The latest jobs report from the Department of Labor had some surprising news for the field service sector: while overall job growth was weak for the month, the demand for field service technicians surged. With 221,000 workers added last month compared to a year ago, the rate of field service unemployment sits at 4.8 percent — well below the national average of 7.6 percent. So what’s behind the demand? We asked Peter Cannone, president and CEO of OnForce, a company that pairs independent service technicians with companies in need.
WHY IS FIELD SERVICE HIRING SO STRONG?
Over the past few years the number of service professionals has decreased dramatically due to the recession so it’s no surprise to see an increase in the labor department’s numbers just because those numbers were already so low. We’re seeing some pent-up demand for workers right now. However, I don’t think [the employment rate] is going to return to what it was years ago because companies are looking for alternative workforce solutions.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY ‘ALTERNATIVE WORKFORCE SOLUTIONS?’
We’re seeing a talent mismatch in the services sector. Whether it’s a full-time, W-2 labor force or a 1099 independent contractor labor force, companies are trying to figure out how to match revenue with expenses. There’s a movement towards a more flexible workforce. There’s less of a want or a need among large OEM companies to hire, rehire or retrain full-time technicians. So a lot of companies are not hiring full-time technicians. There is some hiring of the higher-skilled W-2 workers that can do field service work, but we’re seeing more of a hiring of independent contractors than the W-2 long-term employee.
COULD THAT TREND REVERSE ITSELF LATER ON?
I don’t think so. MBO Partners recently said that by 2020, over 50 percent of all U.S. workers will be independent contractors. Right now, Wall Street is doing well but Main Street is still struggling. This type of independent contractor workforce allows companies to ebb and flow with the economy. If it’s decelerating or accelerating, companies with a flexible workforce can easily ramp up or tone down the number of workers. It gives a company 100 percent utilization at all times.
SO ARE THE JOBS NUMBERS SOMEWHAT MISLEADING?
Not necessarily. Companies’ balance sheets are actually pretty healthy from a cash standpoint, but they’re finding ways to optimize their existing workforce.
ARE THERE OTHER FACTORS BEHIND INCREASED DEMAND?
There’s an aging workforce and it’s especially prevalent in the service sector. The next generation of technicians are very different from their predecessors. They’re using mobile devices and technology to be more efficient. Technology changes the game, not only the servicing of it but also how they’re using it on the road or to solve problems. We’re also seeing an evolution in the service technician. With all the new technologies emerging, technicians need to be able to do a number of different things. Those service technicians that are keeping up with the trends and becoming renaissance folks are the ones that will be very successful over the next few years.