Field service as an industry has been around for decades — and in that time, we’ve seen many waves of evolution, transformation and change. Think back to 15 years ago: dispatch centers kept track of customers via spreadsheet; field technicians monitored work orders via clipboard; engineers wasted time at the call center filling out paperwork or ordering parts. Field service as a whole was stuck in the past, and needed an overhaul.

Enter: Technology. Between software systems (ServiceMax included!), advanced data storage and the Internet of Things, the entire field service industry was suddenly catapulted into the future. Field techs, engineers, and manufacturers were tasked with learning how to operate new kinds of technology on the job, and did it with grace.

But as these workers get older and ultimately age out of the workforce, the field service industry will be faced with a talent shortage. If we can’t encourage a new generation of field techs to come on-board, our companies — and our daily lives — could be majorly impacted. So it’s time to start marketing field service to the next generation.

Rebranding Field Service

First things first: while we in the industry might be aware of this modern transformation, it’s safe to say that most others still associate field service with clipboards, tool belts, and steel-toe boots. And while there’s nothing wrong with a little hard work, field service has embraced technology in ways that are concurrent with what students today are studying.

So let’s rebrand field service. It’s not just pickup trucks and plumbers — it’s collecting and analyzing data; it’s programming machines to think for themselves; and it’s making important business decisions based on technology that impact a company’s bottom line. While today’s engineers and programmers might be setting their sights on Google or Facebook, the same kind of work is valued (and could really make a difference) in the field service industry. But we won’t attract any of that talent if we don’t educate people on what field service today really is.

Starting Young

While you’re sitting here reading this, a new group of graduates is looking for jobs in the 2017 economy. They’re attending job fairs and sending out resumes — and frankly, field service has probably not even crossed their minds. Reaching these new graduates (and those that haven’t yet received their diplomas too) needs to be an active pursuit. They won’t just decide to apply to a bunch of field service companies or manufacturers — it’s up to us in the industry to shed light on what we do at an early age.

Maybe that means executing targeted marketing campaigns for students in graduating positions. Perhaps identifying the universities that produce quality tech talent and holding a free lecture. You could try making appearances at career days or networking with engineers at local events. At ServiceMax, we even produced an entire course on the field service industry, Field Service University. However you do it, start early — because tech talent is hard to find.

Focus on Training

Once you do create a pipeline of at least some next-gen field service talent, the issue becomes: how do you help them transition the knowledge from their veteran counterparts? While so much young talent has the benefit of a technical education, the institutional knowledge that exists in field service is some of the most complex.

Training is essential for setting the next generation up for success — and ensuring their longevity. Without the tools and the training required to succeed, the pipeline will quickly empty. So focus on training the next generation and passing down that knowledge from veterans. New technology can help this — augmented reality allows new techs to practice scenarios without the dangers of an actual operation in the field. Bottom line: The previous generation of field service has so much collective understanding — we can’t let it go to waste.

As field service as we know it gears up for yet another shift, it’s time to think about how we can market field service to fill the ranks of today’s workers. While their knowledge and transformative power can never be replaced, a new generation of field service enthusiasts can bring changes we never saw coming. I, for one, am excited to see where this takes us — and you should be, too.

The future will be a major focus at ServiceMax’s upcoming Maximize event, the field service summit for industry leaders. At Maximize, we’ll discuss the changing tides of field service and where the industry is going — and how your business can thrive. Register to attend Maximize today.

ABOUT David Milam

David Milam is the former CMO at ServiceMax, where he was responsible for all aspects of the company’s global marketing efforts. David has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise and cloud software solutions for venture-backed companies and multibillion-dollar enterprises. He holds an MBA and a Bachelor of Science degree in Financial Management and Strategic Management from California State University, Long Beach.