Female CAMTS Using Their Tools For Success
By Camila Cal
It’s no secret that the maintenance technician profession has long been a male-dominated field. In fact, according to career planning website Zippia.com, 95.7% of all building maintenance technicians are men, while only 4.3% are women. The multifamily industry, however, is taking strides to close the gap thanks to an increasing number of women stepping into roles within apartment maintenance.
Kris Millerschone, CAMT, PMC is a regional service manager at Mid-America Apartment Communities (MAA) as well as a CAMT instructor for the First Coast Apartment Association. Prior to her current role, she was a maintenance supervisor with MAA for 13 years.
“Believe it or not, I didn't even want to do maintenance. I started out as a painter and love to do painting. Then I was kind of thrown into a unit with a big, long list and [my employer] said ‘punch this unit’ and I'm looking at this piece of paper like I don't have a clue what I'm doing. The next thing I knew, I was on call,” she said. Millerschone went on to obtain her EPA and pool certification, and a year later was offered a supervisory position. Since then, she has remained in a supervisory role for almost 30 years.
“[Maintenance] is something that I didn’t want to do that I love to do now,” she said. “When it gets in your blood, it’s in your blood. You can try to get out all day long, but it just brings you right back.”
Millerschone said she has observed more women working technician jobs and as they grow and are promoted, the industry will see an increasing number of women starting the CAMT certification process. She believes that, in the past, women have been scared to work as maintenance professionals because it is a predominantly male field.
“I remember the first day I started teaching in 2012. My first class was like 50 people. I was so nervous because I'm thinking ‘I’m in a room full of men.’ It wasn't the fact of speaking in front of anybody. It was the fact that I'm in a room full of men and I'm a female and a supervisor. What is the feedback I'm going to get?” she said. “And I was amazed at how I was accepted with open arms. I've never had a bad class. I've never had a bad experience. They're very open. I mean, it's like I'm one of the guys.”
Along with the basics of maintenance, she teaches her students to prioritize customer service, treat their residents and teams with respect, balance work and home life, and remain humble as they progress. She emphasized that one of the most important lessons she instills in her students is that they must possess loyalty and passion for the multifamily housing industry.
“Your passion is actually what’s going to get you through some of your hardest and toughest days. I look at this industry as a love/hate relationship. There are days that you’ll love it and there are days that you’ll love to hate it. But we keep moving forward because of the passion we have.”
Millerschone: “Be yourself. Don’t try to get male acceptance. Just like any other job that you’re doing, you may get some pushback, and that’s okay. But you stand your ground. Don’t let anyone push you around because you’re a female. Get as much education as you can. Continue to move forward, continue to grow. Being in a male-dominant field is not going to stop you from going as far as you want to go. It’s your destiny.”
Valerie Gonzalez Arroyo, maintenance technician at Springs at Cape Coral, is the Southwest Florida Apartment Association’s second-ever female CAMT graduate. She also recently passed her EPA certification exam.
“I feel very proud to be the second female CAMT in my area, especially because it’s a profession that is generally dominated by men. To me, this shows that there are no limits if you are passionate about what you do.”
Arroyo explained that she chose this field because she knows she possesses the preparation, capacity, and experience to carry out the tasks that the position requires. She considers herself to be a versatile, multifaceted woman who enjoys learning new things every day to improve her skills, a quality that is vital when it comes to fast-paced maintenance work. Her favorite part of the job is the ability to solve problems that occur in residents’ apartments. She said it fills her with satisfaction to see the residents happy and thankful for a job well done.
“The professional field of maintenance is completely new for women since it is a job that is dominated by men. But now we are in a time period where we can no longer say that a job is for a man or a woman. We all have the capacity to prepare ourselves and achieve what we like to do,” Arroyo said. “Jobs don’t belong to a gender, they belong to a person that prepares themselves, dedicates time and effort, and possesses the knowledge to succeed.”
Arroyo: “The most important lesson that I’ve learned as a CAMT is that there are no limits to wanting to achieve something. You have the capacity to learn and acquire knowledge, no matter age or gender. Always complete your tasks with professionalism and always remain conscious of everyone’s safety.
There is no one who understands the qualities necessary for success more than Chiccorra Connor, founder and CEO of Occupancy Heroes Inc., which provides a suite of services to help multifamily teams manage, maintain, and optimize their properties. Part of the company includes Maintenance Heroes, a division that is focused on all things maintenance involving staffing, training, and more. According to Connor, Occupancy Heroes has seen a 12% increase in females applying for its available maintenance positions nationwide since 2020, Connor said.
“It is a recent change. But that’s not to say that women were never interested before because I can name at least three award-winning female maintenance techs that have been in the field for years. What I am saying is that more women are now having the courage to express that interest out loud. And that’s for a few different reasons,” she said. “Number one is because so many more people, both male and female, are having conversations about women empowerment. And, as a nation we are striving to be more intentional about inclusion, not only in the workplace but in our everyday lives. This has given women the confidence that they need to step out and do things that maybe they've always wanted to do but didn't have the confidence to do before.”
Connor said that women are simply seeing the maintenance field as a career opportunity with great benefits, which can benefit their families, too. She believes the change involves women having the desire to be certified in order to bring more to the table professionally, especially because they have to face obstacles and judgment that their male counterparts do not.
“Oftentimes, women deal with a lot of male chauvinism. I don’t even do labor-intensive stuff, but I’m constantly dealing with male chauvinism. In order to eliminate this nonsense – because that's what it is, just pure nonsense – we have to grow as people and we have to understand what it is to be totally inclusive. And then we just need to do it. To do that, we must change our thought pattern and our language.”
Using maintenance job descriptions as an example, Connor encourages the industry to remove the requirement that applicants need to lift a certain amount of weight because that eliminates and disqualifies many highly skilled people.
“So maybe a woman can't lift a certain amount of pounds, but she excels at other things. [Occupancy Heroes] hires women who are amazing, with amazing attention to detail. And that's a great asset to any maintenance team.
“If you look at the world today, everything is moving over to tech. I mean, we’ve got smart homes and apps galore. Maintenance teams now need thinkers and savvier people to get the job done. It's not just about having the muscle and being able to repair something anymore. We need to focus more on the technical aspects of the job and put it in writing. Because when you put something in writing, it becomes the standard that your teams go by. [Teams] will constantly judge women based on physical requirements and throw it up in their faces anytime they struggle until we change the narrative for everyone,” she said.
Connor: “Do it, do it, do it and be great. You're paving the way for so many and you have no idea who is watching you. So if you're not going to be great for yourself, be great for them. Go out and be great. Just do it.”