From groundskeeper to service and training manager, Jeff Hazel has quite literally “walked the walk and talked the talk” when it comes to his 30-year career in multi-family businesses. Here, Jeff talks about his career, what he has learned, and the evolution of training and maintenance in multi-family accommodation.
Managing Service Techs at Edward Rose & Sons
In 2016, Jeff joined Edward Rose & Sons as a Regional Facilities Manager, eventually moving into a newly created position of Service Training Manager. The objective of the new role was to implement and oversee the company's maintenance training and learning program.
Established in 1921, Edward Rose & Sons is a family-owned company providing modest to brand new luxury apartment communities throughout the Midwest and surrounding states. Edward Rose handles all phases of development — from land acquisition to construction to management and maintenance — and owns more than 60,000 multi-family units across the country.
Q: What did training look like at Edward Rose before you joined?
“My philosophy has always been that there’s no such thing as being perfect. Don’t ask what’s working, ask what’s not working and how we can improve things. Therefore, I started asking questions about what we could do differently. It’s only through out-of-the-box thinking that you can empower people to do their job and take them and a company to the next level.”
An Apartment Complex is a Community
Central to Jeff’s philosophy when it came to learning and development, was the importance of serving multi-family communities at a personal level.
“An apartment is a home, not just a unit, and an apartment complex is a community. It’s where people live and sleep, and it’s a place they should be proud of. So, it’s up to our team to go the extra mile.
Don’t just fix a light bulb, ask if there’s anything else you can help with. Would they like the trash taken out, for example, or can you help with carrying the resident’s groceries to their apartment? They might decline the offer, but they will never forget that offer.
That’s why we refer to our team as service technicians — they’re not just repairing items that are broken, they’re providing a frontline service. If a resident does decide to leave, we need to be asking ourselves what could we have done differently to save our resident — whether there needs to be new carpet, new cabinets or appliances. That way we can ensure the perfect start for the next resident.
This combination of skills development and focus on the end user is central to the training culture we developed at Edward Rose.”
Third Parties Impact the Bottom Line
One of the big issues Jeff confronted at Edward Rose, and what he has found throughout his career, was the over reliance on third parties when so much more could be done internally. This has a major impact on the bottom line, quality and reputation.
“When it comes to multi-family, we as an industry rely way too much on the use of contractors in the field. Why? Because we're not training our people to troubleshoot and identify those faults and failures of equipment themselves. This leaves us dependent on contractors with increased expenses, ultimately effecting our bottom line performance.”
This played into the need for empowerment and improved training, as well as the personal importance of serving multi-family communities.
“My entire career has been based on training and empowering people to do more internally when it comes to hands-on maintenance and troubleshooting. Sure, we might need to rely on specialized contractors when a heat exchanger needs replacing after a carbon monoxide detector goes off, but many things can be sorted internally without building up service tickets or work orders.”
Quality and Reputation
“Studies have shown that a resident usually decides in the first three-to-five days of moving into a unit if they will consider renewing at the end of the lease term. It’s crucial that we do everything at the front end to keep our residents happy, avoid negative comments on sites such as apartmentratings.com and social media sites, and maintain our reputation. Leasing and maintenance go hand-in-hand and one doesn’t work without the other.
What training and the empowerment of our service teams means is that six visits by different employees or contractors can be consolidated to just two. Thinking outside the box saves money, ensures quality and reinforces our hard-won reputation of being a company in business for 100 years.”
From Vision to Reality — Partnering with Interplay Learning
So, how could Jeff’s vision of empowered, proactive employees that go that extra mile for multi-family communities become a reality? Central to this was the partnership with Interplay Learning.
Founded in 2016 and based out of Austin, Texas, Interplay Learning is the leading provider of online and virtual reality (VR) training for the essential skilled trades, including HVAC, plumbing and electrical. Its Comersive Learning platform is ideal for mastering hands-on skilled job training effectively and efficiently. As Jeff says, it took time to persuade senior management of the benefits.
“They offered so much more interactivity and learning than alternative providers. It was through regular demonstrations and showing how people can learn in real time (if you fail, you try again, if you fail, you try again) that I managed to introduce and bring our leadership team to the Interplay model. Since then, we’ve never looked back.”
Today, 100% of all multi-family maintenance training is going through Interplay Learning’s training modules with content being continually developed or adapted to reflect Jeff’s vision.
“Interplay’s simulation-based learning means better-trained service technicians in a shorter amount of time, fewer expensive third-party contractor service calls and fewer resident call backs.
The 3D simulation training works so well in so many areas, particularly when it comes to troubleshooting — examining circuit boards, for example — and I’m learning a huge amount myself! I’ve taken all of the courses and am so excited to be partnering with Interplay.”
Going Beyond a Training Tool
It’s not just what Interplay offers Edward Rose. It’s what they offer the industry as a whole.
“I get people asking how I’m managing to keep maintenance training uninterrupted during COVID-19, keeping people working and how they can connect with Interplay. Everyone knows everybody in this industry, and I think that one of the things that sets me apart is I'm always out there trying to help everybody take their training or take their knowledge to the next level. Partnering with Interplay was one of the best decisions I made as a means of achieving this.”
Interplay’s training is also certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the leading HVAC certification organization in North America — again a plus for Jeff and for Edward Rose employees.
“Edward Rose University is an approved NATE testing facility, offering NATE certifications on site. The NATE certification is great news for our maintenance technicians and their employability and earning potential, and I hope it will be followed by National Apartment Association (CAMT) certification. Whether they stay with us or not (and I hope they do!), it will be beneficial to them in the future.
This industry is not going anywhere. We're going to be around for a long time, but we all need to come together as an industry and pool our knowledge and expertise to be successful.”
Developing a Learning Culture at Edward Rose
Today, nearly 1,000 Edward Rose service technicians are using the latest simulation-based technical training from Interplay, with learning a central part of Edward Rose’s DNA. So, was it a challenge developing a learning culture?
“Luckily, I had one of the best leaders that I've ever worked for. She trusted me to make the decisions and helped secure buy-in from other executives.”
Q: What are the key ingredients of establishing a training culture?
“Maintenance technicians are hands-on people. They require content that’s as interactive and enjoyable as possible so they can see the real-world benefits.
Also, the operational and financial benefits of training, such as a reduced need for third-party contractors, was key in securing the support of senior management.”
Q: What are the future plans at Edward Rose?
“We’re about 75% to 80% to where we want to be. I’m really excited about the new courses coming out, and I have just finished doing career pathing for each of our maintenance teams. We’ll then start assigning courses developed by Interplay from our Learning Management System based on these customized career paths. We are also moving forward to ensuring all of our team members have the necessary EPA certifications prior to starting Interplay courses.”
Committed to the Industry and Inspiring the Next Generation
So, what would Jeff like to be remembered for — not that he hasn’t got many more years blazing a trail in L&D?
“I just hope I can inspire other multi-family companies to look at learning and development in a new way. Many of the pieces I have put into place at the companies I worked for over my 30-year career are still in place. It’s not what I have achieved for a single company, it’s about the industry in general.”
Jeff will continue to fight for the role of training.
“Sometimes the industry is too focused on the marketing and leasing side of stuff and they may forget about the people that are making these apartments fit to live in. I've been advocating for that change of mindset my entire life.”
Service Training Manager, Edward Rose & Sons
Jeff Hazel is the Service Training Manager at Edward Rose & Sons and has almost 30 years of multi-family experience. Jeff prides himself in his ability to foster a deep culture of learning among his maintenance staff, and is trailblazing the industry with his unique approach to talent and career development.
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