Prior to starting his own consulting firm, Ralph was the Executive Director for the 8th largest public school system in the country.
Here, he led a team that was responsible for managing over 26 million square feet of space in 300+ buildings that was occupied by over 200,000 individuals.
On this episode, Ralph provides insight into his experience as a leader in Facilities Management including:
- Employee Development and Training
- Employee Retention
- Best Practices for FM Leaders
Welcome to another episode of The Modern Facilities Management Podcast, brought to you by FlowPath. I'm your host, Griffin Hamilton. This is the show where I interview industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights into modern-day facilities management, from hospitality to commercial, real estate, and everything in between. We'll learn what it really takes to succeed as a facilities manager.
Welcome to another episode of The Modern Facilities Management Podcast, today I have the pleasure of having Ralph Carp with our EC consulting on as the guest. Ralph, how're you doing?
Ralph Carp 00:52
I'm very well, thanks. Thanks for having me.
Griffin Hamilton 00:55
Of course. Well, I appreciate you coming on and before we go into the detail of the meat potatoes of the conversation here this morning about employee retention and training, I want to give the audience a little bit of context about who you are and your background there. So, I'll toss it over to you really quick. How'd you get the facilities?
Ralph Carp 01:13
Thanks for the question. You know, if I may just share some quick background, you know, I come from blue-collar roots, which I think gives me a little bit of a different perspective on Facility Management. You know, when I was in my early 20s, I did an apprenticeship as a machinist and I worked as a machinist and a millwright for a large 24/7 commercial printing company for about 10 years. From that I moved on to a leadership role with another company and then I grew my career from there, earning my bachelor's degree and an MBA. You know, I recently retired from the School District of Philadelphia, where I was executive director of Facility Maintenance and Operations and I'm now residing in Alabama. And you know, established a consulting practice which, you know, I'm doing some work in community redevelopment and I also have a practice focus, obviously, on Facility Maintenance and Operations.
Griffin Hamilton 02:13
Now, Ralph, did you mention you were in the apprenticeship program prior to getting your degree and MBA?
Ralph Carp 02:19
Right! When I was in my early 20s, I learned that college wasn't for me at the time and I did an apprenticeship and worked for 10 years as a machinist and a millwright.
Griffin Hamilton 02:31
Just curious, what changed in that 10-year period that made you want to go back to getting your degree?
Ralph Carp 02:38
I felt I could do more and I had a lot of you know, untapped potential but I knew that the glass ceiling said, Ralph, you got to go back to school and you know, take care of that.
Griffin Hamilton 02:50
Got it, yeah you know it's interesting to get so many people and facilities that kind of fall into it and you know, we're seeing more and more programs pop up that are more of the traditional facilities route or I guess educational route with more degree programs out there. But it's interesting that you got the apprenticeship, you realize what you wanted to do and then you went back and got it and so that is pretty unique, I haven't heard that before. And pretty cool that you've made it that far and went back and recognize that you needed it.
Ralph Carp 03:20
Yeah, I definitely understand what life in the trenches can be like. So, it's just as you know, a new dimension to the perspective.
Griffin Hamilton 03:30
Yeah, absolutely and I think that is important as you get to that leadership role is to not just be the individual that, you know, point says, go do this without having the ability to get in the trenches and you know, actually execute what you are expecting out of your team there, so very cool. Well, I know we talked about this here a little bit before hitting the record button but really the main focus of today is that relationship between leadership and the facilities technician and the teams they're in. So, I guess starting us off, I want to just look back at the last couple of years and look at the evolution of a facilities manager and their role in their position and kind of get your take on how things have changed obviously with COVID, having a huge impact on the world here over the last couple years.
Ralph Carp 04:16
Yes, I would say that anyone that's been in Facility Management over the last couple of years has certainly realized that the role has changed significantly, you know, due to the pandemic. And you know, likewise, the value that facility professionals bring to the organization has grown significantly, you know? We're in a time where it's really critical, in my opinion, to give facility managers and their staff the support they need, so we don't allow negative impacts on mission-critical business systems and operations. You know, many facilities are closed for many months and you know, for me, I was working for the School District of Philadelphia which, you know, 200,000 kids couldn't go to school and you know, we had 224 public schools closed down. So, you know, I think that the role has changed a little bit and the perspective has changed. The issue as I see it now is, you know, businesses need to decide if they're going to staff up and fully equip their maintenance, workers with the proper training and the tools to you know, deal with this added responsibility. Or if they're going to subcontract work out, finding good qualified, technical support on the outside was very challenging because everybody was clamoring for that because they didn't have the skilled folks in the house to you know, perform the tasks necessary. I think going forward you know, businesses have to just make the decision you know, how they're going to go, they're going to invest or not invest?
Griffin Hamilton 06:00
Yeah, and it's interesting, the changes you see and how that varies from industry to industry. And you know, a lot of times you don't have the budget that you need and you really don't have the headcount that you need to get the things that are mission critical there. And so, it'll be interesting to see on that spectrum, how much is outsourced versus how much you're going to be in-house. And if you do go forth and you have that investment made in your internal team, I think that is something where you have to make the most out of the team that you have. And so that kind of takes us to the main topic here and that's employee retention and just like, it's a training and development there. And so, what have you seen over the last couple of years or that you've implemented yourself to make the most out of the team and to really get the highest return on that investment and that headcount?
Ralph Carp 06:54
Well obviously, in my position, we'd learned quickly that the team didn't have the technical skills that they needed to properly assess building systems and ensure that we are getting the right amount of ventilation in the building. And to quantify, we didn't have the benchmarking, you know, KPIs in place and the metrics to really tightly measure operational performance and ensure the reliability of the systems. That you know, teachers and you know, parents and the public were you know, wanting it and other employees in another school district of Philadelphia has about 19,000 employees. So, establishing those KPIs and metrics is really critical to help you make a good decision on how you move forward. You know, if I could have, just like to share with you the 2021 McMorrow report, which is an online platform, that provides products and services for professionals and facility management. They say that 72% of facility managers can't find the right technical skill people and the right with also technical and managerial skills, which really underscores the challenges that you know, professionals in facilities face today. You know, if management could see you know, the overall benefit, I think there'd be you know, stronger investment but it seems that training over the years has declined you know, about 65% of employers, you know, have a formal definition of what a Facility Manager and a Facility Operations should be. But only about 55, 58% of them, I think it is, provides the funding and the time for their staff to pursue additional education. Employees use over 90% of the employees say, yeah, I go get extra training if it was available to me. So you know, it's a shift that has to happen or you're going to just have to make a decision to cut and run and outsource your work to other folks but you're sort of at the mercy of their timetable to get the work done.
Griffin Hamilton 09:14
Yeah, and if you are investing in having a team internally, you can't just have one foot in, one foot out, you have to go all into it. And I mean, the statistics you just alluded to, I mean that is showing that there's a desire to learn, there's a desire to improve the skill set. And now it's just providing your team and your employees with that avenue and there are several different organizations that have formalized training there for them to go do and it's just again, putting money where your mouth is and investing in your team there.
Ralph Carp 09:46
Right, yeah. The other thing that's quite interesting to me is that over 70% of all facility maintenance workers across the country are over 40 years old. This is concerning to me because you know, you've got 20% of the facility workers between 20 and 30 and about 8% or 10% are under the age of 30. So, it just shows you that there aren't a lot of people coming into the trades and people are aging out. So, how are we going to address that situation, the date and the numbers are there in front of us but it doesn't seem like we've reacted and maybe the pandemic will be a call to action. And you know, businesses will react but I think it's you know, well noted that it's time to take this seriously if we're going to provide the services that employees and clients demand.
Griffin Hamilton 10:50
Yeah, and there are different organizations that if my foundation, there's going to be a series we're doing on that here over the coming weeks, that is really trying to drive that next generation, FM pipeline is another great organization where it is getting that awareness out there. And clearly, there's a demand, there's a demand for this skill set and you know, I could go on all day about how important it is to invest in that next generation and really fight what we call the Great resignation that's looming but that's a topic for another day. And right now, in here and now, I think it is very much making, as we said earlier, making the most of your team and so you brought up the desire of people to better their skill sets into the need for you to invest in your team, internally, outside of those formalized training programs, what have you done in the past to take that upon yourself and really get your team ramped up and add those skills, you know, to the repertoire.
Ralph Carp 11:47
I was working closely with the Union Leadership in Philadelphia to you know, develop and advance a training program where employees could go and receive training. The problem is you know if it's training that's not compensated or you know, you're thin on labor anyway. And you can't really allow a fella to take or a man or woman to take off from work to go to training during the week, it was really challenging to put that together. So, there's got to be some give and take, I think between you know, management and how we're going to you know, set folks up to get the training that they need. But we're working on it, we're putting it together and I hope that work continued you know, since I left Philadelphia.
Griffin Hamilton 12:39
Yeah and I think that investment in your team, I mean, now in the short term, you know, you have a more qualified team but I think long term that has a big impact on retention. And you know, we've alluded to this in the past where it is very difficult to find folks to add to your team and finding the skill set out there that is needed, so that kind of takes them to that employee retention. Beyond the training part of it or I guess before we go beyond that, what have you seen the training, what impact has the training had on retention?
Ralph Carp 13:13
Well, certainly in my career, when people feel that they're appreciated and invested in, they have a different sense of loyalty to the work and a commitment to the work and the company. You know, most folks, I think the trend is that people are in the jobs just for a few years and facilities are no different. You know, most of the folks in facilities are job hopping after two or three years and that doesn't speak well for you know, for the career in general. And also, just the fact that we're not attracting young people, you know, to the career. The pay scale on average, nationwide for facility employees is $37,000, which that's $17.78 an hour, not a really attractive salary. Even if you have benefits, you know, that's kind of tough to raise a family on so I think that you know, companies need to invest in employees and you know, probably better compensate them. And you know, let them see that they are valued and I think that will change some attitudes and mindsets.
Griffin Hamilton 14:28
Yeah and I think that is you know, another thing with the industry is getting your foot in the door. It is a long-term investment where there is a very lucrative career in front of you, it is just a matter of making your way up, adding those different skills, taking all these more responsibilities, going back and getting educated like you. You got back your bachelor's and MBA there to make it up the chain of command there and you know, making the most of that career path. I guess as far as other tactics you deployed for retaining your top talent, what did you see that worked beyond you know, the investment and training and the actual compensation? What did you do in that relationship to make sure that you're retaining as much talent as possible?
Ralph Carp 15:20
One thing I was trying to accomplish was a real sense of transparency with the employees. So, they knew what was going on all the time and they were informed and it wasn't just you know, do it because I said so, it was you know, engaging them in solutions you know, a lot of times your employees have way better ideas than you might have. And I like to you know, coalesce those ideas and make the best decision going forward. So, I really like to engage the employee and have them, you know, in the feedback of the decision-making process. Ultimately, in the end, you know, I might own the decision or their manager might own the decision but you know, to build a team that you know, really communicates is, I think really essential.
Griffin Hamilton 16:12
Yeah, absolutely and that transparency is key and empowering your team to take on more responsibility. And so, that's great to hear in the managerial spot but if I'm listening as a technician looking away, move my way up the chain, what did you see that stood out to you for individual contributors that led them to make their way up that they earn more responsibility? You, you know trusted them to take on those higher-value projects?
Ralph Carp 16:44
I think you just have to have the mindset that you know, you want to do whatever you can to make yourself as valuable as you can to your employer. And you know, I always noted accomplishment and whether it was going out on a weekend where I knew I had crews working on a weekend, you know, I would show up and just you know, thank them for coming out and working. And you know, tried to visit work sites a lot and have regular conversations with you know, people from every level of the organization. You know, I think it would send a great message to the rank and file if management, you know, had stronger participation and interest in the facilities. You know, if I'm reading the tea leaves right, things for you know, the future for Facility Management, you know, is a little questionable. Unless we take some really good action and you know, show the workforce you know, that we walk the walk and not just talk the talk. So, times are going to get tougher and I don't think COVID is going away anytime soon and the expectation, you know, the bar has been set higher now. So, the work dynamics changed significantly. And you know, if we want to maintain a motivated, you know, skilled workforce, you know, we need to do better at attracting young people and investing.
Griffin Hamilton 18:10
Yeah, couldn’t say it better myself. Well, Ralph, before I let you go, I mean this has been great content and both on the managerial side and the individual contributor side, some great tips there. But before I let you go; I have one question I asked everybody and that is who or what has had the biggest impact on you and your career?
Ralph Carp 18:34
There's a fella named John Collins and he was the chairman of the Landscape Architecture Department at Temple University John was a true friend and mentor to me. You know, we both share the strong Christian faith and he taught me some leadership things and gave me some pointers on emotional intelligence that you know, I didn't have at the time I was a young man, and John sort of paved the way for me, helping me understand life.
Griffin Hamilton 19:11
Yeah, and it clearly stuck with you today, seeing how the main points of this conversation were about leadership and that relationship with the team. But Ralph, certainly appreciate you coming on. Thank you so much for the content, this has been great. And for those listening that want to reach out to Ralph with any questions, you could check out the show notes for his LinkedIn information there, and again, until next time, Ralph, we’re good.
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