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More concerning still, they are challenged with identifying a clear plan for preserving and/or passing that knowledge on. This issue is supported by data from a wide variety of industries.
In the oil & gas sector alone, within seven years, up to 50% of senior experienced Petro-Technical Professionals (those currently between 47 and 57 years old with at least 25 years of work experience) will be retiring. That number represents as many as 20% of the entire oil and gas workforce in the U.S. That is a staggering reality. The U.S. Department for Labour Statistics notes that in the total equipment services industry in America, over 50% of the working technicians are above 45 years old.
Obviously, there is a significant risk to equipment services companies when all of the intellectual capital, experience, and skills that have been invested in and developed over decades will walk out of the door in a relatively short period of time. Companies will find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place with older workers leaving, and younger workers not quite interested in these jobs and/or up to speed on how to perform these tasks.
Customers, of course, will feel the pain of longer down times, more call backs, and higher service costs overall. The financial repercussions will hit profits and losses hardest, as companies are left paying the costs for less effective and efficient performance. Unskilled workers take longer to find problems, longer to fix problems, utilise far more parts and consumables, and have far lower first-time fix numbers.
It has been widely reported that attracting millennials willing to work in the service industry is difficult. The automotive service sector for example, has an image of a dirty, dying industry and there is a millennial mindset that idealises a university education. As a result, many manufacturers are bringing workers back from retirement to fill positions.
With younger workers seemingly more interested in higher education, white collar jobs, and technology-based jobs, coupled with the lack of technical schools, apprentice training programs, and sometimes negative associations with equipment repair careers, filling entry level positions has become a challenge.
These prospects have grown up with all of the incredible technology advances of the last 20 years as their standard and expectation is that the technology that they use constantly in their daily life will also enable their work life. They expect the latest technology and have little respect for those that do not leverage it. So, as strategies are being developed to counter this situation, service leaders will need to hold onto their more senior technicians, and they will also need a strategy to enable the transfer of knowledge to the younger, less experienced technicians.
One solution that service leaders are embracing, is the concept of holding onto – and indeed extending – the professional life of older technicians by taking them off the road and giving them the opportunity to significantly impact the company’s performance. With the benefit of a digitally enabled equipment field services management platform, organisations can enable real time collaboration between team members as well as refining that collaboration with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
The creation of centralised, or home based, Centres of Excellence (COE) are opening up the opportunity to significantly extend the careers of older technicians. Utilising this existing technology to allow for collaboration between these COE’s and younger, less experienced technicians is an elegant solution to knowledge retention, exploitation, and skills transfer at a time when there are record numbers of experienced technicians leaving the workforce.
Providing broadband connections, access to work order history, real time video, photo, and data sharing allows them to guide, instruct, and educate less experienced staff. Utilising leading edge communications technology, knowledge base, and video will impress and encourage younger workers.
Providing an opportunity to continue to work, contribute to the organisation, and maintain income without the hassle of working the road and the arduous physical requirements of traditional field service maintenance work allows more mature employees to leverage their skills and experience effectively, while removing the more physically challenging and less appealing aspects of the job.
In addition, over time and repetition, the experience, skill, and intellectual capital that they have developed over decades can be passed on to new hires as they are working and delivering value and revenue in the field and not while sitting idle in classrooms. The wealth of knowledge gained over decades remains accessible to the organisation, the needs of more mature and experienced technicians are seen to, and the desires and expectations of younger, more tech savvy, technicians are met. Truly an elegant solution worth looking into.
About the author:
Joe Kenny is a Vice President of Global Customer Transformation with ServiceMax from GE Digital. Joe has decades of experience running service organisations for Fortune 100 companies in The US and Europe, as well as stints in Product Development, Marketing, and Sales. Prior to joining ServiceMax, Joe was Account Director for ExxonMobil at Canon Business Process Services, VP of Product Development at Loomis, and Operations Director for Pitney Bowes in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
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