From Tesla’s electric cars to Siemens’ MRI machines, high-tech devices gather all kinds of data to indicate equipment health. Is the equipment running out of capacity? Is it low on fuel? Is there a problem with the disk drive? The shift in technology means a shift in skill-set for field service engineers. The team at smartvan.com explore this topic further
All of this data is valuable to the technicians who service the equipment, but only if they know how to interpret the information, which is why the shortage of skilled workers in the field is more pressing than ever.
This year 55 percent of hiring managers say they’re having difficulty filling jobs in installation, maintenance and repair occupations, according to a CareerBuilder study. There’s a race between technology and the skills needed to keep up with it, especially for technicians.
CONNECTED DEVICES’ IMPACT ON FIELD SERVICE
If the recent media obsession with the Internet of Things is any indication, we’ll soon live in a world where every device has the ability to talk to other machines—and to humans.
For technicians, it means their roles are becoming more proactive and less reactive. Instead of waiting until a part breaks to fix it, they’ll know well in advance that a screw is loose, for example, and catch an impending failure before it occurs.
New technology also is shifting more field service work from physical to mental labour. “Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power—the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments—what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee write in their book “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Machines.”
FUTURE AUTO MECHANICS
BMW’s vision for how its engineers will service cars offers a look at how connected devices are changing work. Jack Stewart, presenter of the BBC’s Science in Action series, paints a picture: “Instead of reaching for any of the shiny silver tools on his cart, the mechanic picks up a pair of what looks like sunglasses with connected buds for his ears. He glances back over to the engine, and this time he sees each component highlighted in bright colors, and is given computer-generated instructions on what to disassemble, in what order.”
In this scenario, the engineer needs an understanding of the technology at play, including how to execute the augmented reality system and interpret the computer-generated information.
EFFORTS TO BRING SKILLS UP TO PAR
As technology advances, some companies are backing efforts to retrain their workforces and help the next generation of workers acquire the science, technology, engineering and math skills that roles in the field will require.
MasTec, a Coral Gables, Fla.-based infrastructure engineering and construction company, helps veterans transfer skills to become wireless technicians. The company works with Warriors 4 Wireless, which provides training and advanced certification for veterans to build new careers in the telecommunications industry.
Cisco, purveyor of Internet of Everything ideas, runs a “Networking Academy,” which offers certificate courses to help people across industries build and maintain computer networks. “These programs ensure Cisco, its customers and partners have the talent they need to transform their business through the Internet of Everything,” according to the CareerBuilder study press release.
In April, Siemens donated nearly $660 million in software to a dozen technical schools and colleges in Massachusetts to help train a new generation of workers in advanced manufacturing.
As field service organizations look for and develop future talent, they’ll benefit from having employees whose skills complement those of the cutting edge technology the company uses. In other words, as Wired editorKevin Kelly put it, “You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.”
It’s a brave new world for service technicians and field service engineers (FSE) these days — they’ve got iPhones and tablets to manage their work, some are driving cool hybrid vans, and even the equipment they fix can talk to them and tell them what’s wrong.
Beyond all that, the service-tech demographic is changing rapidly: service technicians from yesteryear (the days of clipboards, parts manuals and pagers) are getting sunsetted. A younger, more tech-savvy BYOD-generation service tech is beginning to fill the void. The next-gen service tech is also learning a bunch of critical new skills.
“The ability to accurately forecast what customers want and need is one of the more valuable aspects of field service today,” says Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research. Client knowledge and intuition comes not only from new tools that collect and analyze data, it also comes from a set of interpersonal skills each new technician in the field should be versed in.
Here are 3 skills areas that matter most:
Service strategist Alex Alexander put it plainly: “There’s nobody that has more impact on future purchases of service or products than field service engineers.”
Alexander and others aren’t championing technicians in hopes they will put salespeople out of business, in fact, quite the contrary — now salespeople actually have their own workforce in the field, as well. And, as opposed to door-to-door salesmen, service techs are actually being invited into customer homes and places of business. Instead of being turned away by clients and dismissed for a cold-call — technicians are there for a purpose. If they perform their other duties efficiently and successfully, a client is certainly more apt to be open to learning about new products and practices from the company.
Engagement goes a long way. If you can provide your field workers with pertinent client information before they arrive on-site, they can use this information to personalize their service and create a more meaningful relationship with the client. Plus, if you already know what they’ve bought — you’re less likely to try to sell something they already have or don’t need. Attention to detail when it comes to clients is important and shouldn’t fall solely on your company’s sales team.
SOCIAL SKILLS AND CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customers must feel comfortable with the people they allow into their space. Conversation is key to customer service and client comfort. Of course, speed is tantamount — everyone’s busy — but small talk can create a level of trust between your worker and the client.
People are more inclined to raise an issue in person and when they are feeling more comfortable, so arm your field workers with the appropriate customer service tools and information. Clients may raise an issue totally unrelated to the service call, but if your service technician brushes the query aside because they don’t know how to respond, trust (and maybe even the client) will be lost.
MASTERY OF MOBILE TECH
Next-generation field service is powered by the cloud — no longer by file folders, clipboards and your teams in the field need to reflect that.
Not just in the new toolset they carry around (rugged tablets, GPS devices, smartphones), but in how those tools change their behaviour and productivity — being able to pull up a parts diagram on a smartphone display, tapping into parts inventories, filling out job orders on the fly.
Not only is new technology helping FSEs learn more about their clients, it is also helping them complete tasks more proficiently. Because technology is constantly evolving, being able to adapt and learn how these new tools work is a must for today’s field tech.
People with a vested interest in the happenings of the technology world will be more enthusiastic to try new gadgets or implement a new system. Be wary of the technicians that are set to sticking to the “old ways” — this will only slow down the inevitable and can cause fissures between the tech and the customers as well as the techs themselves