Keeping Maintenance Positions Filled: Digitally Train to Retain

A multi-family maintenance training simulation showing a dishwasher repair

As the Baby Boomer generation continues to exit the skilled workforce, we in maintenance organizations are facing enormous challenges.

There are growing job vacancies, crippling retention problems, and an incoming workforce full of tech-savvy digital natives with different expectations for their career training.

Fortunately, however, with growing digital solutions like online catalog learning, 3D simulations, and VR, there are a number of effective ways we in Maintenance can move the industry forward to tackle these issues head-on.

“Today’s workers see your career training program as marketing.”

The New Kids on the Block

Millennials make up the largest chunk of today’s available workforce, with about 50% of the 2020 workforce being under 40 years old.

The younger generations learned how to use a computer before they could walk. In fact, many of them knew how to start a movie or play a game on a tablet before they were out of their car seat!

We old-timers remember landlines, rotary phones, VHS tapes from Blockbuster, and even flip phones. Today’s learners, in contrast, had a smartphone capable of doing a hundred times more than your first computer when they were five!

I was reading an article recently on that discussed what Millennials care about when it comes to their careers, and one of the points was purpose.

They say that the current group of incoming workers are as concerned about making an impact and having purpose as they are about company culture and how much they make.

This means that today, you are less likely to keep a team member by offering a raise or pointing out the benefits that your company may have to offer.

I know that for me, benefits have always been an important part of why I chose a position within a company, but that’s not enough to keep your employees today.

Today’s workers see your career training program as marketing.

Current Crisis in Multi-Family

As many of you are well aware, the multi-family industry is currently facing a double-whammy when it comes to talent. On one end, the maintenance labor pool is shrinking, leaving us with less talent to draw from, and on the other end, we’re dealing with growing employee retention challenges.

In fact, the National Apartment Association (NAA) refers to the current crisis as The Great Resignation.

An Opportunity to Cater Skills Training to Digital Natives

E-learning used to be somewhat of a fringe offering made available mostly by post-secondary institutions. Now, however, and especially since Covid, it has fast become an essential component of many learning and education systems in all industries.

My daughter, for example, graduated from high school without stepping foot in the school building for most of her junior and senior years. And now, we have the same flexibility to expand how we provide learning to our maintenance team members, with virtual classes being just one way to do it.

“The old way of hands-on training is not enough to tackle today’s skills crisis. We need to lean into the efficiencies of virtual learning to recover and rebuild the workforce.”

Now, you might be asking yourself, “how do we teach someone how to work on an air conditioner, electrical system, or plumbing fixture, digitally? After all, ‘hands-on’ is the only way to learn a trade, and it’s how we’ve done it since the beginning of time.”

In a perfect world, we’d have one-on-one, in-person mentorship with hands-on training for all. However, we all know that that is too slow and unscalable. Even sending team members to off-site training is far too costly, pulling an already stretched workforce away from their duties.

The old way of hands-on training is not enough to tackle today’s skills crisis. We need to lean into the efficiencies of virtual learning to recover and rebuild the workforce.

Discovering Interplay – Simulations Imitate Life

I often reflect back on how things used to be — like how I learned and how I was taught hands-on skills. Most of the time, learning took place in the field, working on real-life situations.

There was no control over the environment or our surroundings. Learning happened when the opportunity presented itself and was handled in more of a trial-by-fire fashion. If you messed up, it cost you time and money.

It wasn’t a bad way to learn, necessarily, but now, there are more efficient and safer ways to gain knowledge. To date, the most impressive training I’ve encountered is through virtual reality, which I first learned about from Interplay Learning.

“Talk about an environment that fosters growth and opportunity for the new generation. Here it is. And it’s super fun for them too.”

Virtual Reality at Interplay Learning is moving to the forefront at lightning speed. Be careful not to slip behind on this technology.

Through desktop simulation and 3D virtual reality, what feels like actual hands-on training is here and gaining widespread acceptance.

The reaction that I have seen from people as I demonstrate the product and then have them put on the goggles and make a repair in VR is amazing. It feels like you’re there— so much so, that I have watched folks try to use the virtual countertop in our kitchen appliance simulation to help them stand up!

Yes, you may have to get down on the ground in VR to be able to complete stove repair, just like you would in real life!


Through the virtual simulation process, you can not only attract new candidates, but you can take a green team member and rapidly teach them the fundamentals to prepare them for on-site tasks in a matter of weeks.

Further, you can also refresh and expand the knowledge and understanding of your more seasoned technicians—all without them needing to leave the worksite to attend a class.

Training can be taken in small bits throughout the day, week, or month as well. I know, as a supervisor I would have jumped at the opportunity for my teams to be able to grow like this. I could see spending a little time after the morning meeting or just before or after lunch jumping into some training.

“If we want our team members to stay, we must find a way to train to retain them.”

Talk about an environment that fosters growth and opportunity for the new generation. Here it is. And it’s super fun for them too.

Not to mention, on the Interplay Learning platform, these courses and simulations were designed with the assistance of long-time subject matter experts in their respective fields.

This is quality training designed to advance your team members’ maintenance careers in a motivating, self-paced way.

With simulations, learning is completed safely without the real-world consequences of working on live equipment. And just as the learners of today are used to, if you make a mistake, just reset and start over.

Learners also have the opportunity to repeat the training multiple times so that when they do get into a real-world situation, they are confident and well-versed in completing the task.


If we want our team members to stay, we must find a way to train to retain them.

Your team members want the chance to expand and improve their skill set. If you give them purpose, they will reward you by not only sticking with you, they will deliver the quality work that is required to successfully grow your organization.

Interplay Learning is delivering a solution to develop qualified technicians that understand how to troubleshoot and repair instead of just replacing every part until they get the right one.

If we want to attract and retain a quality maintenance workforce, it’s important that we, as employers and mentors, stay abreast of the emerging ways that today’s learners gather, process, and retain information.

For them, learning in a digital format is second nature and we need to meet them where they are to support that. In doing so, we can tackle the mounting issues we are facing today to multi-family in order to:

    • Attract new candidates with training they actually want to use
    • Increase engagement and motivation within the learning process so they retain information faster and perform better
    • Support their ongoing career growth and keep them on-board maintenance teams for the long-haul


Craig Bartholomew

Multi-family Expert

Craig began his career in the multi-family industry in 1992 and boasts 23+ years of on-site maintenance experience. As a leader for Services Teams, he enjoys working with company leadership to develop Maintenance Operations that provide not only the highest level of service for residents but also a career path for service team members that keeps them engaged and challenged. Craig is currently an EPA Proctor and PHTA (NSPF) Certified Instructor.