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Published on 2018-03-22

By 2020, experts project that over two million technical jobs will remain vacant in the United States with huge implications.

The face of today’s workforce is changing, this is true in every field, but no where is this felt more prominently than amongst those who service, operate and maintain our machines: field service technicians. There are about 20 million of them globally – and many are set to retire over the next decade. In this piece, ServiceMax from GE Digital’s Patrice Eberline will discuss the widespread implications of the aging workforce, and how companies can both recruit and train the next generation of field technicians.

In the next decade, an aging workforce is poised to be one of the biggest challenges facing field service providers. Millennials are shifting away from traditional career paths to pursue opportunities that are closely aligned with their core values — resulting in wide swaths of vacancies for certain industries. Nowhere else is this shift more apparent than in field service, where forty percent of the workforce is over forty and the rate of retirement is steadily on the rise. This has resulted in a shortage of talent and knowledge on the field, as well as sharp generational divides. It’s crucial that field service providers take a hard and fast approach to attracting and training the next generation of technicians — or risk chronic skill shortages that will have a tremendous impact on a company’s survival.

Implications of the Aging Workforce

The field service industry has grown significantly in the past few years, but has been unable to retain the many technicians needed on the field. Coupled with the fact that many of the industry’s top talent will be retiring in the next 10 years – it’s time service providers revise their recruitment strategies. By 2020, experts project that over two million technical jobs will remain vacant in the United States — the implications of which could be huge. Take, for instance, the impact these vacancies will have when the sensor for a life-saving hospital machine goes faulty. The absence of local field service technicians to fix timely issues could lead to the shutdown of crucial health services, endangering the lives of patients and jeopardizing the reputation of the service provider. It’s an extreme yet realistic example of the future of service without a mobilized millennial workforce.

Attract Millennials: A How To

With the evolution of the gig economy and the sharp departure from traditional work environments, the job market for millennials is growing increasingly competitive. Yet, millennials still hesitate to pursue a career in field service. And, more broadly, the rise of startups and freelance work has created a job force that’s constantly in flux — and less likely to remain loyal to a specific company or industry. From a field service perspective, it’s imperative that this segment of the workforce has a stake in a company’s vision and can rely on senior management for knowledge sharing and effective leadership.

As such, there are a number of tactics field service providers can employ to attract the millennial workforce:

  • Create opportunities that mirror job force trends, like hiring freelancers to partner with in-house teams
  • Establish an atmosphere that fosters both personal and professional growth by encouraging individual expression and collaboration
  • Support multigenerational mentorship programs so older peers can guide and share institutional knowledge with millennial colleagues

Train the Next Generation of Technicians through the Lens of Innovation

From smartphones to social media, millennials are in tune with emerging technology trends. They’re also more adept to learning new technologies and prefer to take hands-on approach to the training process — especially when it comes to specialized mobile tools and wearables. Training millennials through the lens of innovation is therefore a strategic opportunity for field service providers, since they are highly likely to proactively test and report the efficacy of new technologies on the field.

Another characteristic of the millennial workforce that factors into the training process is their preference for highly specialized lessons that are motivational in nature. They value a more participatory and transparent approach to training with an emphasis on core values — a sharp departure from previous generations, which preferred more direct and hands-off management styles. One example of this would be to provide live feedback opportunities for employees during orientations, product trainings or one-on-one performance reviews. Ultimately, a millennial’s career in field service depends on how they are supported by upper management, from the hiring process through deployment in the field.

Without a clear hiring strategy to attract millennials, companies will ultimately be slow to transition to newer, more effective technologies. What’s more, they’ll also lack the manpower to quickly deliver service when emergencies arise. Companies can leverage the tools they already have, including the latest innovations in field service technology and personalized management techniques, to transform existing recruiting practices and illustrate field service as an exciting career opportunity to millennials. It’s the generation that holds the torch for the future of service, and they’re well-worth the investment.

Patrice Eberline, Vice President of Global Customer Transformation, ServiceMax, from GE Digital


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