From Tesla’s electric cars to Siemens’ MRI machines, high-tech devices gather all kinds of data to indicate equipment health. Is the equipment running out of capacity? Is it low on fuel? Is there a problem with the disk drive? All of this data is valuable to the technicians who service the equipment, but only if they know how to interpret the information, which is why the shortage of skilled workers in the field is more pressing than ever. This year 55 percent of hiring managers say they’re having difficulty filling jobs in installation, maintenance and repair occupations, according to a CareerBuilder study. There’s a race between technology and the skills needed to keep up with it, especially for technicians.

Connected devices’ impact on field service

If the recent media obsession with the Internet of Things is any indication, we’ll soon live in a world where every device has the ability to talk to other machines—and to humans. For technicians, it means their roles are becoming more proactive and less reactive. Instead of waiting until a part breaks to fix it, they’ll know well in advance that a screw is loose, for example, and catch an impending failure before it occurs.

New technology also is shifting more field service work from physical to mental labor. “Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power—the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments—what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee write in their book “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Machines.”

Future auto mechanics

BMW’s vision for how its engineers will service cars offers a look at how connected devices are changing work. Jack Stewart, presenter of the BBC’s Science in Action series, paints a picture: “Instead of reaching for any of the shiny silver tools on his cart, the mechanic picks up a pair of what looks like sunglasses with connected buds for his ears. He glances back over to the engine, and this time he sees each component highlighted in bright colors, and is given computer-generated instructions on what to disassemble, in what order.”

In this scenario, the engineer needs an understanding of the technology at play, including how to execute the augmented reality system and interpret the computer-generated information.

Efforts to bring skills up to par

As technology advances, some companies are backing efforts to retrain their workforces and help the next generation of workers acquire the science, technology, engineering and math skills that roles in the field will require.

MasTec, a Coral Gables, Fla.-based infrastructure engineering and construction company, helps veterans transfer skills to become wireless technicians. The company works with Warriors 4 Wireless, which provides training and advanced certification for veterans to build new careers in the telecommunications industry.

Cisco, purveyor of Internet of Everything ideas, runs a “Networking Academy,” which offers certificate courses to help people across industries build and maintain computer networks. “These programs ensure Cisco, its customers and partners have the talent they need to transform their business through the Internet of Everything,” according to the CareerBuilder study press release.

In April, Siemens donated nearly $660 million in software to a dozen technical schools and colleges in Massachusetts to help train a new generation of workers in advanced manufacturing.

As field service organizations look for and develop future talent, they’ll benefit from having employees whose skills complement those of the cutting edge technology the company uses. In other words, as Wired editor Kevin Kelly put it, “You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.”