As we kick off 2020 with a lot of talk about service transformation, migrating to outcomes, and how to leverage technologies like AI, there’s a need to revisit a topic that remains top of mind for many service organizations: the need for new technicians. According to a recent Forbes article, America is facing an unprecedented skilled labor shortage – the Department of Labor reported in January 2019 that the US economy had 7.6 million unfilled jobs, but only 6.5 million people were looking for work.

While you can’t control this challenge, you do need to have a strategy for how to handle it. This means examining your company’s processes and methods for recruitment, hiring, and retention and thinking about what you need to change to adapt. Here are five areas to consider as you face this hurdle in 2020:

#1: Find ways to influence early. Gone are the days of posting open positions and having qualified candidates line up. You’re going to have to work harder than that now. Moreover, you need to think about who you actually need to influence, and in most cases, this is young adults of high school age – and some would argue even younger (as well as to a lesser degree, their parents). This is because much of the trade labor shortage is due to kids feeling that college is the “only” option for them. Companies that are having success with recruiting have adapted and have found ways to get in front of these kids to show them the potential the trades offer – to plant the seed that there’s more than one viable path to success. This can be done through career fairs, working directly with schools to come and speak or put on a sponsored event, advertising around schools, thinking about venues and activities that kids those ages would be frequenting and brainstorming how to get a message there, and so on. But the key here is that getting your message in front of a 30-something candidate is starting too late – to really impact this issue, you have to influence early.

#2: Recognize – and emphasize – how service has changed (and is changing). With all of the ways service has become more customer-centric and technology-driven, the job of a technician doesn’t look today like it did five or ten years ago. The perception these younger candidates have about what the work of a service technician is may be outdated, and it’s very important to message around what service looks like today. It isn’t just turning a wrench – it’s being a customer service expert; it’s utilizing soft skills and consultative selling; it’s using technology like IoT, AI, and AR. These are changes that your older technicians may have met with resistance, but your younger prospective candidates may be excited about.

#3: Work harder so you can hire smarter. Just as the days of posting jobs and having candidates line up are gone, so too are the days of being able to hire experienced technicians – there simply isn’t enough of them to go around. You have to work harder for talent today, period. This means focusing on hiring for talent, skills, and potential rather than experience. You need to seek out the characteristics and traits that you know are ingredients to success with your company, and then do the work of training those employees on how to do your particular flavor of service. The technical part is trainable – the demeanor, drive, and inclination is not. Set up mentorship programs, develop deeper training courses so that you can equip a good candidate with all of the knowledge needed to do the job well rather than trying – and failing – to hire employees that already have that knowledge.

#4: Use technology to your advantage. The talent problem becomes more manageable when you begin making better use of your resources, and in some instances then need less of them. Arming your technicians with tools like AI and AR can alleviate some of the more menial tasks and enable those resources to focus on the bigger jobs. You can also use AR as a way to further leverage the knowledge of your older workforce by having a technician nearing retirement age train up multiple new employees remote from a back office. The opportunities are really limitless but looking for how technology fits into the equation of solving this problem is critical.

#5: Value and utilize your resources. Given the drought of new talent, it is important to look beyond your recruiting efforts and put equal attention on what you’re doing to retain your current employees. What’s the state of your company culture? Do your employees feel engaged and empowered? Do they have career progression plans to keep them happy over the long term? Without confident answers to these questions, the recruiting efforts you’re focusing on are for naught. As you bring new employees on, what’s your onboarding experience like? Do they feel welcome and valued right away? These are critical considerations. If you’re putting in ample effort here and have a happy and engaged workforce, you can also call on them to assist in your recruiting efforts by putting referral programs in place.

Sarah Nicastro
Author

Field Service Evangelist, Future of Field Service