For the past two years, a workforce crisis has been looming over the manufacturing and field service industry. The industry’s talent pool started shrinking due to a retiring workforce and technician turnover, and it continued to shrink even more due to pandemic-related furloughs, layoffs, and resignations.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

Now, the reality of the post-pandemic labor shortage is pressing field service organizations (FSOs) and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to align talent with their level of digital maturity, operating models, and technological capabilities to ensure business continuity moving forward. In many ways, this means that FSOs and OEMs are forced to do more with less. 

Aligning available talent with new roles on the labor market

The workplace in field service and manufacturing has changed. The industry has experienced digital transformation at an unprecedented pace over the past two years, thus digital skills are now in high demand. Likewise, the rise of advanced technology has disrupted the workplace, creating both challenges and opportunities for employees to upskill and reskill for new roles.

As the manufacturing labor market is changing, workers are demanded to learn new skills and pick up new roles that will help their companies thrive in a digital-first environment. The increasing need for data scientists, collaborative robot specialists, and solution architects provides a unique opportunity for employers to leverage their existing talent by helping their workers to advance their careers and education.

Creating new roles around highly technical skills is becoming essential to compete in the emerging job market. With machines becoming smarter and automation eliminating human error and manual labor, some traditional jobs may be dissolved in the very near future. This doesn’t mean that technology is replacing humans, but rather that old jobs are being replaced by new ones. Fields such as computer science, data science, analytics, and engineering are already starting to converge into new positions.

The talent needed to fill those positions is dramatically scarce, which is why the most strategic solution for leveraging available talent and becoming a digital-first business is to invest in reskilling and upskilling programs.

Adjusting field service operations to free up human resources

Technology can help streamline everything from upskilling and reskilling to service delivery and everything in between. When it comes to field service operations, technology can help workers expedite service delivery and gain more time for high-priority tasks. And one of the simplest ways to help a field technician streamline service delivery is to go paperless. 

Handling paper documents has become highly inconvenient during the pandemic, and the customer preference for digitized documentation set a new standard for FSOs to abide by. By going paperless, FSOs can eliminate errors, improve data compliance, and increase customer satisfaction rates via faster and safer processing. Beyond going paperless, FSOs can also leverage technology to meet new standards of service excellence while navigating talent scarcity.

  • Improved first-time fix rates (FTFRs)

Due to the pandemic, one-trip service has also become a golden standard of service excellence. To meet this standard, FSOs need to implement field service management (FSM) software solutions that integrate inventory tracking, technician routing, and service history. Such solutions make it easier to coordinate human resources and prevent repeat visits, as they enable field technicians to prepare extensively before the first visit. The right software solution will provide technicians with relevant information on what the job entails and what parts or equipment are required for the job. Furthermore, field technicians need to easily access equipment manuals, service history, and technical expertise while on the field. They should also be able to communicate with senior field technicians for additional support in completing the job.

  • Enhanced technician efficiency

According to research on the current state of AI in field service, up to 44.76% of FSOs are planning to deploy AI within their organizations within the next 2-4 years. However, the most forward-thinking FSO leaders, up to 20%, are taking immediate action to deploy AI in the very near future. And that’s because AI has become critical for optimal service performance and enhanced technician efficiency. AI enables field technicians to optimize their daily processes and harness institutional knowledge to hone their skills, thus reducing the stress regarding the lack of expertise and real-time access to it while on the field. Additionally, AI-powered solutions are a magnet for tech-savvy Millennials who have become the dominant workforce in the industry. Unlike their predecessors, Millennials have an easier time working with FSM apps and solutions including AI, AR, and video support.

  • Upgraded service level agreements (SLAs)

Standard SLAs had to be changed for many FSOs during the outbreak of the pandemic. Adjustments had to be made as the industry started to shift away from the break-fix model and rewrite the value proposition. As a result, customers now prefer predictive maintenance over preventive maintenance and proactive rather than reactive service delivery. This creates a unique opportunity for OEMs and FSOs to implement innovative business models such as outcome-based and performance-based contracting. This also means that FSOs need to reassess their capabilities for service delivery and redefine the role of service operators and field technicians. Translating new service agreement terms into new operations for field technicians can be challenging, but the right FSM software can streamline the process.

  • Contactless field service and support solutions. 

After experiencing the convenience of remote service, even B2B customers have become less interested in returning to the service standards prior to the pandemic. Although field service technicians will always be valuable on the field, they can do more with remote or hybrid work options. Using remote diagnosis and AR-powered visual support, FSOs can maximize field technician utilization and enable skilled workers to perform pre-dispatch inspections and effectively guide customers in the resolution process. Additionally, deploying mobile apps can help field technicians and customers synchronize and manage each other’s expectations for smoother collaboration.

Embracing workforce-as-a-service and outsourcing

FSM software, automation, and AI-powered solutions can help FSOs streamline their operations and provide hybrid or flexible work options for field technicians, thus also making room for freelance workers.

According to industry leaders who participated in Copperberg’s Field Service US Summit hosted on 18 November 2021, workforce-as-a-service is becoming a hot trend among FSOs looking for quality talent. More and more companies are willing to dispatch work processes to freelance technicians who can effectively leverage technology to be highly responsive, solve incidents, and help the company maintain customer relationships. 

The same leaders shared that hiring for will, not skill, is the new recruitment approach that many FSOs are now taking in order to fill the skills gap. With this perspective in mind, FSOs can also look toward the retiring workforce and consider part-time contracts for field technicians in retirement who would like to earn something extra in exchange for their expertise, whether on the field as senior technicians or remotely as mentors for their less experienced counterparts. 

Such a solution will prevent seniors from rapidly burning out while easing the burden on the younger generation. Likewise, outsourcing repetitive work to reduce employee burnout and turnover also makes room for the kind of flexibility and autonomy the predominant generation of field technicians prefers. 

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