Strategy & Leadership

How to Close the Field Service Skills Gap By Spreading Knowledge: Q&A with Aly Pinder

There’s no doubt that there’s a developing skills gap among employees who are currently in the field and candidates who are looking to work their way into field service. A Manpower survey found that the technician role was the third-most difficult to fill in 2014, behind engineers and skilled trade workers.

That’s largely due to an aging workforce and loss of knowledge, which leads to a loss of revenue and poor business performance. To counteract the loss of talent, organizations are focusing on educating employees using mobile technology to prepare techs for the field of the future, says Aly Pinder Jr., a senior research analyst in Aberdeen’s service management group. Here, Pinder shares insights and best practices for knowledge sharing and talent management in the field.

How are top-notch organizations educating employees in the field?

First of all, organizations are using more collaborative tools to connect technicians to others (i.e., remote experts and other technicians). These collaborative tools can be videos, forums or direct communication support. The goal is to ensure that the entire service team is an expert on the job at hand, removing the need to schedule a secondary visit due to lack of skills. Another trend has been to establish mentoring or coaching programs in the field. These organizations have insight into their top performers and empower them to help train other technicians on service excellence.

What is one of the roadblocks to spreading knowledge among employees?

The key to better knowledge management is to have a clear strategy and owner of data within the organization. Too often data is held in silos and there is no strategy to use data captured beyond the team that is capturing it. Once you have a strategy and an owner, organizations need to implement a centralized knowledge base. Finally, leaders may need to re-evaluate their internal cultures. Many organizations have not fostered an environment of collaboration. The value of data is the insight it can enable across the team. The culture piece is a bit more difficult to correct quickly.

How are managers communicating feedback to techs when they don’t regularly meet in an office?

We’re seeing organizations provide technicians with performance dashboards on their mobile devices, which provide insight down to the tech, team and organization level. Also, service organizations are getting better at tracking the right information. In the past, service organizations focused primarily on operational metrics tied to utilization and productivity. Top performers now tie customer feedback to performance, which has made a link between a successful technician and the customer relationship. Finally, we have seen some interest in providing incentives by gamifying service performance.

How can field service organizations prepare techs to have the skills they need for the future before a skills gap issue arises?

First of all, organizations need to work with their HR teams to better understand the needs of the future and of current success. Top-performing organizations understand their customers and the service experience that they value. Once this benchmark is captured, the organization can then focus on what a good technician profile to support those needs would look like. Link the technician profile with customer expectations and have the HR team hire for these skills. This should help firms avoid a skills gap as the service business evolves in the coming years.

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