Across the last five weeks, we've been presenting you with the findings from our most recent research project, which we ran in partnership with ServiceMax from GE Digital.
Our focus was to see what the field service engineer of the near future will look like and across the first three features of our analysis, our focus was on the changing face of the field service engineer as we see an ageing Baby Boomer workforce reaching retirement age being replaced by a new wave 'millennial' field service workers.
In the first feature, we looked at the threat of the ageing workforce and the changes in training methodologies that are emerging. In part two we explored if and if and how field service companies are utilising their experienced field service engineers to train the incoming generation and in part three we asked if field service companies were reacting quickly enough to these challenges.
In part four we changed tack slightly and looked at how technology is playing a role in attracting new field service talent and in the final part of this series we look at how field service companies are utilising technology within their training methodologies and bring together some conclusions from the research project as a whole
There is also a detailed white paper outlining the wider findings of this report which is available to fieldservicenews.com subscribers...
Technology as a training tool:
In the previous feature, we discovered that technology appears to play an increasingly important role in attracting new field service engineers to an organisation, and our research revealed that it also plays an important role in their development and training as well.
Indeed, just under three-quarters of companies in our response group stated that they use smartphone or tablet apps as part of their training, over two thirds (69%) utilise knowledge bases and over half utilise video conferencing.
The use of video conferencing is of particular interest as 57% of companies also stated that they have programs in place for older technicians to support newer recruits and video conferencing is a highly convenient means of facilitating this.
The use of video conferencing is of particular interest as 57% of companies also stated that they have programs in place for older technicians to support newer recruits and video conferencing is a highly convenient means of facilitating this.However, it is interesting to note that only 9% of companies are currently using Augmented Reality (AR) tools as part of their training programs.
This raises the question of why companies are yet to make what on the surface seems to be a natural transition from video to AR. Given that the processes for offering remote support via video conferencing are essentially the same as for AR it would seem that many field service companies are already well positioned to take advantage of these tools.
Competition amongst AR providers is increasing which will likely drive down prices, whilst case studies and use cases are becoming more apparent - meaning the increased efficiency that AR offers over video conferencing will become more widely acknowledged.
Therefore, it would seem a likely assertion that we may soon see wider adoption of AR amongst field service organisations.
What is abundantly clear, however, is that technology is playing a crucial role in the training and development of field service engineers. In fact, only 7% of field service companies stated that they didn’t use any of the various technologies we listed in the survey as training tools.
The reason for such widespread use of technology in field service organisations training programs was also made apparent within the research. 87% of companies stated that technology was at least partially responsible for reducing the length of time necessary it takes to train a new field service engineer.
Just 10% of companies commented that for them the delivery platform of their training wasn’t an important factor.Of that 87%, well over a third of companies (37%) went on to state that incorporating the latest technology into field service engineer training can reduce the amount of time taken to onboard new field service engineers significantly, whilst just 10% of companies commented that for them the delivery platform of their training wasn’t an important factor.
Of course, with technology being ever more integrated with field service delivery it perhaps makes sense to be embracing technology throughout the onboarding process and beyond.
The good news here for field service companies recruiting new millennial talent is that in general, our respondents experienced that they found that Millennials are able to familiarise themselves with mobility tools etc far quicker than the existing Baby Boomer workforce.
In fact, over half 53% of our respondents commented that they believed this to be the case whilst just 4% disagreed and stated that their older field service engineers see the benefits of technology and adapt just as well as the younger engineers now entering the workplace.
One final point on the insights gained from this section of the research is that whilst the use of new technologies such as AR may be an important element in attracting talent and also in reducing training times, it is also can play a role in keeping that talent and reducing attrition rates.
In fact, over three-quarters of the respondents (80%) stated that for them harnessing the latest technology is a factor in keeping attrition rates low.
The Key Stats:
- 67% of field service companies believe that the technology they employ can have a positive effect on attracting talent
- 69% of field service companies use digital knowledge bases as part of their Field Service Engineer development
- 57% of field service companies use their more experienced Field Service Engineers to support younger members of the team
- 87% of field service companies stated that their technology was at least partially responsible for reducing the time it takes to train a new Field Service Engineer
- 53% of respondents felt that the incoming generation of workers would be abe to adapt to mobile tools quicker than their existing Field Service Engineers
- 80% of field service companies believe that the use of emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality will help them reduce attrition rates
Firstly, it is absolutely clear that the threat of an ageing workforce is real – yes it may not be of a critical pressing nature just yet for many organisations but the research would certainly indicate that for those companies who fail to address it, it could become so in the not too distant future.
Secondly, the difference between the incoming generation of millennial workers and the exiting baby boomers should not be underestimated.
Fortunately, it seems that the industry at large is aware of the challenge which is a good starting point - although the fact that 84% of companies who have identified the issue have yet to take any action on it is a worrying one.
The answer to both challenges is actually a fairly obvious one.
By using more experienced engineers edging closer to retirement to support those new engineers working in the field it is possible to stop tribal knowledge walking out of the door, whilst also providing training via a platform that is both attractive and familiar to a millennial.
Again, whilst this seems to be a reasonably well-accepted wisdom, those who are practising what they preach remain in the minority with just 17% actually having such a solution in place.
This really needs to change.
Our research has also revealed just how high the expectations are for field service engineers. Technical skills are viewed as-as important as ever, yet modern field service engineers are also expected to have great people skills and be expert problem solvers.Our research has also revealed just how high the expectations are for field service engineers. Technical skills are viewed as-as important as ever, yet modern field service engineers are also expected to have great people skills and be expert problem solvers.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, the rise of knowledge banks has meant that when an engineer is sent out on a call he is not only expected to achieve a first-time fix but often he is trying to establish a fix that wasn’t easily resolved through an initial triage at the contact centre stage. With this in mind surely we should be doing everything possible to empower those in the field – and giving them access to the knowledge and experience of our seasoned engineers should be a fundamental part of that.
Technology has already become an integral part of both field service management and field service delivery.
Our research also confirms that it plays a highly important role in both the recruitment, training and development of Field Service Engineers.
It also absolutely offers the solution to two of the biggest challenges our sector currently face and we should absolutely be embracing tools like AR to overcome these challenges. The transition from a Boomer to the Millennial workforce is bringing with it an evolution of the field service engineer.
Such a significant shift will, of course, have problems and the technology available can certainly smooth out some of the bumps in the road Such a significant shift will, of course, have problems and the technology available can certainly smooth out some of the bumps in the road - as to will establishing new or redesigned processes.
Ensuring your organisation comes out of this transition phase (which all companies will have to go through at some point in the next few years) without major impact to your business will require an investment of time, resources and money in your field service engineers.
With this in mind, it is perhaps even more important than ever before, that field service organisations are able to retain those engineers they have invested so heavily in. It is, therefore, no surprise that the majority of field service companies understand the importance of clearly defined career progression paths.
In summary, across the various key factors of this research, we have identified that in the main the challenges and solutions field service companies are facing are understood by the majority. However, it is those companies who act on these challenges today that will be best positioned to take advantage of the sector-wide disruption we are set to face, whilst those who too long may well find themselves in a precarious position sooner than they think.
The question is which of these will your company be?
Want to know more? There is also a detailed white paper outlining the wider findings of this report which is available to fieldservicenews.com subscribers...
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