Technician onboarding, training, and career development have always been challenging for field service organizations, but COVID-19 has taken it to another level. Like service itself, technician training programs are all about finding the right balance between training costs, timeliness, and effectiveness. With travel restrictions and physical distancing measures expected to impact us for the foreseeable future, methods for technician training need to be reexamined. Fortunately, currently available technologies provide some excellent options.
Over the past few years, our service advisory firm has worked with several field service companies that represent different industries but deal with similar technician training challenges. Allowing for varying individual technician backgrounds, onboarding new technicians is often a 6- to 12-month journey before they are autonomously effective and productive in the field. In some cases, it can be 2 years or more before a return on training investment is achieved.
Pre-COVID, here is what most service provider’s training programs look like:
- Training is conducted and certifications are granted in the classroom
- E-Learning/online training is provided to augment, or even replace, classroom instruction
- Heavy reliance is placed on experienced, highly skilled technicians to transfer knowledge in-person to less-experienced techs during field ride alongs or in the repair shop (60-70% of training time)
- Training is repeatable, although ongoing skill development/career progression steps are often stored only as tribal knowledge in Service Manager’s heads and are, therefore, at risk
- Technicians often do not understand whether they’ve achieved the right competencies by the right time (formal learning paths / timelines)
- Other knowledge and training information is available, but is often difficult to find or not available when it is needed in the field (technical service bulletins, schematics etc.)
According to a recent study by IDC, traditional training methods are inefficient and ineffective for frontline workers, as workers will forget 50% of information within 1 hour, 70% within 24 hours, and 90% over a week. Best-in-class organizations use multiple methods and structured approaches to aid knowledge retention and speed higher quality learning with less effort.
We expect to see these elements in well-developed/industry-leading technician training programs:
- Structured curriculums & skill progressions (technician-by-technician)
- Internal content
- External content from knowledgeable and relevant 3rd parties
- Multiple delivery methods (hands-on, in-person or virtual classroom training, online training, ride-along and/or repair shop face-to-face training)
- Structured mentoring & coaching
- Formal skill evaluations & skill progression stage gates
- Rewards & recognition
- Fun & intrigue (e.g. gamification)
- Augmented reality (AR) experiences
- Remote expert assistance technology
Post-COVID, the importance of augmented reality and remote expert assistance has elevated dramatically, now nearing the top of the “must-have” list. As a PTC Partner, we have seen the demand explode for these types of technologies, which were already coming into their own before COVID hit.
Augmented experiences allow the worker to superimpose digital information onto their physical world. The resulting dynamic imagery enables workers to see authored instructions and view actual step-by-step maintenance and repair procedures on demand – anytime, anywhere. There are, however, some service situations that are not suited for this type of AR training assistance. When a service procedure is not common or repeatable, service leaders use ad-hoc instructions with real-time, remote “over the shoulder” assistance using technology such as PTC’s “Vuforia Chalk.”
39% of respondents from a recent IDC survey said they are currently using AR for employee training. Among the training use cases companies are using AR for, training without travel was the top reason (66%) followed by video capture for later training playback (52%).
For many field service organizations, the return on an investment in digital training resources, such as augmented reality, has been compelling for some time now. With the right approach and technologies, it is reasonable to target a 50% reduction in training and onboarding time & costs. But there are now several new compelling reasons, such as worker safety and travel restrictions, which strongly suggest the time has come for field service organizations to digitally transform technician training and support.
The Service Council reported 70% of service organizations will be burdened by knowledge loss from a retiring workforce. Augmented Reality opens the possibility of extending the service life of technicians nearing retirement and preventing the loss of tribal knowledge. Moreover, having digital training and support appeals to a younger audience, which can help with recruiting and retention of increasingly scarce technical service workers.AR technologies can aid less skilled resources confidently into the field earlier and empower seasoned techs to use their skills more productively instead of spending time searching for information (schematics, parts, updates, warranties). No more stacks of service manuals will be in the back of the truck. With the availability of AR and other online technologies, the post-COVID technical training world will see its own digital transformation.