Back when I was an industry analyst, I ran a study to benchmark the strength of the service workforce. Through my research, I discovered that service companies expect nearly half of their service workforce to quit in any given year.

We could easily spend hours speculating as to why that is, and there are certainly some identifiable trends, like an overall aging workforce, that help explain these numbers, but the underlying truth is clear: Service companies expect to have to re-train half of their employee base.

It may seem like the logical approach is to tackle these issues as they arise, but forward-thinking firms know that’s a losing battle. Building a new employee base on the foundations that caused half of your employees to leave is not the answer. If you’re in a position where you’re losing somewhere more than 25% of your staff every year, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way you hire, promote, and retain your talent.

Fortunately, there’s some truly inspiring stories across the industry of companies and individuals who are finding ways to rethink their hiring and retention practices. We’ve discussed this issue many times before, and from that, we can start to build a playbook for keeping your company together. Here are some key recommendations to help mitigate technician churn:

Consider your job listings carefully. What are the requirements for an entry-level technician? Do you expect to pay a new tech $30K, and also expect them to have three to ten years’ experience? You need to work with the workforce that’s actually out there. Back when I was sourcing for new IT technicians, I would call anyone who could spell “resume” correctly, and I’d set up an in-person with anyone who could tell me the difference between a hard drive and RAM. In IT service management that works, but it wouldn’t work in heavy equipment manufacturing, where you need to come to the table with a base set of skills. For that, it makes sense to target your listings towards the appropriate technical schools and apprenticeships programs. Not enough students enrolled in these programs? Well…

Build an apprenticeship program. Offer a one-year apprenticeship to, for instance, graduating High School seniors. Teach them the skills they need, and at the end of the year, make an evaluation with them about whether or not they should continue. Research shows it’ll be about 50-50, but you’re growing a crop of talent who won’t leave after another year, and after five years, your talent pool will be overflowing.

Hire for a mindset, not a skillset. In his two podcast appearances, Roy Dockery has discussed the great work he’s done hiring armed service veterans to technician roles. He, at vet himself, understands that skills and tools can be taught, but the right constitution is intrinsic to the right employee. Take your five highest-performing technicians and think about what makes them who they are. Ask them for referrals. Bring them into the hiring process. Consider their background. The goal here is to foster high performers. You won’t win every time, but if you are thoughtful about the trends that define a good, long-lasting employee, you’ll start to see positive change.

Consider the Technician Journey. Are your technicians happy? If you think that’s a silly question, guess what? You might be the reason why they’re leaving. Any job requires fulfillment to foster retention. Are your metrics exclusively punitive? Do you positively incentivize around things like NPS scores and upsells? What does the technician career path look like? To that end…

Consider a mentor program. One thing that I will always believe is that when you offer someone responsibility and respect their knowledge, they’ll step up to the plate. Therefore, the benefits of a mentor program organically extend to brand new employees, who learn the ropes (and the politics) of their job, and helps to inspire tenured employees to think about their career in new ways and sell it to a new audience.

Think carefully about technology. What a vague statement, but hear me out—Technology cuts both ways. For instance, there are so many great knowledge management utilities meant to bring technicians up to speed, which is great if you’re still seeing high turnover, but alternatively, throwing new service technology at technicians without seriously considering how they actually do their job increases the likelihood of losing otherwise strong talent. It’s a delicate balance, certainly, but it’s one that the right technical partner can help you manage with ease.

With anything, technician retention isn’t a one-and-done prospect, and a consistent review of hiring and retention practices will mean that you continue to mitigate turnover with smart business decisions. With the right plans in place, you can bring in new blood that improves your turnover rate, but more importantly, your overall business.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service