The Looming Crisis in Field Service

Over the previous decade, field service organizations have invested in process change and in automation to first improve productivity and then enhance revenue opportunities via resources in the field. While investment in these initiatives continues, another area of concern is rising in the minds of service business leaders: the fight for field service talent.

In the quest for field service talent, there are three primary challenges that business leaders need to address.

  1. Loss of field service knowledge and expertise with a retiring workforce
  2. Retention of service knowledge and transfer of knowledge to current workforce (and customers)
  3. Acquisition of new talent to replace retiring workers.

In a recent talent management survey conducted by The Service Council (TSC), nearly a third of respondents indicated that the loss of knowledge from a retiring workforce was currently a major challenge for their business. Another 39% indicated that it will become a challenge in the next 5-10 years. That’s 7 out of 10 organizations indicating that the loss of talent and knowledge in field service will be a major challenge in the coming years.

Figure: Looming Talent Shortage in Field ServiceSource: The Service Council, July 2014

Therefore a large percentage of organizations are looking at strategies and tools to retain and store the tribal knowledge that is about to head out of their organizations and to develop a systematic way of transferring this knowledge to the remaining or incoming workforce. Some of the most popular strategies being deployed:

  • Development of a formalized succession plan for the field service workforce
  • The formalization of mentoring and coaching programs
  • Investment in knowledge management tools to capture resolution practices
  • Provision of tools to field workers to record and retain resolution practices
  • Establishment of formal working teams comprising of retiring workers with new hires

We also see a push from organizations to retain their retiring workers on a part-time basis to support training or technical support initiatives.

While the strategies highlighted above address knowledge loss from a retiring workforce, they don’t support the discovery of new talent, another major challenge for field service leaders. In fact, field leaders need to find new field service technicians right away in order to meet rising work demands. This is being reported by a number of organizations in the TSC community. This general shortage of talent seen by our community is global in nature and validated by research done by ManpowerGroup. In their 2014 talent shortage survey, ManpowerGroup reported that the technician position was the third most challenging job position to fill behind skilled trade workers and engineers. To offset these challenges organizations were looking to revamp their training regimes and to rely on new talent sources. These talent sources comprise of untapped or under-tapped talent pools such as youth, older workers, military veterans and more.

In addition, organizations are beginning to look for workers who might not have the necessary technical skills, but have customer management and communication attributes and the aptitude to learn and absorb technical information. Our field service talent survey found that customer management attributes were rated as extremely important in the hiring of new field service technicians

We also see organizations begin to align and partner with educational institutions and technical colleges to essentially develop a farm system of talented field workers. By committing time and resources to these institutions, organizations are able to recruit skilled and talented workers (and some who are already familiar with that particular company’s products) right out of school.

There are a couple of factors to consider when looking at the upcoming talent gap due to a retiring workforce. While demand for field service workers is up due to an increased amount of work, the increased reliance on remote monitoring technology and self-service practices will reduce some of the labor-centric burden. More so, we anticipate organizations taking steps to increase their reliance on part-time contractors and outsourcing organizations for field work. This will especially be true for work that is not mission critical.

How is your organization dealing with the talent shortage? Post your thoughts to let us know. Better yet, spend a few moments with our current talent management survey.

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