Finding, attracting, obtaining, and retaining talent is one of the most complex challenges that field service organizations face today. There are a variety of factors at play – changes in the demands of the role, an increasingly small pool of talent to compete for, differing desires from the new generation of worker, and now COVID complexities. Not to mention, the service landscape is evolving rather significantly as organizations adopt digital tools and embrace the move to outcomes-based service – which means the traits, skills, and characteristics sought today are vastly different than they were just five years ago and will be even different yet in another five years. So, with all of this said, is it even possible to future-proof the field service workforce? Not entirely, but we need to prepare. While no one can predict precisely what the future will hold, we know enough that it is important to start taking steps now to set us up for success as the future (rapidly) unfolds. As such, here are five steps you can take now to help you prepare the workforce of the future:
#1: Optimize Automation to Maximize Utilization
Step number one is to ensure that the resources you have are fully and properly utilized, and this rests largely in the hands of your digital journey. Do you have tools in place to plan and schedule your workforce in a streamlined manner or are your technicians wasting time each day on unnecessary travel? Does your workforce have access on site to all the information and inventory they need to get the job done, or are they frequently making return trips? Have you incorporated IoT or Remote Assistance to be able to diagnose and even resolve issues before going onsite? Do you have an effective knowledge management system in place to capture the insights of your most experienced workers and make them accessible to others? It only makes sense that before you work to future-proof, you are making the most of what you have today.
#2: Think (Ahead) About Field Service Responsibilities
We know that the role of the field technician is changing, but what will that look like for your business? Have you thought about what your frontline workers will be doing in five years, once some of the more monotonous and administrative tasks have been fully automated? Have you considered the ways in which your company’s progression toward Servitization will impact what you need your technicians to do differently? This can be an area that is difficult to fully predict, but there are some general points to consider such as how soft skills or even selling behaviors may become more important or how the ability to consume and present data may be more relevant. We recently had Bonnie Anderson, Global Manager of Talent Acquisition and Future Talent at Tetra Pak on the Future of Field Service podcast to discuss how Tetra Pak tackles field service recruiting. One of the pieces of advice she offered is to use an outcomes-based approach to hiring – in other words, to consider what outcomes you need to deliver to your customers and then translate those outcomes into the skills you’re seeking. This practice can apply to the future state, too. How do you think the outcomes you’re delivering for customers will be different in twelve months than they are today, and how do you prepare to hire skills needed to deliver those outcomes? You can future-proof in part by thinking ahead to where the business is going rather than “doing what you’ve always done” when it comes to hiring.
#3: Consider the Role of The Gig Economy
I was listening to an HBR IdeaCast podcast recently on Why Companies and Skilled Workers Are Turning to On-Demand Work that featured Joseph Fuller, professor at Harvard Business School, and Allison Bailey, senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. It was an interesting episode because it looked at the intersection of several trends, including digital transformation and COVID-19, that are leading to a major uptick in the use of on-demand workforces. I’ve spoken with service leaders who are successfully leveraging third-party workers, but thus far those conversations have been the exception versus the rule – often, it is a concept being considered but not yet incorporated into strategy. I think it is inevitable this will change in many cases, so it is worth investigating further and thinking about how a gig approach could help to fill certain gaps or needs.
#4: Adopt a Skills-Based Approach to Hiring
For the talent you do need to bring on board, Anderson of Tetra Pak suggests evolving from an experience-based approach to hiring to a skills-based approach. “When we look at a skills-based approach, it’s shifting that mindset that a candidate needs to have a certain background to be able to fill a position. Having an experience-based assumption has limited talent pools for employers particularly for in demand and niche skills, that are hard to find,” she explains. “So, by flipping that a little bit and saying, ‘Okay, well, actually, a candidate might get a skill from somewhere else other than from their qualification or from their experience;’ you can find a whole talent population that might be untapped, or that you’ve never considered before.” In my words, this means that companies who have traditionally hired based on experience need to understand that the experienced pool is diminishing and that means you need to work harder than you may have before to hired based on skills and then build the experience. While this means more training time and development programs, it is a critical part of the answer to the talent problem many companies have. In addition to considering skills-based hiring, you also need to be thinking about how you can upskill and reskill your existing workers as certain parts of their jobs are automated and/or as new facets of the role are introduced.
#5: Take the Reigns on Developing Future Talent
Step number five is to do what you can to take the future into your own hands, in the form of creating a program to develop future talent. Anderson of Tetra Pak spoke about the company’s Future Talent program, “Future Talent is our graduate development program designed brand new graduates coming out of university, for us to build our long-term strategy in developing that new talent,” she says. “We have a technical track to close the skills gap between industry and the skills that we require in the organization. We don’t really expect graduates to have the skills that they might need, that we might look for in somebody that does have experience. But we do look for potential, how willing they are to learn, how quick they are to learn. And the program is to expedite that learning so they can pick up those skills very, very quickly. If you pride yourself of being at the forefront, you really have to invest your time to get the talent that you need to have that competitive advantage.”
Anderson says, “It’s not necessarily about future-proofing, because I think that’s impossible, but perhaps future preparing.” I like that – prepare today so you are not behind tomorrow.