As someone whose experience is primarily in resident education, this summer I have learned how important it can be to take the time to learn what happens in the facilities side of the house. It can be easy to think that you don’t have the time to learn someone else’s job, but, just like anything else, if you break it down into smaller tasks, it will be easier to find the time. Finding the time when the facilities person is available to help you understand their area will save you time in the long run if you find yourself in a situation where the facilities staff member is out of the office for an extended period and you have to fill in the gaps. Here are a few of my suggestions on how to get started on your resident education – facilities cross training.
- Build relationships with the Physical Plant staff. I did have an edge because I knew many of these staff members since I was a hall director at this institution. If you don’t have that advantage, you are going to have to be tactical and deliberate about getting to know the locksmith, the building maintenance supervisor, the custodial supervisor, and the administrator in the office who is your equivalent (office manager, associate, assistant or director –the person you will be calling directly when you need to make something happen). These folks will be instrumental in helping you accomplish what you need as well as knowing what the history is for certain types of situations.
- Learn the master key box. We have a master key box that houses our RA duty key sets, office keys, RD keys, and a whole slew of other keys that I am still learning. Ask the person in charge of the box to teach you his/her organization system within the box. If you do not already know, ask them to show you how the keys are numbered and tracked. Find out how the sign-out system works. Inquire after any peculiarities that currently only make sense to the person in charge of the box. Don’t wait until there is nobody to ask.
- Learn the intricacies of whatever housing management system your office uses. You may not need it that often if your resident education job description does not require it. But there may come a day when you are faced with having to look up a student’s booking and accompanying correspondence to verify their claim of being given two different summer housing assignments. You do not want your first day in the housing management system to be in front of that student. Ask for tutorials from your facilities person so that you can navigate in the system with confidence.
- Ask your facilities person what parts of their job they believe nobody knows they do or what parts go unnoticed/unappreciated. These will be the parts of the job that catch your office off- guard if this person is out for an extended period of time. Everyone will be thankful if you can say, “we need to remember to refelt the pool tables” or “we need to steam clean the common area furniture before opening” or whatever else may fall into the unnoticed category.
Certainly, these items can and should take place over the span of several months rather than crammed into two weeks before your facilities person is about to be out of the office for an extended period of time. Your retention and time management will be much better if you have time to plan out when and how you will tackle each of these items as well as anything else that pops up along the way. By taking the time in smaller bits throughout the year, when you know you have some downtime or a free afternoon, you can make the time to become better aware of what happens in the facilities side of the house.
If you are a facilities staff member, what else would you suggest that we take the time to learn? What other general tips on cross training do we have to best support our offices and colleagues?
Karen Gibson is an associate director of residence life at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas.