The Engineering Skills Shortage: Why Are Engineers Being Used To Shop Rather Than Fix?

Jun 28, 2019 • FeaturesbyboxParts Pricing and Logistics

Claudine Mosseri, General Manager, ByBox reflects on research that they have recently conducted that shows that in the face of an engineering skills shortage, efficiency in the field service sector is more important than ever...

There is a serious shortage of skilled engineers in the UK, despite the government declaring last year to be the ‘Year of Engineering’ in a bid to recruit more engineers. However, the difference between supply and demand is worsening year-on-year.

According to one Government study, businesses would need to recruit around 186,000 skilled engineers by 2024 to bridge the gap. Between 20% - 30% of all UK engineers are employed in facilities management (FM), so this is particularly concerning for the sector.
With such a dramatic shortage, facilities management companies have to make sure the engineers they do have are making the best possible use of their time; working efficiently and effectively. But this is far from the truth.

ByBox’s research of the major FM service providers reveals that engineers spend more time sourcing parts from wholesalers; whether it be driving to, waiting in store or on site for deliveries than they do actually fixing plant.

In an industry facing a critical skills shortage, why are we allowing highly-skilled and paid engineers to spend more time shopping than fixing?

Our research shows that the distribution of spare parts to sites is seriously flawed, often relying on the engineer to pick up the spare from the wholesaler, on the way to site having understood the problem over the phone or through using remote monitoring equipment. Or the engineer may travel to site, diagnose the issue and then drive to the wholesalers.

This problem is increased by regular payment issues when the engineers get to a wholesaler. Sometimes the supplier has put the FM or M&E company on ‘stop’ – meaning that the engineer may have to visit several suppliers before they can purchase a part.
Or the FM company’s finance team won’t allow the engineer to purchase an expensive part because the client organisation is behind with their payments. The engineer is stuck between the client and their own employer’s procurement and finance team.

All of which is demotivating and frustrating for the engineer leading to potential recruitment and retention problems for the service provider in an industry already facing a skills shortage. And it can lead to maverick purchasing by engineers which causes the supply chain further issues.

  "Our research shows that the distribution of spare parts to sites is seriously flawed..."

All of these issues led FM providers to give an average satisfaction rating for engineer productivity of 6.3/10, the lowest score in our research, indicating the depth of the problem. But there is a recognition in the FM sector that things need to change.

The FM firms ByBox spoke to for the report had five key recommendations:

• The centralisation of the procurement and distribution of M&E spares;
• Greater reliability and proactivity from the supply chain to be able to source parts from one location before the day starts;
• More standardisation of assets and parts within buildings including architects, specifiers and construction firms stopping installing systems manufactured / maintained by one-man bands where any spares come from a single source supplier;
• The ability to store more critical spares in a fixed location close to site;
• Better use of CAFM systems to manage inventory at site level, improving the use of data to better forecast break fixes / predictive-based maintenance.

Through this research we have found opportunities to streamline the procurement, forecasting and distribution of spares.

The industry needs to review its inefficiencies from standardisation to improved data analysis to ensure inventory is controlled, distribution spend is reduced and engineers are fixing more, not running around shopping for spares.

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