This month’s jobs report casts a gloomy, if not familiar, picture of the global economic situation. However the trades have been among the few bright spots in an otherwise dim economy. There are still some jobs to be had — and managers who have to fill them. But what do managers these days look for when hiring a field tech, especially given how much the average technician’s responsibility has expanded recently to areas outside strictly “service”?

For managers, the trouble isn’t always figuring out where to look, but what to look for, as corporate and economic pressures have forced technicians to go beyond merely fixing a problem to selling service contracts, pushing extended warranties, and upselling parts. Most technicians can no longer get by on technical skill alone.

Joe Smith, a district service manager of Boston and Northern New England for the STERIS Corporation, said he looks to a lot of the usual suspects when hiring a technician: recruitment through the company’s website, employee referrals, and internal promotions, to name a few. Smith, who manages a team of 19 technicians in his region, said an associate’s degrees and/or mechanical or electrical engineering degrees are great, but certainly not a requirement. And many of STERIS’ technicians have at least some military experience, which lends a predictable level of self-reliance and technical training. But technical chops aren’t always enough. The expectation in many service organizations for technicians to sell and fix makes it challenging to find techs with the right combination of skills.

But that’s not always been the case. Smith said when he broke into the field services business, techs left the salesmanship to the sales staff. Now, though, they’re expected to have a pitch at the ready.

“Back then there was no expectation for service techs to do any selling,” Smith told the SmartVan. “In fact, they were almost discouraged from doing so because the thought process was that we want to preserve that relationship that the service tech has with the account, and not have the account look at them as another salesperson. … Business has changed. Everybody’s scrambling to get every dollar they can, and we need those folks to be doing that.”

So now Smith, and other managers in charge of hiring, need to find someone with the technical aptitude to make repairs, diagnose problems, communicate with customers, and even sell. And the last part takes a certain type of personality, he says.

“It is a pretty tough thing to find, someone with that skill,” Smith says.

Smith said that he’s had success developing that salesmanship in existing employees, and that the company offers incentive programs for technicians to earn extra money through their sales efforts, but that ultimately, the technicians have to truly want to do it. “Interest is the biggest thing,” Smith says. “I’m willing to work with any tech on anything, as long as they’re interested in learning to move in that direction. If there’s no interest, the person will never learn.”

The modern field service tech’s job description has undeniably expanded, a trend not likely to reverse any time soon. That means managers looking to hire need to be sure they’re considering a job candidate’s salesmanship skills as well as technical abilities. Has your organization updated its hiring practices for field techs lately? Let us know in the comments section.