What would you do if 70 percent of your field service counterparts told you that they’re expecting to suffer from a shortage of technicians over the next five to ten years? Would you:

A. Laugh it off—you’ve got a strong workforce filled with job-loyal, highly experienced technicians. Some of them have only ever worked at your company, proving how much they value their job, so why would they leave now?

B. Think about possibly—at some point in the future—advertising for some new staff. It doesn’t matter why you could expect a shortage of technicians, right?

C. Start strategizing—you know that the majority of your technicians have been in the field for over 20 years, and you’re aware that their departure could mean a massive loss of talent that you’ll need to fill.

If you answered A or B: it’s likely that you haven’t yet started thinking about what your workforce will look like in the next five to ten years.

But here’s a follow up question: what would you do if 70 percent of field service management organizations told you that they’re already concerned about the skills, knowledge, and talent loss from potential retirees? Why are so many of your field service management competitors worried about something that’s not happening yet?

They’re concerned because they’re smart. They know that a skills gap means lower productivity, lower first time fix rates, and lower rates of customer satisfaction. Field workers are retiring, and at the same time, more millennials are entering the workforce.

The 30+ year experience gap between outgoing retirees and entering millennials is putting many, if not most, field service organizations at risk of losing critical expertise. This will result in very high competition for talent and may have significant impact on wages and prices.

Last year, The Service Council reported that 76 percent of field service providers are already using a third party to supplement their workforce. In other words, your competitors are already addressing their unsustainable field service delivery model by using field service outsourcing, utilizing the gig economy, and taking advantage of initiatives such as crowd servicing.

Businesses who don’t prepare for this shift in field service delivery risk a widening skills gap, massive knowledge loss, and dipping levels of customer satisfaction.

In this article I’ll go through the following:

  • A widening employee experience gap is driving a significant skills shortage [Read more]
  • Waiting to execute a ‘skills gap’ strategy puts your business in danger [Read more]
  • A shift towards the gig economy can help fill the field service skills gap [Read more]
  • Field service management software supports field service outsourcing, prevents knowledge loss [Read more]
  • Use field service outsourcing to prevent a skills gap in your organization [Read more]

A widening employee experience gap is driving a significant skills shortage

Before you begin to strategize, it’s important to know exactly what is contributing to the skills gap. Millennials now form the biggest section of the U.S. workforce, while a large portion of Baby Boomers are heading for retirement; in fact, over 50 percent of service organizations say they’re already facing a resources shortage due to a retiring workforce.

This shift in demographics leaves businesses with a skill level imbalance; older service technicians will soon take with them the hard skills learned across years of in-field experience, while the younger generation bring tech-savviness and an expectation for automation. Businesses who want to prevent mass knowledge loss must learn how to marry these skill sets before large numbers of the workforce retire.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and the rise of predictive maintenance further highlight the skills gap. Though the abundance of interconnected devices and sensors can reduce the need for technicians to make on-site visits, they also require time-sensitive responses, which requires an entirely different skill set that many smaller workforces especially do not currently have a wealth of—experience in a procedural approach to repairs.

Predictive maintenance also alters the customer’s perception of what constitutes good customer service; they want their job completed yesterday. Being able to respond to this demand requires a larger workforce, or at least, access to a larger workforce. Your business can still fulfill customer service expectations without hiring more full-time staff by choosing to embrace flexible business models.

Waiting to execute a ‘skills gap’ strategy puts your business in danger

Planning and executing a strategy to prepare your business for any talent loss will be the biggest tool in your arsenal. Waiting until your most experienced technicians leave or retire to execute a hiring plan will leave your business in danger of not being able to fulfill service requests and declining customer satisfaction.

One of the most effective ways that field service businesses can avoid a major skills gap is by adjusting their current business models to account for the augmentation of the traditional workforce. Over 57 million people freelanced in the U.S. in 2017, which signals a significant shift towards a modern market economy (commonly known as the gig economy).

A shift towards the gig economy can help fill the field service skills gap

The field service industry is already taking advantage of this shift, by introducing crowd servicing into their organizations. Crowd servicing is a business model that takes advantage of the gig economy, allowing businesses to combine existing technician talent and field service outsourcing to create a “pool” of technicians with different levels of expertise and experience.

In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, 40 percent of field service work will be carried out by individuals who are “not employees of the organization that has direct contact with the customer” (content available to clients).

The good news for businesses: many companies report that their retiring workforce are showing interest in a flexible business model that will allow them to work on a “contingency basis.” Crowd servicing helps to facilitate the blending of skills from both existing technicians and freelance technicians available to be outsourced, which helps avoid a potential skills gap in a number of ways:

1. Field service outsourcing attracts new talent

Opting to make your hiring practices flexible will help you attract a wide array of talent and skills. Seventy percent of employees are more attracted to roles where they’re offered flexible working conditions.

2. Outsourcing eases the task of succession planning

It’s likely that you’ve already identified key members of staff who are ready to be trained to replace your highest-skilled technicians when they’ve left. When these members of staff have moved into senior positions, you’ll be able to backfill their positions by using field service outsourcing.

3. Establish relationships through outsourcing

By frequently using outsourced technicians, your business will be able to establish long-term relationships with technicians with high skill and expertise, knowing which technicians are suited to which jobs, and establishing a basis of trust.

Field service management software supports field service outsourcing and prevents knowledge loss

Field service management software already houses all of the functionality needed for managing outsourced staff from one platform: this includes onboarding, scheduling, and work order management, which removes the need to manage these workers separately. Third-party technicians also have access to the same software, including company manuals, which helps all of your staff stay on task.

Let’s also talk about the task of trying to retain all of the knowledge that your technicians have built up over the years; it would be foolish to let such significant expertise leave when they do. Though this might sound like a gigantic and almost impossible task, field software can help businesses retain, store, and transfer that very information. This functionality can include workflows, charting, templates, and even “tricks of the trade” to help transfer knowledge during times of transition.

Use field service outsourcing to prevent a skills gap in your organization

Change is underway: a large percentage of tomorrow’s workforce will form part of the growing crowd service pools. Businesses who are able and ready to support this change by embracing the combination of their existing workforce and the modern worker will remain agile and able to respond to customer demand. Those same businesses will also avoid a skills gap.

Our recommendations:

  • Start by analyzing your current workforce: how many are likely to retire in the next five years? What is the ratio of millennial to baby boomer? From here, you can align these figures with business projections, and begin to identify where future skills gaps might occur.
  • Begin to research the best platforms for field service outsourcing, and ensure that your field service management software can support the introduction of third-party technicians.
  • Initiate a peer learning strategy within your organization, to accustom your staff to training each other in their respective areas of expertise.

Further reading: