Getting SMART with SHA
The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) won a 2018 Award of Excellence in Administrative Innovation for developing a Specialized Maintenance and Repair Training (SMART) program to train employees and transfer critical institutional knowledge. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
When many of their maintenance workers began to near retirement, SHA realized that it was becoming more difficult to attract and retain a highly-skilled maintenance workforce with multifaceted expertise. In response, the maintenance staff developed an in-house training program to transfer crucial institutional knowledge and to train employees. Having an in-house training program allows the maintenance team to customize its curricula, have flexible scheduling, adjust courses to meet new building codes, and incorporate training for new products. The program also provides a safe learning environment for all employees, including those who require additional training.
The SMART program includes classroom-style instruction and a hands-on training lab that mimics a typical resident’s house, complete with windows with blinds, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and technical fire alarm testing systems. In-house employees are the instructors; they also developed the courses and training materials for the training lab. Courses taught in the training lab include basic electrical, basic carpentry, basic plumbing, sheetrock repair/texturing, and range and refrigerator repair. SHA also uses the training lab to assess job applicants’ skills. SMART instructors also offer painting and cleaning courses which are held in vacant SHA units.
The SMART program has increased efficiency, provided career advancement opportunities and increased employee morale and retention. It has fostered enthusiasm both in the workgroup and the agency at large, while improving employee morale and camaraderie. The program has also created efficiencies in maintenance operations, expanded maintenance capacity, and improved service.
SMART’s popularity has led other departments to create on-site training programs for their staff. The maintenance team also worked with the property management staff to create coursework specifically for property assistants. Other classes being developed include a customer service course with a focus on field maintenance staff. SHA is also planning to develop a library of video tutorials and to make the SMART program available to staff agency-wide.