Facilities Maintenance Training Program Grows Our Own Employees for Skilled Positions

It was another day in Zone 5 of Kent State’s maintenance detail, and maintenance facilities worker Beth Smerchansky pushed a cart loaded with a tool bag and a wet/dry vacuum to a job in the Kent Student Center. 

Smerchansky, of Ravenna, normally performs general maintenance work in the student center, the Warren Student Recreation and Wellness Center, DeWeese Health Center and the Ice Arena. 

But what was different that day was that Smerchansky performed skilled duties that she has been learning in a training program that is changing the trajectory of her career and that of a crew of eight more trainees. 

On this day, Smerchansky went behind the scenes on the second floor of the student center to work on an air conditioning unit. 

Beth Smerchansky has worked in maintenance at Kent State for five years.

She knelt and used a power screwdriver to remove two screws from the outer covering of the unit, which she had previously learned how to clean in training. Then she used a paint brush to lightly remove debris in light vertical strokes.   

Smerchansky is impressed with the skills she has acquired since beginning the program in October. 

“I like the program,” said Smerchansky, who happens to be the only woman in the group. “I have learned how to change electrical plugs on vacuum cleaners and serviced different HVAC units. I’ve done soldering and brazing for the lines that go to the air conditioning. Right now, I’m only learning, but the guys have been great. They take me out to get hands-on experience with it.” 

Smerchansky learns new skills twice a week from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the program. The Association of Building Contractors provides the training.  

There have been shortages in skilled maintenance workers because of several factors, including the pandemic and the resignations precipitated by it. So to meet the problem head on, Kent State is tapping in to its talent pool of workers who are already employed by the university. 

Kent State will fill its maintenance mechanic spots from within from a pool of workers in a two-year training program.

“How do we grow our own?” Doug Pearson, associate vice president of facilities, planning and operations, said in an article in facilitiesnet.com. “Is there a way to put a program together where we can take custodians or grounds laborers and train them with an opportunity for them to (be promoted) into the building maintenance mechanic position?” 

Cuyahoga Falls resident John Victoria has worked at Kent State since 2008 as a maintenance facilities worker, and before that as a custodian.  

The apprenticeship program immediately appealed to him because it was his path for advancement from his position that would not involve going into management, which was something that he had considered, but ended up not feeling was right for him. 

“I came into the program quite green as someone who wasn’t necessarily mechanically inclined, so much of what I have been learning in the program is the kind of common-sense basics that someone who has been working in the field would have picked up from the job,” Victoria said. “I’ve found it very valuable in that way. I’ve also appreciated the camaraderie that I’ve been able to build with the other people in the program, which I hope will prove invaluable as we all continue on here at Kent State.” 

POSTED: Tuesday, January 24, 2023 01:01 PM
Updated: Friday, March 31, 2023 02:41 AM
April McClellan-Copeland