The Ageing Workforce Crisis Is Not Only Real But It’s Here – How Are We Going To Resolve It? Part Two
The threat of a genuine ageing workforce crisis is being discussed by field service organisations across all industry sectors and in all corners of the globe. Field Service News in partnership with Si2 Partners, Workammo and Service People Matters undertook research to establish exactly how real this threat is to ongoing service operations and how recruitment, development and progression trends within field service are evolving…
Part one of this research report which is available here explored the findings of this research exploring the reality of the ageing workforce crisis, how field service companies are tailoring their recruitment and development programs to court millennials and whether outsourcing is an answer to help field service companies meet increasing customer demands.
Now we turn to the second part of this report…
Reducing the time from classroom to customer site
Of course, when we consider the issues many companies are facing in replacing their existing workforce it is imperative that the time it takes to onboard a new recruit is minimised as much as possible so that the newly appointed service technicians are adding value to an organisation as quickly as possible.
Whilst, of course, this is somewhat dependent on the industry in which an organisation operates, with some service engineer roles requiring far more knowledge and training than others, it is interesting to see in broad strokes the average time service engineer on-boarding takes.
The most common amount of time stated was between three and six months which was the on-boarding time for just over half of companies
One obvious solution to both reducing onboarding times and increasing the longevity of those engineers approaching retirement age is to actively utilise your more experienced service engineers in a mentoring capacity for new recruits.
This is a well-established practice within the field service sector which is evidenced by the fact that 93% of companies stated that this is a practice they have within there workplace.
A more recent introduction to this concept is the ability for the more seasoned engineer to deliver assistance remotely using tools such as video conferencing or augmented reality.
The advantages of such an approach are two-fold. Firstly, it allows for one experienced engineer to support multiple newer engineers at the same time.
Secondly, it also allows the older engineer to work either from a central location or even from home – something that can be a big lure in convincing them to stay within the company.
Again this was an area we explored in our previous research where we identified that 20% of companies were using their older engineers within a remote expert capacity and we have seen similar numbers again in this current research with a further 35% of the total respondents stating they are in the process of putting such a system in place.
What is particularly interesting here is that of those companies that currently do have such a system in place a fifth of them (20%) are utilising Augmented Reality (AR).
We have long been advocates of the use of this technology in exactly this manner at Field Service News for some time now, but across numerous research reports, we have been seeing that the uptake for AR has been to date somewhat stunted.
Yet with the AR market within the field service sector becoming increasingly competitive it seems that we may now eventually be seeing the first real signs of increasing adoption amongst field service companies.
Developing the next generation of service leaders
Of course, whilst it is important to understand where the next generation of field service engineers are coming from and how they are being developed it is equally important to understand how the next generation of service leaders are entering into our sector as well.
Anecdotally many of the service directors one might encounter within the industry do tend to have come from a service engineer background, often having been promoted from within and our research would appear to indicate that this is still a common development path.
59% of the companies that participated in the research stated that when looking to fill a service management role their organisation tends to predominantly try to recruit for the role internally.
So let’s take a look at some of the common skill-sets that companies are looking for in their service managers.
It is perhaps of little surprise that when we asked our respondents “what are the key attributes you look for in a service manager?” That the most commonly cited response was ‘leadership capabilities’ which 86% of companies identified as a key attribute.
What is interesting and perhaps indicative of the growing importance the field service division plays in generating excellent customer experiences is that the second most valued attribute was ‘having a customer-centric outlook’.
In fact with 79% of companies stating that this was a key attribute they look for in their service leadership this was not that far behind leadership capabilities – certainly suggesting that customer-centricity is a fundamental aspect of what makes a great service manager.
Another big aspect of the role is, of course, the ability to communicate with the technicians and to be able to relay the wider operational picture of the business to them as well as be a conduit for them to engage with the business.
This was again quite clearly referenced in the research findings. For example, 59% of companies stated that having a good rapport with the field engineers was a key attribute they look for in their service leaders whilst over three-quarters of companies (76%) identified strong technical knowledge and application – which is of course, crucial for service managers to understand their engineers challenges and identify weak spots and highlights within their performance.
Two-thirds of companies (66%) stated that they thought their service managers should have a strong operational understanding.
This again is important as it allows the service manager to not only see the bigger picture but also translate that to the field engineers – which is an important means of gaining company loyalty – something that is more important than ever considering the challenges that many companies are facing replacing their ageing workforce.
The need for these key attributes is also corroborated in the areas that field service companies are focussing their attention on when it comes to training their service managers.
Again we see leadership and technical skills as the most common area of training with 52% of companies offering such training to their service managers.
Just under a third of companies also provide FSM systems training for their service managers – again an important area for them to grasp as the FSM solution is generally at the heart of how their department will run so a reasonable understanding of how such a system works, what it is capable of and even what it is lacking, can be the key to driving as much efficiency via the FSM solution as possible.
In terms of how the training was applied the vast majority of companies tend to deliver training in an ongoing manner when on-site – an approach over three quarters (79%) of companies within the research adopt. However, only a quarter of companies (25%) offer regular off-site training.
The danger here for those that solely rely on on-the-job training is that by its very nature field service is a dynamic operation with many moving parts, often seeing the service manager fighting fires as part of his regular routine.
With the immediate need of ensuring the customer stays happy the obvious priority – how often will training sessions get pushed down the to-do list?
Firstly, it certainly does appear that the threat of an ageing workforce remains a significant concern and this is something that must be addressed swiftly before that concern truly turns to crisis.
Outsourcing appears to be a sticky plaster that many companies are turning to and it could well be that we see a gradual shift in workforce dynamics across the next few years whereby the role of the field service engineer becomes increasingly outsourced.
But in a world where customer experience is sitting at the heart of business strategy, one might question if handing over control to one of your most important assets in the customer service equation – namely your engineers themselves, is actually the right path to head down.
For those companies that are facing the challenge of replacing their workforce – but are not keen to outsource their field service work, then the reality is they must adapt both their recruitment and development plans to be more in line with the incoming workforce of millennials.
In terms of management for the time being, at least, it seems that we are seeing less disruption of the status quo, with many companies still seeking to employ from within
In terms of management for the time being, at least, it seems that we are seeing less disruption of the status quo, with many companies still seeking to employ from within and the traditional blend of skill-sets being required – namely technical knowledge, rapport with engineers and operational understanding all still highly sought after.
However, the one element that has been really raised to the fore is the need for our service managers to understand customer-centricity, for whilst this has always been an important asset for service managers, the fact that it has become a key attribute on such a pervasive scale is perhaps the greatest signpost of where the field service unit’s most important role in the future – not just as a maintenance team, but as true brand ambassadors also.
It’s therefore perhaps vital to bear this in mind during all points of talent acquisition be it for technician, engineer or management.
- 53% of field service companies state that replacing an ageing workforce is a challenge for their organisation…
- 21% of field service companies have adapted their training and development to be more suited to millennials…
- 80% of field service companies who outsource their service engineer work state that they have increased the amount they outsource within the last three years…
- 55% of field service companies have an on-boarding time of between 3 and 6 months for new service engineers…
- 93% of field service companies are now using their more experienced engineers as mentors for new recruits…
- 59% of field service companies state that replacing an ageing predominantly try to fill service management roles from within their organisation…
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