Key Staffing Issues Faced When Replacing Retiring Technicians with Millennials

[Bill Pollock’s response to the first of seven questions posed by Brian Albright, contributing editor, Field Technologies magazine. An edited version of Bill’s responses will appear as part of a Technology Update Article in the August, 2016 issue of the magazine. This excerpt, in particular, sets the stage for how millennials are likely to be assimilated into the existing field service workspace.]

BA: What are some of the key staffing issues field service companies face when it comes to replacing retiring technicians?

BP: Historically, the replacement of a retiring field technician was nothing more than the “changing of the guard”, that is, hiring a new, typically younger, individual to serve in his place (i.e., given that, historically, most field technicians were male). This would require the presence of a sound and professional Human Resources (HR) operation and, once the new hire was selected, a full round of training, certification and company orientation classes to ensure that the replacement technician could move into his predecessor’s slot without any major disruption either to the quality and consistency of service delivery, or to the customers’ ongoing business operations.

In general, the only area where the replacement technician would not be up-to-speed from the get-go would be with respect to the retiring individual’s accumulated knowledge and familiarity with the installed base of equipment, company policies and procedures, and – most importantly – with the experiential knowledge of the individual customer interactions that had taken place in the past. The retiring technician would have undoubtedly learned all the “tricks of the trade” and “secret sauces” for managing his customer, obtaining parts, making quick fixes and otherwise taking care of the installed base of equipment.

However, he would also have an accumulated knowledge of the customers themselves, in terms of their names and nicknames, their requirements and expectations for service, their position and roles within the company, how involved their supervisors would normally get with respect to service calls, etc. They probably also knew the names of their family members, their favorite sports teams and, generally, what it would take to make them happy.

It is typically in these “softer” areas of customer service where the new hires would find themselves to be most disadvantaged. This would not necessarily be the end of the world for them and, for those individuals who are basically user-friendly to begin with, would not represent a particularly long-term problem. Of course, this may not apply to all of the millennials just now entering the services workforce.

In the past, the accumulated knowledge of each individual technician was generally quite extensive (i.e., both from a technical aspect, as well as from a customer relationship vantage point); also, the technician training and certifications undertaken were typically routine (if not boilerplate) and easy enough to apply to the next generation of hires.

However, in today’s world, instead of sending new hires to the same types of training classes and certification exams as their predecessors, there is a much more fragmented set of alternative training scenarios available (e.g., on-site, distance learning, self-administered PC training, etc.). Further, with the growing use of Augmented Reality (AR) in support of field technicians, some organizations are likely to cut back even further on training, since the Internet and/or AR could be used as impromptu “on the job” instant training, whenever the case warrants.

Still, there will always be numerous geographic, skill set, personal interest and training considerations that will need to be addressed whenever new hires are brought into the mix. This will not likely change over time. However, a proficiency for utilizing new technology will separate the “good” new hires from the “bad”; but there will always remain the question of chemistry – both with respect to dealing with their peers, as well as with their customers.

[Watch for more of Bill’s responses to the Field Technologies questions over the next few weeks. The publication date for the Technology Update Article is August, 2016. A direct link to the article will be provided at that time.]

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