs like the Mortar and Maintenance Academy, like internships, then you're going to be able to address that labor shortage. It might not be with a five-year experience multifamily tech that can just walk on the job site and start doing everything. At the end of the day, your option is nobody or somebody that you can train, teach, and develop.

And I will always choose somebody that I can train, teach, and develop than leaving an empty headcount because the empty headcount at the end of the day is going to burn out your current employees and your current staff. They're going to get tired. They're going to get overworked.

And eventually, they're going to either leave or just stop really being invested and stop caring. And then both of those scenarios are really bad.

[Adrian Danila] (48:32 - 48:45) Brian, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy day today to be with us. Amazing conversation. I hope to continue this down the road because we haven't even scratched the surface of all the questions that I wanted to ask.

[Bryan Middleton] (48:45 - 51:13) But I want to give you the opportunity to share any final thoughts that you might have. Yeah, no, I appreciate that, Adrian and Joey. Thank you, guys.

I'm happy to come on any time that you want to continue it. Part two, maybe. Very, very happy and open and willing to do that.

And I noticed you guys had some other podcasts potentially in the mix, leadership ones and different ones like that. So if you ever start those up, I'm also happy to do that as well. You know, my final thought or my sort of lasting impression of it is really three things, right?

It's, you know, be willing to take risks on individuals. Some of your all stars might be in your own team right now and you're overlooking them because you're not willing or able to sort of invest the time in them in the training. So give them the opportunity.

Let them run. And you might be surprised at what they're able to produce. Number two, start hiring people that don't have experience.

Come up and create these programs. Bring new people into our industry. Because if we don't, I'm not looking at tomorrow in terms of labor shortage.

And I don't think you are either, Adrian, and reading and listening to you. I think you're looking at five, 10 years down the road, which is exactly what I'm looking at, which is why I wanted to build this program is I'm not worried about the maintenance tech tomorrow. Sure, they're difficult to find, but we can still find I'm worried about five, 10 years down the road.

How can we service our residents then if we don't get ahead of this problem now? And then the third takeaway, start training and teaching soft skills to maintenance professionals, whether that's leadership, whether that's customer service. I think that it's something that gets overlooked far too often in our industry.

We promote people because of their skills in accounting or their skills in turning a wrench. But we do not give them the tools to succeed once they become leaders of people. I think you'll get people to stay.

You'll retain employees more. You'll also retain residents more if you have leaders that actually know how to manage and know how to lead people. Because in 2024, I think gone are the days where you can bark orders at people and yell at them and get them to do things.

I think leadership has become much more empathetic. You have to understand. You have to put yourself in people's shoes.

[Adrian Danila] (51:13 - 51:48) You have to really approach it differently. Brian, thank you very much again for being with us. I want to thank Jurelis for co-hosting with me.

It's always great to have you by my side. I want to thank all of you that took the time to watch us, to listen to us today, to this episode. We hope to get you back here soon.

Last but not the least important here, I want to thank our sponsors, our partners for making this podcast available. Kairos Water and AppOrg. Please check out their web pages.

Hopefully you'll find services that your company or your property could use. Have a great day, friends, and we'll see you back here soon.