Just when field service engineers master the latest workforce automation apps or remote diagnostics software, along comes equipment that can talk while it’s being fixed and tools that predict customers’ needs well before they call for a repair. While technology vastly improves machine operation and customer service, service engineers must work harder than ever to stay on top of the latest tools that help them do their jobs.

The good news: According to the 2013/2014 Service, Revenue and Training Trends Report, 67 percent of field service executives surveyed said that their companies are using online courses to train employees. The same survey reports that roles in field service are moving from “wrench turner” engineers to more sophisticated, application-savvy workers.

How are legacy workers today expanding their skill sets to include soft skills enabled by social, mobile and the cloud? Here are five ways to upgrade field service credentials.

  1. Membership-based facilities like TechShop and Fab Lab offer access to industrial tools and software that’s often too expensive for individuals to purchase. TechShop members can take classes in subjects ranging from basic computer programming to laser cutting to electronic hardware.
  2. Certificate programs used to be mainly an alternative to traditional degrees. Now people are taking classes that supplement their existing credentials. For example, DevBootcamp offers students crash courses in computer programming languages, for instance. One man with a master’s degree in engineering wasn’t getting promoted because he didn’t know how to work in teams. “When he graduated from college over a decade ago, communication skills weren’t important for highly technical positions, Otis White told U.S. News and World Report. “Now, business communication is vital for advancement. For around $1,000, that student was able to take the four to five courses needed to complete a certificate in team building and team management.”
  3. Vendor-specific certifications are designed for service techs who work with specific products. For example, Microsoft offers a host of professional IT certifications, most of which run only three to five days. Oracle and Cisco also provide professional certification programs.
  4. Status-based programs provide educational incentives for select groups. In November, workforce solutions company OnForce offered to pay 50 percent of the IT certification cost for military veterans.
  5. For anyone with an Internet connection and a bit of self motivation, free courses and learning opportunities abound. For example, Google Analytics offers lessons on the core principles of digital analytics and Codecademy provides free classes and team-based learning activities in computer programming.

What are other ways that service engineers are supplementing their skills?