Southwest employees are the best choice

By Mike Neal, Interim Vice President of Finance and Administration

Many of you may have read news reports and editorials last year surrounding the state of Tennessee exploring the option to outsource facilities maintenance with JLL. Southwest explored this option as well. After careful consideration and a thorough evaluation of the College's physical plant operation that spanned nearly a year, the College has decided not to enter into an agreement with JLL.

Throughout this process, we have kept physical plant employees abreast of our activities and emphasized our commitment to do what is in the best interest of employees and the College. We firmly believe this decision meets both of those goals. Although we will not be moving forward with JLL, this process was nonetheless fruitful. It enabled us to work with JLL to perform a thorough assessment of our physical plant operations. JLL rated them a four on the Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA) scale of one to five, with one being the best rating. We agree with the assessment.

On the APPA scale, the lower the score, the higher the level of cleanliness. The current APPA rating is due in large part to understaffing and deferred maintenance. We are confident that we can address these matters internally and more cost effectively. We have developed a physical plant turnaround plan, which pre-dated these findings, and have already put it in motion. Our goal is to elevate the College to an APPA level 3 in two years. To reach this goal, we will fill open positions, including new positions approved in FY19, expend available funds for facility maintenance, and invest in planned new facilities for the IRT and Funeral Service Education programs. Longer term, our goal is to achieve an APPA level 2 rating by FY23. Reaching this goal means hiring additional physical plant staff.

We will address understaffing on three fronts: workforce size, compensation and training. First, we added full time positions to the physical plant complement this fiscal year and will move forward to fill those positions and the others that are open. Second, we will continue with our compensation plans, which include a proposal to TBR to raise the living wage to $12 per hour (a 9 percent increase) effective July 1, 2019. Beyond the cost of living adjustment, this is the second increase in three years. Our goal is to retain and attract the best physical plant professionals the market has to offer. Third, we will engage physical plant staff in robust training, from daily operations to leadership development.

Regarding deferred maintenance, the College is working its plan to address maintenance needs with intention and priority. Thanks to enrollment improvements and revenue growth, the College is in a much stronger financial position to address the most pressing maintenance issues and is moving forward to do so. We will keep you abreast of our maintenance improvement plans and activities going forward.

In the meantime, thank you to the physical plant staff and the entire Southwest community for their support and forbearance throughout this effort. We realize this process was very difficult for those employees who would have been impacted by outsourcing and appreciate the patience and understanding demonstrated throughout the process. Please know that we greatly value the contributions of all Southwest employees and are excited to move forward, together.