Stop listening to the same old excuses!
Bridging the technology and knowledge gap between new and experienced engineers, (without losing your best people) isn’t so tricky…
One of the biggest challenges facing service businesses is the knowledge and technology gap between their ageing workforce of baby boomer engineers and the younger Generation X and millennials who have less experience yet demand much more from their employers. Younger engineers expect good technology to support their work, almost viewing it as a hygiene factor expecting it to be in place, whilst the soon to retire baby boomers generally resist new tech which brings with it greater transparency and tracking, fearing ‘big brother’ and not wanting to learn another system, being comfortable doing things as they always have. Leaders listening to these complaints can soon use these as their own excuses for not moving forward because they’re worried about losing their best people.
Consider this when there’s also a massive shortage of skilled technicians and engineers. A United Nations’ World Population forecasts by 2050, 1 in 6 people will be over the age of 65, up from 1 in 11 in 2019. Older field service technicians are retiring in droves, causing challenges for field service organisations, with Field Service News reporting that 73% of companies have identified an ageing workforce as a potential threat to field service operations.
Businesses need experienced engineers to pass on important nuances about their role that you can’t get from a textbook, to help develop new engineers to continue to deliver high levels of service. The nature of field service work means Engineers often work alone with limited interaction with colleagues. Rarely can service operations afford two engineers on a job for one, so on the job learning is limited and all the stuff we used to learn whilst sat in the van or grabbing a drink after work just doesn’t happen as much. This means best practices can be left undocumented and training courses or certifications are mainly individual rather than group activities. This results in experienced field service engineers becoming knowledge-keepers, with important information – practical knowledge – remaining in their heads. Whether that’s what to do when the normal diagnostic route doesn’t work, tricks for fixing specific pieces of equipment or the best place to source outdated parts this valuable information isn’t being shared.
As business leaders consider all these factors it’s easy to be swayed by the hot air ‘I’ll leave if we don’t sort out the systems issues / I’ll leave if I have to start using yet another system I don’t need’. After all skilled engineers can demand high salaries so the effect of struggling to attract and retain these employees can be costly to a business in many ways.
When you cut through all these excuses and ‘noise’ it’s helpful to think ahead. I’ve never known a business to go backwards after investing in a new system. Skilled engineers don’t simply throw their toys out of the pram when business decisions differ from their personal preferences. Old or young, people do change, and with progression; processes, efficiencies and employee satisfaction do get better. However, you do hear about businesses being acquired easily or even worse closing because they’ve not moved with the times and couldn’t keep up with the competition – this is completely normal.
The reality is business leaders need to be responsible and not hide behind Engineers insecurities and make the best decision for the long-term development of the business. If you don’t choose to evolve you are risking the future of the business. This means the decision isn’t really about whether to invest in technology to improve and manage service operations, the decisions are about which system to choose and how to implement the change effectively.
I started by asking ‘how do we bridge both the knowledge and experience gap between new and experienced Engineers’, so I’ll leave how to choose which field service system to other articles and focus on how to bridge the gap effectively.
Once leaders take responsibility and choose to progress, communication and implementation are key. The main mistake organisations make is to get everything ready and then get everyone to switch to the new system, all at the same time – one big bang effect! This is wrong on so many levels:
Firstly, communication is key: getting feedback, good and bad, from field service operatives, new and experienced, helps scope requirements and workflow processes effectively. So, the earlier you talk and listen to your Engineers the better.
Risk-free roll out is better than a big go-live: choosing keen operatives to trial the system and positively talk about its benefits ensures a risk-free environment, creating a ‘want’ in the rest of the team to have a go, dare I say it can create a FOMO (fear of missing out). But this aside, it gets people used to change slowly, progressively, and effectively.
Frequent training: we’ve all changed phones only to realise a month or so later that it had great features we hadn’t realised initially. Showing experienced Engineers the benefits of job and site visibility initially can quickly help with getting them on board and then short frequent training sessions really help users get to grips with and enjoy using all the new system features.
Some familiarity makes change easier: Too much change at once can be baffling for all of us, thankfully most people changing technology now can benefit from SaaS solutions. These web-based systems are agnostic in terms of hardware and operating systems, meaning users benefit from using hardware and android or iOS software they are familiar with – giving them greater confidence using new applications.
Capturing important info: again, gradual is better. Waiting until you have all the detailed info in the new system keeps implementation at bay and creates an impossible target. Only transferring good quality data and adding to it gradually is far more realistic, delivers accurate data and gets users in the habit of good data input because they aren’t wasting time correcting old stuff.
Supporting the team; using the technology to identify knowledge gaps and getting experienced and new engineers to talk to each other to ask for help and share knowledge is important. Effective systems help Service Managers to identify issues newly qualified engineers are facing and free up time for support from experienced Engineers with the relevant skillset, recognising the value of the experienced team members and supporting the future of the business.
So, once you remove the excuses and make decisions for the future of the business you can bridge the knowledge gap and retain the best mix of new and experienced people. Technology implemented effectively has the power to help you bridge the knowledge gap in field service between seasoned engineers, an ageing workforce, and junior employees. Giving newer engineers the technology to support the working processes they expect whilst capturing the knowledge of senior staff before they retire; developing the younger generation of service technicians to benefit from their insights and experience. The results are a more efficient service operation with a more capable workforce, protecting future business growth.
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