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A recent IFS report, ‘State of Service 2023’, highlights the extent to which field service companies are being affected by skills shortages today. The study found that technicians not having the necessary knowledge and skills to complete the job was by far the biggest concern for service organisations as 64 per cent of respondents selected it as their number one reason for multiple site visits.
Moreover, when asked to rank the top three pressures impacting their service organisation today, dealing with a lack of skilled workers and the high turnover of employees was the second most chosen top concern, referenced by 40 per cent of the sample. It’s worth noting that this lack of skilled workers is so pervasive that it spans industries and company sizes.
Whether the company generates less than $500m in annual revenue or over $5bn, there’s very little variance. It’s also true across the globe. No matter which continent you’re on, businesses simply don’t have enough skilled workers to fill the job openings in service.
Causes and consequences
That, in a nutshell, is the problem but what’s causing it? The issue is a complex one. All the developed economies, including Germany, the UK, Northern Europe, and many of the countries in South America, are suffering from a low birth rate. Coupled with this, there is also an aging work-force across most of the developed world, which has led to high retirement rates.
Equally, service companies have often struggled to transform field engineers into digital workers. That’s due, in part, to undervaluing the role, a lack of change management and, in some cases, a lack of attention to issues around business transformation or the adoption of digital tools.
All this is putting pressure on field supervisors and the wider operations model. This trend does not sit in isolation with service management today but coalesces with others to heighten the challenge facing service-based companies.
Too few manufacturers today are building assets for service and sustainability. They are not think-ing sufficiently about how to make service easier and that’s leading them to be slow in adopting digital systems too.
Finding a solution
Service-focused businesses clearly need to address these issues and they need to do so urgently. It’s no use waiting for the skills shortage to end. Service leaders can no longer simply throw more people at the problem. Instead, they need to re-think the delivery of their services and utilise technology to make them more effective and turn the tables on the skills gap.
Businesses now have to work smarter, therefore. This has to start from the very beginning through the use of tools that accelerate the speed of onboarding for new workers. In this context, it is key to implement solutions that help expedite new worker training: from remote assistance to knowledge management and self-service.
Workforce planning and scheduling optimisation can be key in this context, making working with a constrained workforce more effective and making it easier to deliver to SLAs. AI-powered scheduling optimisation also provides significant sustainability benefits. Tools can enable companies to make large reductions in technician travel time, for example, which in turn significantly reduces their carbon footprint.
Any business implementing new technologies to drive efficiencies despite skills shortages will also need to implement an approach that delivers change management.
In this context, for field service businesses implementing software that contours to the needs of their business means that change management becomes an organic extension of their other solutions.
Working together to address the skills shortage challenge
Skills shortages are a reality across field service companies today. That’s why it has become in-creasingly important that organisations across the sector make use of technology, not just to plug the gaps but to really empower their frontline. In fact, having the right technology has never been more vital to successful engagement. In an economy of scarce resources, the ability of modern service management tools to serve customers more efficiently is especially valuable to organisations.
The moment that these businesses interact with customers to provide service is, after all, the true value of the relationship brought to life. Companies that can transition from being purely reactive or impersonal in their interactions, to engaging proactively and thoughtfully, will be the companies that win.
Providers can give these companies the tools they need to enable their customers to self-serve where possible. That in turn frees up field service employees time to use the latest technologies to efficiently deliver everything from streamlined training and onboarding to workforce planning and scheduling.
In a world where skills shortages are biting, the latest service management technology delivers a positive route forward.
Marne Martin is the president at IFS Service Management Business Unit