A 25-year service industry veteran outlines strategies, techniques, and technologies that savvy service leaders use to overcome the talent crunch.

The field service industry has seen significant growth during the last several years, and this growth is not without challenges for field service leaders. The biggest challenge? A shortage of skilled workers. According to industry reports, as many as two million technical jobs will remain unfilled by 2020.

It’s not just market growth that has led to a situation where the demand for skilled workers has outstripped the supply. Other factors include the retirement of baby boomers, a reticence among millennials for field service jobs, and the growth of freelance work in the so-called “gig economy.”

By capitalizing on these employment trends, as well as recent advancements in technology and service management, field service leaders can adopt strategies to overcome the labor shortage challenge.

Make Room for Freelance Talent

A large percentage of field service leaders, particularly in the IT industry, have turned toward hiring freelancers as a strategy for responding to labor shortages. In a recent study, Blumberg Advisory Group found that 77 percent of field service organizations use freelancers or contractors to handle shortages. Two out of three are using a freelance management system (FMS) to source and manage talent. Users of FMS platforms boast greater agility, reduced costs, faster time to market and improved efficiency as the top benefits.

Create a Millennial-Friendly Environment

Millennials have a different way of perceiving themselves in the workplace than previous generations. They seek jobs that enable them to meet their core values of individual expression, personal impact, job advancement, opportunity for fun and fulfillment, connection and efficiency. Communication, collaboration and engagement are keys to creating a millennial-friendly environment. Turnover is likely to be high without systems and processes in place to foster these behaviors. Multi-day onboarding programs, mentor assignments for new hires, facilitated discussions between older and younger workers, ongoing training and education, and seeking millennials’ input in the planning process are all ways that service leaders can attract the next generation of talent.

Re-engineer Service Delivery

New hires typically lack the expertise of more experienced workers. As a result, first-time fix rates, repair times and customer satisfaction may suffer. Service leaders can avoid this problem by reengineering the way in which service is delivered. Typically, most organizations handle field service activities by assigning new hires to telephone technical support and dispatching more experienced field service engineers to resolve onsite issues. This is counterintuitive when you consider that the more experienced workers are the best qualified to provide remote support and guided technical assistance to new hires. By flipping this support paradigm, organizations can achieve better results.

Embrace New Technologies

Many service leaders are gradually realizing that advanced technology can play a significant role in resolving labor shortages. For example, the IoT lets workers save time in diagnosing a problem and finding the right part to fix it. Augmented reality provides a platform that new hires and end-customers can use to troubleshoot and resolve problems on their own. Improvements of 20 percent or more in first-time fix rate and resolution time are not uncommon after deploying augmented reality in the field.

Artificial intelligence is another promising new technology in service. AI-enabled technologies use learning and natural language to interact with humans. What’s more, they are capable of making decisions, from diagnosing a problem to recommending (or even implementing) a corrective action. By pairing savvy technicians with next-gen technologies, service organizations can do more with less.

The shortage of skilled labor doesn’t have to be a stumbling block for creative service leaders. The strategies above can help alleviate field service staffing woes — they just require a little thought, planning and innovation to implement.

ABOUT Michael Blumberg

Avatar photoMichael Blumberg is CMO of Mize Software and the founder & executive director of Field Service Insights. He is a leading expert on the design, execution, management and coordination of high-tech service and support operations within a wide array of industry segments, including information technology, office automation, medical electronics, building controls and consumer electronics. He has more than 20 years of experience in strategic planning, market research, benchmarking, enterprise systems design and strategic management of product support operations. He blogs at www.michaelrblumberg.com. Follow Michael @blumberg1 and on LinkedIn.