The aging workforce has been an issue of growing concern across many field service organizations in North America and the numbers are clear; the pace of baby boomer retirement is set to accelerate significantly in the years ahead.  Many field service organizations are now faced with their seasoned, tenured field service technicians fast approaching retirement age and a shortage of skilled workers.  According to the latest research from the Service Council, 70% of service organizations indicated that they would be burdened by the knowledge loss of a retiring workforce in the next 5 to 10 years.

Increasingly it’s also become more challenging for organizations to attract and retain skilled employees. In the same study by the Service Council, 50% of respondents said that they were currently facing a shortage of resources to adequately meet service demand. As a result, lack of resources or too many inexperienced techs in the field means lower productivity and first-time fix rates, dissatisfied customers and ultimately a negative impact to the bottom line as organizations pour resources into finding, training and retaining technical talent. 

Some of the strategies organizations need to employ to help address the challenge of an aging field service workforce include:

  • Diversifying your field service workforce – by attracting new talent (including mature workers) and retaining valued employees via alternative, flexible work arrangements
  • Succession planning, mentoring and coaching programs that support multiple generations in the workforce
  • Opportunities for workers to continually update their skills
  • Ensure mature workers are trained in the effective use of technology
  • Investment in knowledge management tools

Preserving valuable tribal knowledge
As seasoned field workers retire, organizations stand to lose significant “tribal knowledge”, practical wisdom, accumulated knowledge, know-how and intuition gained through extensive experience.  It’s knowledge that is undocumented and exists only in the minds of certain people but often involves processes that contribute significantly to the quality of a product or service such as key customer information or handling exceptions to critical processes.  Often, the transfer of this knowledge is ignored, resulting in repeat mistakes, negative customer experiences and exposure to additional financial and operational risk.

Harnessing technology for knowledge transfer
Technology can facilitate this kind of knowledge transfer. Whether providing access to centrally stored information like engineering and show order data, asset manuals, repair scenarios or a single system to track project dependencies, the right software can ensure an organization’s knowledge isn’t lost when employees leave. Field service management solutions like IFS, include functionality such as workflows, job aids, task checklists, tips and tricks which can be presented just in time and are easily accessible from a mobile device at the job site. These tools can be created based on experience and knowledge gleaned from seasoned field service professionals.

From science-fiction to reality:  bridging the skills gap with Augmented Reality
Wearable technology, such as Augmented Reality (AR) devices offer a way to bridge the skills gap and capture valuable knowledge. Leveraging AR can help transfer knowledge to the next generation by capturing information from skilled workers and documenting cumulative experience and best practices. Field service organizations can develop detailed work instructions for carrying out complex repairs and maintenance. When used in field service applications, AR smart glasses or mobile devices can overlay computer-generated video, graphic or text information such as task lists, special tools needed or videos directly to a technician’s line of sight. With a detailed display of step by step virtual instructions on the task in hand, field workers are able to complete work more efficiently and without error. For less experienced technicians who encounter problems, they can launch training videos or connect by video with remote highly skilled workers to share a “see what I see” view and receive real-time support.

No longer simply a far-fetched concept, AR is already being tested and adopted  by forward-thinking organizations such as GE, BP and Boeing, who are using smart glasses as means to improve efficiency and safety while reducing errors and employee training time.

For more information on how your organization can combat knowledge loss and minimize exposure to financial and operational risks, contact us today.

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