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March 30, 2022 | 22 Mins Read

Leadership Through the Lens of a Two-Star General

March 30, 2022 | 22 Mins Read

Leadership Through the Lens of a Two-Star General


Sarah welcomes General Brent Baker, a retired two-star general with US Air Force who recently published a book on leadership with a collection of personal experiences over his 37-year USAF career who also currently leads PTC’s Federal, Aerospace and Defense business unit.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be taking a look at leadership through the lens of a Two-Star General. I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today, General Brent Baker, who is a retired Two-Star General with the U.S Air Force. He recently published a book on leadership with a collection of personal experiences over his 37 year United States Air Force career. And he also currently leads PTC’s Federal Aerospace and Defense business unit. General Baker, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Brent Baker: Thank you, Sarah. It's really my pleasure to be here. It's exciting.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, I'm excited to have you. Okay. So I got approval on this beforehand and I'm going to switch to calling you Brent. So I just want to throw that out there for the listeners that I okayed that.

Brent Baker: Perfect.

Sarah Nicastro: So, Brent, tell us a little bit more about your journey and how that led itself to this new book.

Brent Baker: Sure. Well, I really come from a military family. My father served, I had uncles who served, so I always kind of thought I would end up joining the military and serving my country and I did. So right after high school, I joined United States Air Force. I spent six years as an enlisted member. Then I went to officer training school and became an officer and spent 31 years really doing all things logistics for the Air Force. And I was very blessed and fortunate.

Brent Baker: I was promoted along the way and actually made the rank of Major General. So when you're an enlisted member and become an officer that term is called a mustang, and it's fairly rare to have a mustang officer. And then for those that to make general officer, I think it's even rarer. I don't know that exact percentage, but it's a very small percentage. So I was just really blessed to have an amazing Air Force career. I was a seven-time and commander of different organizations from small units to very large units. I spent a lot of time throughout the country, overseas. Moved 27 times in 37 years. So we did a lot of moving, but it was really a wonderful Air Force career. And then I just transitioned into the private sector as you mentioned, working for PTC, doing really all kinds of the latest technology and software.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So I guess before we even get into the questions that I had planned, how long ago was that transition into the public sector?

Brent Baker: So I've been, I transitioned out of the Air Force little, it's almost seven years. It'll be seven years this summer.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So how would you describe the biggest differences in leadership between the military and the public sector?

Brent Baker: Well, that's actually a wonderful question because before you leave the service, I don't think it's just the Air Force, you hear this in different services. You kind of hear all these horror stories. "Oh, it's dog eat dog in the private sector." And the only thing that matters is making the almighty dollar. But I will tell you, that has not been my experience. I've actually worked, I just did some consulting for a company that I worked with PTC, and it's been in a good way, very surprising how ethical these companies are and how much teamwork matters. And so my transition has actually been fairly easy because I feel like the companies that I've worked for, they're very similar to the Air Force when you talk about being honest, and doing what's right, and the importance of teamwork. So it's been about six years or so, but it really doesn't feel that much different to me to be quite honest.

Sarah Nicastro: You know, it's so funny how of course we all have our preconceived notions. Anyone that says they don't is lying. And it's, that wasn't the answer I was expecting. And the reason is because, now don't get me wrong, of course I would expect that things like integrity and honesty would be a part of the military experience. But to be quite honest, when you said that the impression in the military is that the private sector is more dog eat dog, I would think the opposite. Like I would think that the military experience is very harsh and hard and that's probably because of the perception that's created around a lot of it, but I think that's really interesting. That just wasn't the answer I was expecting.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think we'll talk about that a little bit more as we go, because we're going to talk a little bit about some of the experiences you had with leaders in the military and some of the experiences you had as a leader. And then we can also talk about what that's looked like since you've been on the outside. So when you think about your journey and you think of examples of leaders who had a very positive impact on you, what was it about their leadership styles, or traits, or tactics that left such a lasting impression?

Brent Baker: Well, I think one key characteristic is, I was really always drawn to those folks that I feel like lead by example. They don't just say a bunch of words, "Hey, here's some expectations" and they go do the opposite. I think I was really kind of drawn the leaders that would give you that speech, if you will, here's what we're going to do that then did it themselves. I've had a variety of leaders, commanders, and bosses throughout my years. And they're all very, they're all different, really is night and day. But I think that's one really, attribute, I would say is like this leading by example. A great example is, or another great attribute I look for, I think was kind of drawn to, is those folks that really took care of their people. A lot of leaders that say, "Oh yeah I care about my people. I want to take care of them." And then they don't necessarily do that.

Brent Baker: The leaders that I really tried to emulate, if you will, is the ones that really worked hard to take care of their people. I was very fortunate. I had some amazing bosses throughout my career that really helped me to get to where I ended up. That would've never happened without them, like putting me in for special awards or, recognize me with a decoration, or things like that. And that just showed me that's what I needed to do for my people. And so those are just really a couple examples of things I just noticed. Really in great leaders. And that's either in the Air Force or in the private sector side.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think what you're describing and even going back to the first question I asked just about your journey, you said a couple of times how fortunate you've been. And I think it's really important when someone can reflect on what they've achieved and recognize that it isn't a solitary effort. Okay. So the reality is, there are a lot of people that work hard, that for a variety of reasons, don't achieve certain goals, or objectives, or statuses, or what have you. And I think it's important to acknowledge that. I also think it's indicative of the type of character that makes for a strong leader, because there's this recognition that you can't do it alone. Right? And so when you talk about the attribute of the leaders you most admired, took care of their people, I think it's because really good leaders recognize that they really aren't that great on their own.

Sarah Nicastro: They are as strong as the sum of their parts, right? And so the more they recognize, and value, and nurture their teams, the better they become. It's the ones who are kind of self-centered and power hungry, who you feel bad when you work for them because you hear them talk about an accomplishment and they never mention the 20 people that helped them achieve that accomplishment. I mean, those are the opposite of what you're referring to. And I'm not exactly sure what adjectives you would use to describe those differences, but I do absolutely agree with you that one of the strongest leadership traits of today is this idea of taking the focus off of you and sharing that with the people that are on your team. So.

Brent Baker: Sarah, I agree a hundred percent. A matter of fact, one of the key, I would say one of the lines that kind of flows throughout my book is this idea of servant leadership. Some folks think you're the leader, you're on top. Everybody's serving you. And really the view is really kind of the opposite. Yes, you are the leader, but you're responsible for all these people. And part of your success is making sure they're successful. And so it's kind of taking that old mentality of, I'm in charge, I'm the leader, I'm due everything. Kind of switching that around and say, you're very fortunate, you're very blessed to be the leader. How are you taking care of the mission? How are you taking care of the people? It's just a different mindset. And that's one of the themes that I've tried to weave throughout my book. And the other one is, I think we're all leaders. I tell folks all the time, everybody has a leadership role. You may not consider yourself a leader, but you're leading someone whether it's a church, or a sports program, or your family. And so I tried to really kind of weave that theme in there as well. It's like, everyone's a leader and it's very important that you understand that.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative) You know, going back to the servant leadership thing, I think that's a really good point, but I would say, here's a comment. I want to see if you agree with this. I think servant leadership is important. I think there are a growing percentage of leaders who kind of embrace that mentality because they genuinely want to have a positive impact on people's lives. Okay. But let's take altruism out of the equation. Okay. And let's just look at it in terms of profit and loss, hitting goals, achieving objectives. There's also a reality that anything but servant leadership, anything, but building up teams is a recipe for failure today. And I think that's the nature of the digital age. I mean, the fact that business is not today what it was 20 or 30 years ago. The pace of change is so fast. The amount of data and volume of decision making and the diversity and skill sets that a company needs to be successful.

Sarah Nicastro: The idea of being like the one at the top, it's an impossible goal to have anymore. Which is why the leaders that are most successful are the ones who can curate the best team of talent and then empower that talent to do what it is they're good at. And I think the acknowledgement of that is kind of looking at the role servant leadership can play in helping your organization be successful. That's not to say, don't do it for the right reason. Do you know what I mean? Or do it because it's the right thing to do. But I'm just saying that, this old mentality of dog eat dog and do whatever it takes, at all costs, drive hard, treat people like lines on a spreadsheet type of thing, right. It just is not conducive to thriving in today's ecosystem. So I think there's something to be said too about acknowledging the fact that this idea of servant leadership is really a tool to help you grow your bottom line at the end of the day.

Brent Baker: No, I agree. I think you're talking a little bit about situational leadership as well. I think you really understand those folks that you read. There are times when you have to be very directive. Like if you're in a major crisis, I mean obviously, you have to be very directive in nature, but for the most part, I think you're exactly right. Folks have changed throughout time. Technology has changed. People do a lot more today than they've ever had to do. And I think a successful leader is one that's really understands that and is really a good team builder, that's able to be really good and effective teams. I think you'll get a lot more out of your team if you will, when you operate and lead that way.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. So I asked you about the traits of the leaders that stand out in your mind. When you think about your own leadership, what characteristics or moments are you most proud of?

Brent Baker: Well, some of the moments I'm really proud of is, I talk a little bit about leading by example. I would say that's probably my strategy for leadership. I didn't really ask anyone to do anything that I hadn't done or wasn't doing at the time. Examples, Air Force implemented a new physical training program, if you will. And I was one of the first people to go out, really embrace it, and lead teams, and make sure that people weren't struggling, were able to pass the new PT test. So I've always tried to do that in everything I've done. The other thing I've really worked hard on is communication. And that's another key part I've got in my book about the importance of communication, because I think it's one of the toughest things we do. I mean, we've all played that telephone game where you start a conversation at one end of the room and by the other end, the message has completely changed.

Brent Baker: And I really worked hard on to communicate my message and the proper message. And sometimes I had very large organizations and so I had to be very creative how I did that. And then the other one I would just say is kind of the power of being positive. Which I really learned from my wife. She's a very positive person and I wasn't always positive in my life. And I started kind of, again, looking at her leadership style and I quickly realize that it's really, very powerful, this powerful of being positive. And so I started using that in my leadership style as well. So those are some of the things I'm really proud of. That I was able to be the leader and I think most people really enjoyed working with me. And so those are maybe two or three of the really big ones.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Now you said you feel like everyone needs to recognize that they're a leader in some way. Okay. However, that doesn't necessarily mean everyone's a good leader. Right?

Brent Baker: Right.

Sarah Nicastro: So if you think about good leaders, like really good, great leaders, do you feel like those leaders are born or made?

Brent Baker: I've really thought a lot about that. And I even addressed that in my book and I really think it's a combination. I do believe there are some people that are just born with natural leadership traits that may, or conducive to leadership. But having said that, even if you don't have those inherit or born skills, I personally believe you can still be a great leader. And so, to me, it's a combination of both these, kind of what you're born with and then also being a great student of leadership. And that's another reason I really felt compelled to take the time to write this book because one thing I tried to do throughout my life and career, is really look for those good and bad leadership examples and to really learn from those. And then I also did a lot of reading. If I could find a leadership book, I would read it.

Brent Baker: And I really tried to make myself a student of leadership throughout my life and my career. And I would also say, even if you're born with those traits that make you a great leader, as we've already discussed, leadership is very situational. Times change. Technology changes. And so to me, if you're going to continue to hone your skill, you got to constantly be a student of that skill, whatever that is. In this case, we're talking leadership. That's why I think it's so important to constantly read and to be a lifelong student of leadership.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that's a really good point. And I would say, the part that people are born with probably is more related to personality. Right. Because I mean, you're not necessarily born with any skills. I mean, you learn those. Right. And from experience. Right. But I think there are people that have certain personality characteristics that maybe make them either, A, more inclined to lead well, and then B, more magnetic where people are drawn to them. Right. And so, but what's interesting, we had an author on the podcast a few months ago, Jack Wiley. And he gave me a statistic from his research. I want to say it was around 70%. I might be off by a percentage point, but it's 70% of leaders have not had any formal training. And so it's interesting because there was a book written in, I think it was 1969, The Peter Principle, I don't know if you're familiar with it.

Brent Baker: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: But essentially, the Peter principle is for those that aren't this idea that leaders are advanced and promoted to their level of incompetence. Meaning, you do such a good job in a role that you get promoted until at some point you're promoted into a role you're not competent to do. Right. And so I think this point that you're making about being a student of leadership is so very, very important because I think it is a bit different then kind of the older thinking of, "Okay, well, I've achieved this level and now I've earned it or I'm worthy of it, and now I just maintain it." Right. I don't think that that's the way to do it. And I think this idea of being aware that people change, times change, technology change, as you said, and making sure that you're investing in yourself as a leader is super, super important.

Brent Baker: It's a wonderful point. And I'm familiar with the Peter principle. I've heard it throughout my career. And I was always one of those folks where I never wanted to be an example of the Peter principle, if you will. And so to me, that student to leadership is kind of how I summarized that. I've got another part in the book where I talk about learn, grow, move. Because I think another way to make sure that doesn't happen or help prevent it is like once you become skilled in an area and you've really learned it, it's time to move. Some people are really comfortable in a job and they do it for years. But then when you do get promoted, you have to have a new skill set. So I see that as a student of leadership is, once you've kind of learned or mastered an area as best you can, you can't always control that, but the idea is, as soon as you can go do something new, that's the way to do it.

Brent Baker: And just a quick example. So, when I become the Vice Commander of Air Force Materiel Command, that was probably my largest command, if you will. Thousands of people, hundreds of millions, actually, I think billions of dollars. And I found myself pleasantly surprised that I was actually well prepared for that. I think it's because I had been a commander, I'd moved so many times, I'd done several different bases that was inside that command. And so my point is, I think being a student of leadership, that's the mentality that you have to have, that you've always learned, grow, moved. You got to learn more, you got to understand how people think and operate today. And that'll help hopefully make you avoid the Peter principle where you're always ready to lead.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah. So we talked about leading by example. We talked about treating people well. We talked about communication. Is there anything else that comes to mind when you think about leadership traits that are timeless?

Brent Baker: I think, and again, I want to just emphasize, that's really what I try to do in the book is really write something I think are timeless. I even put a small thing in there about email management. I'm not sure that's timeless. We'll probably have email forever, I guess. But the point is, I really tried to write this where these leadership examples and tips that I provide, I think are timeless and I really wanted to make them reflective and not prescriptive. And what I mean by that is, I want people to be able say like, "Well, what is my leadership style? How do I communicate? Am I positive person? Am I negative?" But just some simple things in here about the importance of being a mentor. I don't think that will change. I mean, people are always looking to those they work with and work for. How can they learn from it?

Brent Baker: I think being a mentor is really important. And one point I make in this book is, try to mentor those with a vision. They kind of know what they want to do in life. I was very big on that. Again, I think we talked about taking care of your folks. I don't think that changes. Throughout the years, I think that's going to be a very important principle. Expectations. One chapter I have in there is about setting expectations upfront. Again, I don't think that'll change. I think that's very important. So people understand who you are.

Brent Baker: One thing I always did when I took over unit, I would set expectations upfront. I would tell them about my leadership style because I wanted them to understand really who I was upfront. One thing I would say that I think has changed as a result of technology and I don't think it really should, but as a leader, I think you have to make tough decisions. And I think that's one maybe skill set as in leadership we've lost today. Because it's easy with technology just to push, just keep pushing the idea of the decision up to the next level because it's so easy today with advancement of technology. But to me, a leader has to make the tough calls, has to make the tough decisions. I think that's part of being a leader.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Okay. Now, if you think about where you started and some of the leadership experiences you had early on, and then what all of this looks like today, are there characteristics or behaviors or tactics that are, I guess newer, or maybe weren't necessary at one point that had become more so today. Like is there anything different then the traits you consider timeless, that you think are important for folks to be thinking about today?

Brent Baker: Well, I think one that's, maybe a couple comes in my mind. One, is the power of technology. We've kind of discussed that, that's kind of been woven throughout our discussion, but technology and I work with technology today, I'm just constantly surprised at how fast technology is changing. With the invention, like the internet of things, augmented reality, virtual reality, remote service. I mean, we're so connected with phones, and iPads, and computers. To me, you can never get away from this technology. So I think that's one that as leaders, we really figure out. We have to figure out how to use it, to embrace it, and to make it work for us in a positive manner. A great example, for years the Air Force kind of tried to stay away from things like Facebook, and Twitter, and things like that.

Brent Baker: And looking back, that was probably a wrong decision because to me, that's what folks use today. So we need to figure out how to embrace it. So my point is, I think we got to figure out how to really embrace technology. And the other thing too, I think we have to look at the folks that we lead. How, what they respond to. My early generation, somebody they just told us "Hey, go out and do something." We just did it. They told us to do it. But you know, the young folks don't operate like that today. They want to understand why they're doing it, how it fits the mission, how it impacts the environment. I mean, I think they're bigger thinkers. And to me, you have to really be able to understand that if you want an effective leader.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there's more power in understanding it than there is ignoring it or hoping it'll change. Do you know what I mean? Like its, avoidance is not necessarily a good strategy. Okay. So you talked about being a student of leadership and continuing to learn and to grow. And I think that's super important, but I think that requires two parts in my mind. One is inspiration. Right. So, and the other is information. But I think with one, or if you only focus on one or the other, you're lacking something. Right. Because I think to your point, this idea of being positive. Right. And that can look different for different people. It's not about being fake or being a cheerleader, but it's about recognizing the fact that people look up to you and what tone are you setting type of thing.

Sarah Nicastro: I think particularly if you look at, I'm sure some hard circumstances you faced in the Air Force and you look at the fact that we've been in the midst of a pandemic for the last couple of years, there are times where that's not easy to do. And so that's where I think inspiration comes in. And then information in the sense of really learning those new skills, or methodologies, philosophies, the things that are going to help keep you up to speed. So how have you tackled this? What sources of inspiration or information have you found most helpful over the course of your career?

Brent Baker: Well, I think my inspiration really comes from a lot of different areas. And what I mean by that is, I always try to look for really good leadership and emulate that. So that's been the inspiration for me. And I mentioned it earlier, I think you can find that in all walks of life, all different genres. I think you can look for that. And that's one thing that's really inspired me, and I've tried to do the same thing. I've tried to encourage people to really look around for those amazing leaders, amazing leadership models, how did those folks inspire you. Or sometimes we learn more, I hate to say this, but from the negative examples, maybe there was somebody that did not inspire you, or made you feel bad about yourself, or maybe they were a toxic leader, things like that.

Brent Baker: I think you can learn a lot from that. And that can inspire you not to be like that. And the other thing, I've always encouraged folks to learn as much as they can. Read a variety of books. History. Read leadership books. Read whatever interests you, but really try to, even if you're not going to school, really try to expand your knowledge-base. Because, and there's one point I'm make in the book, as you become a really, a very senior leader, you have less time to be inspired, to read, to do all those things. You got to do that to me, as you're up and coming. And I use a diagram of an hourglass, because once you kind of go through the hourglass, that time you had to learn, and grow, and be inspired, now you're the senior leader. You don't have that time. I think there are folks that wait, maybe very late in life to try to learn some of this and it's really too late.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So any other words of wisdom for people related to leadership?

Brent Baker: Well, we talked a little bit about my book. I hope folks will pick it up. And I really want to tell you my motivation for writing the book was, I've been a student of leadership throughout my life and careers, I mentioned earlier. And I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper and I hope people will pick it up and read it. I've got 50 leadership tips in there. I've got 25 different chapters. I think it's very easy to read. I try to use a lot of good examples, a few bad examples woven in to give... And again, I wrote to be reflective. Not necessarily prescriptive. But I would say if you're a student of leadership, even if it's not my book, just continue to reach out, to find things like that, to continue to reach, continue to grow. Don't be afraid to take chances. I think being a good leader, once in a while, you have to take some chances. It's not cut and perfectly dry. Sometimes you have to take chances. And I think to be a good leader, you have to do that as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Good. All right. So the book is called, Orders from the General. And where can folks find the book?

Brent Baker: Well, you can find it several places. So it's actually on my website, which is, You can find it at the publisher, which is X Libras, And you can also find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And so, yeah again, I'd love for people to go out. And I want you to know my motivation is not to make money. My real motivation is, I hope people pick it up, and inspired by it, pass it along to somebody else. Keep it in their leadership library, refer to it now and then, and that would just really make me thrilled. Because that again, that was my motivation for producing it.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Okay. General Baker. Well, I appreciate that. Everyone go check out the book. Thank you very much for coming and talking with me today.

Brent Baker: My pleasure, Sarah. Thanks so much. Wonderful interview. Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, you can find more by visiting us at, You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter at TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank for listening.

March 28, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

3 Assumptions That Can Hinder Service Success

March 28, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

3 Assumptions That Can Hinder Service Success


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

When I was younger, a “teaching moment” had me ruminating for days because my insecurity told me I shouldn’t need to be taught – I should already know. Thankfully, I’ve grown into someone who today values a teaching moment because I now know no one knows it all and I appreciate the opportunity to grow as a person. 

If you listened to last week’s podcast with Amy Herman, a New York Times Best-Selling attorney, former Frick Collection Head of Education and art historian who published a new book in December of 2021 titled, “Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving,” you witnessed a teaching moment in real time. (If you haven’t listened, go bookmark it now – it’s a great episode!)

Here’s how it went:

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. All right. So obviously one choice.

Amy Herman: That’s a word that’s not allowed in my program. Sarah. We’re never allowed to say obviously.

And at first, I just said – OK. But then I promptly said it again, so I asked:

Sarah Nicastro: Why the use of the word obviously is prohibited?

Amy Herman: I didn’t mean to catch you in a moment, snagged you. At the beginning of all my sessions, I lay out three rules. The hardest to follow is that for the time that I’m together with my clients, I ask them to refrain from two words, obviously, and clearly.

Amy Herman: The reason is, we live in work in a complex world. Nothing is obvious and even less is clear. So, you say, well obviously we have a case of X. What if I don’t know why it’s obvious? Am I going to stop you and say, Sarah, can you please explain to me why that’s obvious? Instead of assuming a certain level of knowledge and introducing a potentially antagonistic situation, say “It appears to me to be a case of X because of Y and Z.” Not only does that deescalate a situation but think about in companies where there are hierarchies or in the operating room. The doctor says, well, obviously it’s this. What if the intern sees something else? And because of the hierarchy, isn’t going to say, well, Dr. Jones, why can’t it be this? So, if the doctor were wise and thinking about pedagogy and say, well, it appears to me to be this tumor because of all the evidence of X, Y, and Z around it. It’s a better way to observe. It’s a better way to communicate. It’s more inclusive and it deescalates without having to say I’m deescalating. When my sessions are in person, if anyone says obviously or clearly, I make the whole room applaud. So, they’re reminded, oh, maybe I shouldn’t do that. And I want you to know you’re not alone. When I tell people that they broke the rule they use obviously again and again and again. It calls attention to a word that we’re using, and we’re not really sure what the implications are. 

What Assumptions Are Hurting Us in Service?

And this conversation got me thinking. Of course, about how I can do a better job of communicating my observations in a way that is conscious that they are mine and no one else’s, and that gives me the opportunity to welcome discussion or differences of opinion. But also, about how often we make assumptions – as humans, at work, and with customers. 

While it’s a natural tendency and not one to be ashamed of, it is a learning opportunity and something to work on. Maybe if we were to examine more what we think we know in service, we’d realize how much more we have to understand. Here are three areas where I’d guess many of our readers and listeners are using “Obviously…” statements that could be hindering their progress:

  1. Obviously, we know how to provide great service to our customers. Making assumptions about what your customers want and need is risky business. Yes, hopefully it is true that you know how to meet your current customer expectations (and, hint: you only know if you’ve asked). But one thing to consider is that there’s a difference between knowing and doing – so while leadership may “know” how to provide great service, the frontline needs to “do” it, and this requires a breadth of understanding, commitment, and ability on their behalf that “obviously” statements will quickly preclude. Another point to consider is that the definition of “great service” is changing very rapidly. So being too comfortable at any point with what you think you know can be detrimental to your ability to evolve. Rather than taking the stance of knowing, invest in the process of asking – continually – what your customers need. And think outside of the box – not what incremental improvement in your service would make them two percent happier, but what unmet need or significant challenge do they have that you can solve? Ensuring you approach your customer relationships in an inquisitive, open-minded manner is key to relevance. 
  2. Obviously, we should invest in X technology. I’ve seen this go awry more times than I can count. I think the most common scenario is that the leader at the head of the project is so confident in the needs of the business and the workforce that they plow head-in to a technology investment that falls far short when met with the realities of needs that were never really all that understood. Do not assume you know what your workers need to do their jobs well – ask. And listen. The other flavor of this is that leaders see a cool new tech that they automatically feel is a “must.” But is it? Maybe, but maybe not. Don’t assume that because it’s making headlines or looked cool at the last tradeshow you attended or was recommended by a friend that it fits. Investments should be purposeful and meaningful, and in no way does this mean they can’t also be cool but do your due diligence. 
  3. Obviously, we care about our employees. In the face of the Great Resignation, every company understands the need to speak to company culture and employee experience. But there is a big – and I mean, big – difference between throwing around some statements and maybe a gift card here and there to check boxes versus genuinely caring. If you do care about your employees, you’re asking them how they feel and what they need and you’re taking active steps to meet those needs. You are having one-on-ones and understanding the experiences of your frontline worker’s daily lives. You are investing in their mental health. You are recognizing and rewarding them and making sure they know they are valued. You are offering career paths and advancement opportunities to those who are inclined to grow. 

What other assumptions are risky in service? I’d love to hear! I really enjoyed the learning opportunity Amy presented to me, and I hope it’s something that makes you think a bit, too. 

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March 23, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

The Fine Art of Problem Solving

March 23, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

The Fine Art of Problem Solving


Sarah welcomes Amy Herman, a New York Times Best-Selling attorney, former Frick Collection Head of Education and art historian. The FBI, NYPD, Navy Seals, and Fortune 500 companies, among others, have hired her to help them solve problems. She has a TED talk titled “A Lesson in Looking,” and published a new book in December of 2021 titled, “Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving,” and she shares an interesting perspective on a fresh way to approach problem solving.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the future of field service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be talking about the fine art of problem solving. We all have our fair share of challenges that we are up against. And we talk a lot on future of field service about how leaders need to work on harnessing their own creativity and look for different ways to achieve the innovation they need to in an industry that is changing so rapidly.

Sarah Nicastro: So I'm thrilled to welcome to the podcast today Amy Herman, who is a New York times best selling former Frick collection, head of education and art historian. She has worked with the FBI, the NYPD, Navy Seals, and a number of Fortune 500 companies, among others, who have hired her to help them solve their problems. She has a Ted talk titled a lesson in looking and published a new book in December of 2021, titled, Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving. I think this is going to be a really fun conversation. I'm very excited. Amy, thank you for being here with me today.

Amy Herman: Thanks for having me, Sarah. I'm really excited to be on the show.

Sarah Nicastro: I have to admit, Amy and I spent a good portion of our time chatting before we even started recording because we just hit it off right away. So that was fun. All right. So I'm really intrigued about our chat today, but before we get into the meat of it, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself, your journey, whatever you would like to share.

Amy Herman: Sure. So I am what I call a recovering attorney. I'm a recovering attorney because once you're a lawyer and you leave, you're always an attorney and I'm also an art historian. And I like to think that I combined the practical aspects of each of those disciplines, legal analysis and visual analysis when I created my company over 20 years ago.

Amy Herman: Basically what I do. My company's called the art of perception and I train leaders around the world to enhance their observation, perception, and communication skills by learning to analyze works of art. And I know the two don't sound connected. I know the connection could be tenuous at best, but it really seems to be working. And it's taken me a long time to figure out why, but with my new book coming out, I'm not only trying to help people enhance their observation and perception skills, but now I want to help them solve problems with the same method, because I think everything is broken right now. And while I'm a half glass full person, that is what I do. I use works of art as the vehicle to get people to rethink their problems and the skills they use at work and at home.

Sarah Nicastro: And the two really go well together. Right? I mean, the idea of evolving your perception and looking at things differently is sort of step one of being able to solve problems, right? Because oftentimes you need to change your perspective a bit to be able to come up with solutions. So I would think they go really well together.

Amy Herman: They do. They do. Two things come to mind as we were discussing beforehand offline. I think the best things really do happen at the exit ramp of your comfort zone. And while we are hesitant to go there ourselves, when someone else says, okay, come with me, I'm going to take you to the exit ramp of your comfort zone. You're going to see things you didn't see before. And then you go back, it's kind of empowering too. And I'm using art as a set of data. I'm using it as a new way to think about problems.

Amy Herman: And I have to confess, as you can imagine, I've spent a lot of time in museums, but I don't like to get hung up in labels and years and artists, blah, blah, blah. I did all that when I got a degree in art history. That's all fine. But I saw a wall label recently that really struck a chord and resonated and has been undergirding everything I've been doing ever since then. And what it said on the wall text is how we look at things is fundamental to what we see. How we look at things is fundamental to what we see. So I'm trying to help people change the way they look at things. And in the words of Wayne Dire, he says, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I love it. All right. So as I was researching you, there's a number of terms that come up that I want to sort of clarify for our listeners before we kind of talk about what the method is and sort of what people should be thinking about. So the method is an alternative for problem solving that can be considered different from what we refer to as default thinking. So can you explain what you mean by default thinking?

Amy Herman: Yes. Default thinking it's actually really a reserve of comfort for us. Been there done that. You know, I've seen this problem before. This is how I can solve it. And default thinking is what we rely on. You know, example. I say this as a mother. Okay, kid throws up eight o'clock in the morning. You know what to do. You clean it up, see if he feels okay, you know check the symptoms and you know, he is not going to go to school, so you put all these things in place.

Amy Herman: At work, somebody on your team, a key person on your team, quits unexpectedly. Okay, I've had this happen before. Let me think about what to do. How could I put the pieces in place. So we can do it personally and professionally. Default thinking is been there, done that. I'm seasoned.

Amy Herman: What I want to do is change the default thinking and say, maybe there's a better way to do this. Yes. This worked for me in the past, but maybe there's a better, more effective and more sustainable way to do this that I haven't thought of before. So I want to give people a template just to move a little bit away from that default thinking, not abandon it completely. We know what works for us.

Amy Herman: Let me try something different this time to see if it works. And you know what, sometimes it doesn't, and it's an epic fail, but sometimes you fail forward. It doesn't work out, but you say, you know what, I tried it because I learned something. And sometimes you go back to your default thinking, but I want to give people another avenue because of all the problems we're facing right now, some of them are just intractable. Some of them are just such new dilemmas that I want to give people a new way to think.

Sarah Nicastro: Now that's what I was thinking when you were describing some of those examples that-

Amy Herman: You like the vomit one.

Sarah Nicastro: So no, I get it. Yeah. Would you say that there are problems for which default thinking works, but then problems for which we need to learn how to move past that default thinking?

Amy Herman: Okay. I'll give you an example. I was just writing up a proposal yesterday. So it's fresh of mind. There's an artist named Georgio Morandi, and he's an Italian artist and he never left Bologna. Or maybe he left once. He worked in Bologna and he worked in a studio and he painted the same subjects his entire life. Cups, vases, plates, bowls. And he rearranged them myriad times, painting after painting after painting. And some people rolled their eyes and said F Morandi. So boring cups and vases. But other people think he's brilliant. It's quietly subversive.

Amy Herman: He looked at spatial. He looked at appearance. He looked at light. He looked at shadow. He looked at weight and he thought about all the moving pieces and all the different ways that he could arrange these pieces. And that's what our lives are. Let's face it. We live our lives. We get up in the morning. We go to sleep at night and we have a certain set of tasks, but let's shift it. Let's move them around. Let's do things A, to make it more interesting. And B, hopefully to do things better.

Amy Herman: I'm not asking people to turn their lives upside down. Let's all drop everything and run to a museum. But let's look at art as a way of thinking about things differently. We all have to from point A to point B every day, but let's think about what's on that journey. What's at point C, what's at point D, and what are other things we can look at to enhance our lives, but also to be more engaged and get more out of it.

Amy Herman: That's how I'm using art as sort of that analogy like Morandi's paintings. I can show 20 of them. No two are the same. They're different colors. They're different lights. There are different times of day and it gets you to think, oh, maybe I don't have to do the same thing all the time. That's what I mean about default thinking and using the pieces that work, but thinking about what doesn't work and to deviate from that just a little bit.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I would say, just thinking about how this relates to our audience, right? Sometimes it's the minutia that is really where the problems get stuck, right? So you mentioned the fact that some people could look at his paintings and say, oh, you know, they're all-

Amy Herman: Same old, same old.

Sarah Nicastro: Olds. But you're saying like, there's a lot of movement in the details. And to me, that's, very similar to how problem solving would work for our audience, because yes, we're in a period of massive innovation and market pressures and demands, et cetera.

Amy Herman: Yep.

Sarah Nicastro: And so sure. Sometimes you're going to paint a whole new painting, right. With a whole new set of inspiration. But a lot of times it's looking for those details and looking at it that way. So-

Amy Herman: Absolutely. But there's something I want to throw in there when it comes to problem solving. This is one of the biggest takeaways of my book, fixed about problem solving. And I say this to people like you, and to me. We're all juggling a lot. Right. We have demanding careers. We have really interesting careers. We've got families, we've got a balance. Don't let perfection be the enemy of good.

Amy Herman: Sometimes good is just good enough. Sometimes you have to solve a problem and you need to put all the pieces in place because you got to get out the door or you can't let everything fall apart. So I don't think we need to strive for perfection every day. I don't. And you know what? That's hard. One because you think you have to be perfect. Think you have to fix everything you don't. So one of my biggest takeaways is don't let perfection be the enemy of the good. We don't have to be perfect all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a good point. All right. So we talked about default thinking. Tell us about your approach and how it provides a more innovative way to problem solve, how it gets people out of that default mode.

Amy Herman: Well, I'll give you the example of having two people stand in front of a painting. Let's just say I work with police officers. So I have two cops standing in front of a painting and I say, okay, take 15 seconds. Take a look at this painting. And 15 seconds is a long time when you're just looking. And then I say, okay, each of you tell me and tell the group here, what do you see? And it's not threatening because you're just telling people what you see. You're not telling me who Van Gogh is. You're not telling me what period this is. What do you see in the painting? And what is remarkable is that the two people will come up with vastly different narratives of what they're looking at. And it's almost self-evident to them that if this is happening in a museum in front of two paintings, what's happening at the crime scene?

Amy Herman: What's happening in the operating room? What's happening in the boardroom? And that it gives us an insight into problem solving that not only do we come up with different solutions, we have different ways of seeing the problem. So let's start at the bottom line, articulate what we see the problem is before we think of what the solution is and art gives us a vehicle that's not threatening. I'm going to use the F word. It's really fun. It's actually fun to look at art together and talk about what we see and gives us this model to say, whoa, whoa, whoa. Before we all dive in to solve the problem, can we just go around the table and each articulate what we see the problem as really being.

Sarah Nicastro: I love this. So I have a podcast I recorded not too long ago with a gentleman who leads the digital buildings business at Schneider electric. And we were talking about what he feels are the kind of traits of modern leadership. So how over his career he's worked to evolve his thoughts, beliefs, approaches to, continue to improve. And one of the points that he brought up is the idea of there isn't enough root cause analysis.

Sarah Nicastro: And it's making me think of what you're saying, which is people jump to solution before ensuring that everyone is solving the same problem, right. Or that the same perception of the problem. And so his point is, he didn't obviously give it in an art context, but his point is without proper root cause analysis, you have people racing off to solve their own versions of what they saw in that painting. And then, without consensus that they're working towards a common objective, so.

Amy Herman: Yes, and you know what there, and that method, that idea happens a lot. That execution happens a lot, but you know, where you run into trouble and why this methodology hopefully can be useful is sometimes in the process of solving a problem, you run into a roadblock that was unforeseen. You run into a roadblock and you say, oh, I didn't think of that. Now what? I just went so fast. So two concepts come to mind.

Amy Herman: One, I learned from a colleague of mine in the FBI and he taught me the concept of festine lente. And it means to make haste slowly. And I know that sounds sort of like an oxymoron to make haste slowly. What does it mean? It means we all have to get to the finish line. We all have to complete the project. We all have to meet the deadline, but we need to do it mindfully and purposefully and in synchronicity with others to make sure we get it done the right the first time because nobody has time to start all over again.

Amy Herman: And another example that I want to give you that I think is just so interesting about dealing with problems along the way. So in the wilds of Colorado, this past October, I don't know if you saw in the news, they had film footage of a wild elk running around with a tire around its neck. And once you got over the absurdity of seeing this elk with a tire around its neck, it was actually really sad. What happened was the elk had coming contact with human pollution. When it was young, before it had antlers, it put its head through the tire and then the antlers grew and they couldn't get the tire off. So to make a long story short, the green wardens decided to taze the elk. It took them a while. It's a wild elk. They couldn't taze it.

Amy Herman: They finally got the elk out. And when they went to shave the tire off, they couldn't, it had a steel band in it and they couldn't get the tire off. Times a ticking. You know, when you taze an elk. I don't know how many Elks you've tased-

Sarah Nicastro: No, not a lot.

Amy Herman: But you don't know to keep it down. So what do they do? They can't shave the tire off. So you know what they did, they said, okay, here's a new problem. They shaved the antlers off, took the tire off the elk's neck. It woke up and it ran away. Now what's the takeaway for us that are not tazing, wild elk. The overarching problem here is wildlife and pollution. Are we going to solve that problem? No. Sometimes you need to solve the problem at hand and not worry about the big problem or the undergirding problem.

Amy Herman: Get the tire off your neck is what I tell my clients. Get the tire off. And sometimes yes. Is it a bandaid? Sure it is. But when you really don't have the resources to solve the big problem that caused this, the chances of another elk getting its head through a tire. Sure. It could happen. This particular elk and solve the problem and be able to handle unforeseen circumstances. Yeah. It's an interesting analogy. I know, but visually compelling when you see the footage of this elk running around Colorado.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So tell us a little bit more, Amy, about ... I'm just curious, like when you work with organizations, we said FBI, NYPD, all the Fortune 500 companies, et cetera. What is the process like? So, what are you ... give us a glimpse into the work you do with them and what you're sort of asking them to do and how you're incorporating art into that process?

Amy Herman: Well, the first step that I take with any new client, it's always the same. A mentor of mine once said we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Use them proportionally. And so I listen to what my client's concerns are. There's a reason they've come to me. You know, they didn't just say, oh, let's call that Amy Herman. Let's see what she's up to. No, they're coming to me for a reason. Something's broken. They need team building. Morale is really low. I mean, given where we are in the pandemic, it could be a thousand reasons that they're calling me. So I listen to what their issues are, what their concerns are, and what they hope to get out of a session like this. And then I turn around and I say, okay, this is what I can offer you.

Amy Herman: So when I bring the clients in, we've had to do this virtually because of our current circumstances. But normally I go to the client and we look at works of art together. And I explain to them how we're going to use art as data. This is not an art history class. Okay. You're not in for, oh, let's look at some Monet's together. It's not about that. It's looking at artist data, bringing them to the exit ramp of their comfort zone, making it highly participatory, highly engaging. There is never note taking in my sessions. Never. Because if you're busy taking notes, you're not participating.

Amy Herman: Then I put everyone on the spot. I make them do exercises with each other. They have to close their eyes. They have to describe works of art. They have to visualize. They have to articulate. And my training work breaks down into four A's. Every new client, every new product, every new vendor, any new situation, you practice four A'. one, you assess your situation, put parameters around it.

Amy Herman: Two, you analyze it. You say, what do I have? What do I retain? What do I get rid of? How do I prioritize my information? Then you articulate it. You tell your team. You send a memo, you send a text, you form a plan and then you act. You make a decision. So I show them how to assess, analyze, articulate, and act in the sparest of terms, because everyone's so busy. Nobody needs anything more. And how that can break things down into digestible pieces, whether it's communicating your strategic vision for the company or whether you're trying to solve a really big problem. So with this artist data, we work together in interactive exercises. We work together. We open our eyes and the time moves really quickly. And my goal is that every single person that participates in my program or reads my books, leaves thinking differently about one aspect of their work.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So when you gave the example of the two police officers looking at a painting. We talked about the perception, right? So their perception, what they saw is different. And so the perception of a problem can be different. There's a couple other things I just want you to kind of define for our listeners. The second is visual intelligence. So what does that mean? And how does it relate to problem solving?

Amy Herman: Well, visual intelligence, spoiler alert is the title of my first book. And it's two things. Number one, visual intelligence is seeing what matters. We are barraged with information. We're on a 24 hour news cycle. We get. We have Instagram, we have social media, we have texts, we have emails. We have the old fashioned phones. Some people still call you and email. And our brains can't process all that.

Amy Herman: So visual intelligence is breaking down that information, distilling down to what you need. And that sounds like some kind of platitude. It's not. There are certain things I know that I can't look at social media before a certain time in the morning. I don't need that information, but for certain of my clients, that's how they communicate. So I know what I need to look at in a very focused way. The other definition I use for visual intelligence is seeing what other people don't.

Amy Herman: What does that mean? Seeing what other people don't. How do we look at our existing resources in a way that other people don't see them? And more importantly, how can we use them to solve problems? And the art example that I give you is a work of art by a woman named Rachel Whiteread. She made these beautiful, it's a hundred sculptures of beautiful wax and resin in a room. And when the sun shines in them, they're beautiful. You know what the sculptures are based on? The underside of a hundred different chairs. Who thinks about the underside of a chair? Nobody, but it's a negative space. And she thought, what a cool negative space. And she made a sculpture based on the bottoms of a hundred chairs. Do you need to know that? No. But she saw something that nobody else did. That's what visual intelligence is. It's seeing what other people don't and distilling all the information that we have to what you think you really need.

Sarah Nicastro: Now what about situational awareness.

Amy Herman: Situational awareness. It breaks down into two forms. There's short term situational awareness and there's long term situational awareness. Short term is knowing where you are at any particular moment. Right now, how did I get here? How did I get out? This is what we teach our children. How did you get here? What's the safest way to exit? What is the threat? What are you going to do right now being aware of your surroundings. Because as we know, when people put their earbuds in the rest of the world goes away. That really isn't the best thing to do in any situation. Long term situational awareness is a problem that you're aware of, but you haven't wrapped your head around it. You don't have a solution. You are aware of, but it doesn't have a solution. And it's sort of, it's looming. You say, okay, I know we have this problem.

Amy Herman: Like in the intelligence world, we know terrorism hasn't gone away just because there haven't been any terrorist incidents in the last two years, knock on wood. It hasn't gone away. So we still have to combat the issues that might not be at the forefront. So situational awareness is the here and the now, where am I? How did I get here? How did I get out? What can I do while I'm here? And long term is sort of a long range awareness of the issues and they're on your radar, but you may not be dealing with them all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Now those concepts, so perception, visual intelligence, situational awareness ... are these skills that anyone can hone or are there certain people who are more inclined or more effective at these things?

Amy Herman: Well, from an entrepreneurial perspective, I'm going to tell you that if the skills couldn't be honed, I'd be out of business. If everybody had to be born with this, I wouldn't have my company and I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I will say, that being said, there are some people that are better at this than others. There are some people that are aware, that are more aware than others. There's some people that can articulate their circumstances better than others.

Amy Herman: But I believe that we can leverage our own neuroplasticity to get our brain to think differently. And as one of my intelligence colleagues once said, and I steal this phrase from him all the time, because I think it's fabulous. He says neurons that fire together, wire together. And when I show you works of art and we look at works of art together, you are engaging your brain in a way that other stimuli don't do to your brain. So when you're using those neurons to fire, my hope is that when you encounter a problem, you'll be able to call upon them to wire to help you solve problem.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So our audience is business leaders, varying levels across varying industries that are all looking to solve problems related to innovation, digital transformation, differentiation of their offerings, company service and company growth, leadership. How does this formula apply to this type of persona?

Amy Herman: Well, let's start. Every one of those professions that you just named thrives on change. They're all working in a dynamic environment. None of those people can afford to be left behind. So I'm going to give you a quote from Henry James, which is probably the overarching takeaway from my whole methodology is try to be the person on whom nothing is lost.

Amy Herman: So what I'm doing is I'm using art as the data to reengage all of your senses, to sharpen your perception, to rethink innovation, to look at your existing resources differently, with the hope that you'll be able to solve problems, not just today's problems, but the problems down the road, because all those people in changing markets and leadership and startups, they are all poised. They're like elite, military squads. They know they're going to encounter trouble. They know they're going to encounter hostility and they're going to encounter change.

Amy Herman: So I want to give people a different template that they can fall back on. That's where we get back to that default thinking, that they can fall back on and say, you know what? There's a better way to solve this problem. And I'm using art as the data. And when I say that quote, try to be the person on whom nothing is lost. I want to realign your engagement. Think about not just what you see, but what did you hear? What your impressions and most importantly, how do you communicate all that to your stakeholders, your clients, and your colleagues.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let's say there's a listener hearing this talk and thinking, huh?

Amy Herman: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Because I can visualize a few of those, just thinking about some of the types of folks that might hear this and just think.

Amy Herman: Sure.

Sarah Nicastro: So what's your reply to that reaction?

Amy Herman: My reply to that and believe it or not, I thrive on skepticism. I love when I have a skeptic saying, are you kidding me? You know, this is a room of MBAs. This is a room of CEOs. You're going to tell me that this art historian is going to talk to us. And instead of thinking about art substantively, I'm not telling you to drop everything and go to a museum. I'm telling you that, how you're doing your work. And however, you're solving your problems to keep in mind that yeah, things might be hiding in plain sight. Yes. There may be a more effective way to do this. And yes, I have the resources to be better at this. And so by simply reading my book and rethinking your work and your world. Nothing I'm doing Sarah, as you see is rocket science. You know, I'm not asking people to turn their worlds upside down.

Amy Herman: I'm saying, take your model as you know, it. Let's shift to the left, shift to the right. Let's clean the lenses that we're looking at. Let's change our shoes. Let's look at other perspectives. And I can almost guarantee when you step out of yourself, because one of my favorite lines with my son and with my clients is it's not all about you. It never is. It may be your business and your company and your team, but decisions are never all about you. Step out of that. Look at it differently. Use your visual intelligence. And I can almost guarantee you'll come away with a different perspective. That's all I'm asking for. Different perspectives and you choose how to apply it. It's not radical as it might sound.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I also think, my thought is the people that are the biggest skeptics are the ones that are the most stuck in their own comfort zones. Right?

Amy Herman: You bet.

Sarah Nicastro: Otherwise you're not so resistant to the idea of trying something different, right? So they probably need it the most.

Amy Herman: Agreed. I'm going to use the corporate term. I'm going to talk about the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset and the people that are going to shut their eyes and ears to this and say, I do not need some crazy lady telling me to look at Picasso to help with my job. The growth mindset says, you know what, I'm good at what I do. I'm talented. That's why I'm in this position, but I need to keep growing. I need to sharpen my edge and I need to be innovative.

Amy Herman: The fixed mindset says, you know what? They hired me because I am excellent at what I do. I don't need anything else. And it's usually the people with the fixed mindsets that are resistant to my training and resistant to my methodology. And I'm sorry to say, they get left behind and they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces because in the end, all I want this work to be is empowering to the individual, giving them additional tools to do what they do and do it even better.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. All right. So if someone is open to this method, how do they know it's working? Like how do you know when you've achieved success with a client that you're working with?

Amy Herman: The simplest and easiest way that I know the methodology works is my clients come back over and over and over again to train not only their new cohorts, but to refresh the sense of inquiry and vision of their more seasoned team members. So I work in hospitals year after year after year trading, the new doctors, the new nurses. I've been working with the FBI since 2004, and the whole reason I wrote my first book is because I got this feedback from participants in my program saying, got to tell you how I use this. You know, I was in this situation in Afghanistan and I missed this or a nurse will say, I never thought of looking at this from so and so's perspective.

Amy Herman: And I thought this is just too good. I need to, I've always known that art's powerful because I'm an art historian, but I'm just channeling that power of art and giving it to people who wouldn't necessarily look at art for a living. And when they come back to me, not only telling me that it resonated, but with practical application, the greatest for me that the methodology seems to be working.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. All right. So obviously one choice.

Amy Herman: That's a word that's not allowed in my program. Sarah. We're never allowed to say obviously.

Sarah Nicastro: Obviously, okay.

Amy Herman: Because things are so complex.

Sarah Nicastro: Right? So, listeners could have obviously no, I did it again.

Amy Herman: See we do it all the time.

Sarah Nicastro: So now I'm going to trip myself up.

Amy Herman: Of course you are. It's okay.

Sarah Nicastro: Listeners, they can read your book.

Amy Herman: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: They could check out artful perceptions and learn more about how you work with organizations. But for those just curious about the idea, how could they get started kind of dipping their toe into this concept? You know, what are some ways for them to maybe test it out a little bit?

Amy Herman: Sure. So yes, you said they could definitely read my books. Artful perception is my website, which tells you about methodology. But if you really just want to try it out on yourself, two things you could do. If you're brave enough to go into a museum, I want you to walk into a gallery and just look around the museum. Don't read any labels and pick one work of art that speaks to you that you want to take home with you, walk up to it and just spend five minutes with it and figure out what is it about this painting that makes me want to take it home. Just spend five minutes with a work of art because you're going to engage your brain in a way that you wouldn't normally. And don't spend too much time in the museum. And only after that, read the label and see if your observations are in sync with what the label says. That's number one.

Amy Herman: Number two, if you're too busy, you don't have time, who can get to a museum. I take it for granted. I live in New York City. On your way to work tomorrow, I want you to go out of your way, either on your way to work or on your way home, go out of your way to notice one thing you didn't notice the day before. Actually look around, out the car window in the parking lot. In the walk in the supermarket, go out of your way and then come home and write it down.

Amy Herman: And I want you to do that every day for seven days. Just write it down. Again, it's engaging your brain in looking for something and making the connection between not only looking but communicating if just to yourself so you can help bridge the gap between what we see and what we say, because it's not enough to see. I work with CEOs. They're brilliant. People say, oh, she's a visionary. I have news. If you can't communicate your vision and your strategy, you're not so brilliant. So it's the idea of looking and communicating. That's what people can do in the interim. If they don't want to get the book right now, or they don't want to go to the website, think about engaging what they see on a daily basis.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That sounds good. Okay. You talk about recognizing relationships and red herrings. Can you tell me what that means?

Amy Herman: Sure. The idea of relationships and red herrings. We take certain things for granted. We know this person, but red herrings are things that we think we see, but we don't really know. And if something catches your eye, there's a reason it catches your eye. You need to be able to go with something. And also you have to make sure that the things that you're depending on really there is veracity there. You know, this comes back to, I talk about biases. A lot, people know all about it, bias, cognitive bias, blah, blah, blah. There's so many biases. The one that I think is most dangerous is the anchor bias. Most people don't talk about the anchor bias. It's the human tendency to believe the first thing we see or hear is true. And you know what? Think about the news we get all the time.

Amy Herman: You hear it. It must be true. Well, that's what a red herring can be. You can hear it. You say, oh, it's absolutely true. I'm running with it. Ooh, resist the urge. And if there's a question or your gut tells you to look elsewhere, listen to your gut. Look at your relationships, determine on what basis. Are they sound? Can I rely on them? And the things that you're not so sure, be sure to question them because there are red herrings that are out there and be aware of the anchor bias.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Can you recap for me why the use of the word obviously is prohibited?

Amy Herman: Absolutely. And I didn't mean to catch you in a moment, snagged you. At the beginning of all my sessions, I lay out three rules. Number one, don't write anything down. Number two, engage in the conversation because the more you put in, the more you're going to take out. And the third rule, which is the hardest to follow is that for the time that I'm together with my clients, I ask them to refrain from two words, obviously, and clearly.

Amy Herman: And the reason is, we live in work in a complex world. Nothing is obvious and even less is clear. So you say, well obviously we have a case of X. What if I don't know why it's obvious. Am I going to stop you and say, Sarah, can you please explain to me why that's obvious? So instead of assuming a certain level of knowledge and sort of introducing a potentially antagonistic situation, say it appears to me to be a case of X because of Y and Z instead of saying, well, obviously it's X. And you think of how, not only does that deescalate a situation, but you think about in companies where there are hierarchies or in the operating room.

Amy Herman: Well, the doctor says, well, obviously it's this. What if the intern sees something else? And because of the hierarchy, isn't going to say, well, Dr. Jones, why can't it be this? So if the doctor were wise and thinking about pedagogy and say, well, it appears to me to be this tumor because of all the evidence of X, Y, and Z around it. Better way to observe. It's a better way to communicate. It's more inclusive and it deescalates without having to say I'm deescalating. So just so you know that when my sessions are in person, if anyone says obviously, or clearly I make the whole room applaud. So they're reminded, oh, maybe I shouldn't do that. And I want you to know you're not alone. When I tell people that they broke the rule they use obviously again and again, and again. It calls attention to a word that we're using, and we're not really sure what the implications are. That's all.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love that. No, I'm glad you caught me and called me out. And now it's something that I'll pay attention to. See, this is what the self improvement is all about. Learning different things and applying them and working through that. All right, Amy, any other advice to close us out on problem solving? Any other comments you would want to share with our listeners?

Amy Herman: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it, but I'm going at the risk of repeating myself because I think they're points worth driving home. The two biggest takeaways from my talk with you and for people in the business world. I work with executives. I work with heads of companies all the time is really try to be that person on whom nothing is lost. Really try to reengage all of your senses internally, externally with all your stakeholders and on a more practical level, don't let perfection be the enemy of good. When you have to solve problems, solve your problems, get the tire off your neck and do what you have to do to solve your problems.

Sarah Nicastro: I love it.

Amy Herman: I would leave them with.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you so much. I'm thrilled to have had you. Really enjoyed the conversation. So the book two books, Visual Intelligence, and Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving. I assume people can find anywhere they buy their books and the website is If you want to take a look at a little bit more of what Amy does. So, be sure to check those things out. Amy, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Amy Herman: Sarah, thank you. It was really a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. You can learn more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureofs. The future of field service podcast is published in partnership with ifs. You can learn more at As always, thank for listening. 

Most Recent

March 21, 2022 | 6 Mins Read

Have You Unlocked the Potential of Upskilling?

March 21, 2022 | 6 Mins Read

Have You Unlocked the Potential of Upskilling?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Much of the conversation around the skills gap centers around how to reinvent recruiting practices to yield better results. While this is important, so is a focus on retention. In fact, I’d argue that retention needs to be getting more spotlight because we know it is usually easier to keep talent than it is to bring it in to the business. Last fall, I discussed how to navigate the skills gap we need to focus on controlling the controllables. In this article, I want to talk about a particular area of focus related to retention – upskilling. 

Upskilling is important to better understand, because it can be a source of value for both your employees and your business. It can play a very important role in filling gaps you have due to the challenges of hiring as well as the evolving needs of your customers. And, when done well, it can be a tool that helps immensely with retention. 

Upskilling can be driven by different objectives: customer needs that you aren’t currently adept at providing, gaps that exist in the business due to challenges hiring or due to innovation efforts, and what areas your employees are interested in furthering their development in. It’s important to consider each of these areas so that you can maximize the opportunities that exist around upskilling. Depending on the industry, business, role, and individual the employee’s interest in or willingness to upskill can vary greatly. As you create an upskilling strategy, you need to ensure you are prepared to meet the needs of employees who are resistant to change but need to upskill in some way to maintain relevance as well as those who desire a career path where a continual progression of their own skills and capabilities will help them achieve growth. 

Upskilling Field Technicians

When we think about service specifically, we must consider how the role of the field technician is changing. We’re evolving from a job that is very transactional and mechanical to one that is far more focused on being a catalyst for customer trust, relationship, and loyalty. As such, the conversation tends to focus significantly on upskilling around soft skills. If you missed last week’s podcast, I interviewed Neil Thompson, creator of Teach the Geek and host of the Teach the Geek podcast, to discuss his personal journey as a product development engineer that found he needed to improve his communication skills when he was put into a position where presenting and public speaking was necessary. As a result, he’s created the Teach the Geek program to help others in similar position and weighs in on how companies can best upskill and reskill an engineering-centric workforce to have more soft skills.

One of the points Neil made very well is that for employees who you are asking to upskill (any who aren’t initiating the process because of their own desire to progress), you must remember to communicate the need in a way that connects the benefit to them. “It’s really difficult to be forced to learn something. So, if you’re a field engineer and you want to continue you to just do your job, fix whatever instrument there is, and then go about your day and rinse and repeat, then yes, those people would be difficult to upskill,” he says. “But if you’re a field engineer who wants the promotion and pay raises that you think you deserve, well, becoming better at communicating with others is a must. And, so, if you see it that way, then it’d be very easy to then convince you that this is something to get better at.”

Communication is King

Another thing to consider is that while we often think of upskilling as it relates to our older, more change resistant talent, we may have areas for which even new talent needs upskilled. For instance, you may successfully recruit a young technician with a lot of potential and strong skills in certain areas but who needs some work on customer communication. Two weeks ago, we had a furnace issue, and I called our HVAC guy – as he was looking things over, we started chatting about how busy he’s been, how the supply chain issues have impacted their ability to get parts, and how he feels about the young apprentices he’s recently hired.

He simply stated that, “my job leading this business is first and foremost as a communicator. Being personable, friendly, remembering customer details, providing prompt response, all those things are incredibly important. They are also very lacking in the younger workers who shy away from face-to-face communication and are more comfortable with their face buried in their phone looking at a diagram than they are returning a customer call.”

While soft skills are a very important focus for upskilling, they aren’t the sole area of opportunity. As companies progress further into their digital journeys, more skills are required there. As automation increases and menial tasks are eliminated, the need for employees to manage that automation takes the place of that work. 

We must also keep top of mind the reality that employees learn differently. So not only does ample attention need to be paid to communicating the upskilling opportunities available and their benefits to employees, but we also need to ensure we have a varied plan for how we deliver the training and education to achieve the upskilling.  

Critical Factors to Keep in Mind

As you consider whether you are leaving upskilling opportunities on the table, it would be helpful to look at upskilling not as a short-term solution to get a certain group of employees up to speed on one skill, but rather an important aspect of your continual improvement and retention strategies. Upskilling as a rule versus an exception allows you to regularly reevaluate what skills your business needs more of, for any of the reasons discussed above, and invest in “farming” those skills from your employee base. This gives you more leverage from the employees you already have, and it keeps those who want to progress and grown engaged and satisfied.

When determining what role upskilling plays in your long-term talent strategy, here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • As you map what upskilling your company could benefit from, don’t forget to ask your employees what areas they are interested in or desire. Not all will be, but those who are will be very thankful you asked
  • Be sure to communicate the why behind every ask you make of your employees to upskill – as well as any incentives you are willing to offer for doing so
  • Leverage those who do have the most interest in their growth and skill progression to act as advocates for your upskilling programs – often the firsthand feedback of a peer is what’s most impactful
  • Consider co-creating an upskilling program on a specific area with an employee for whom it is being created – again, this gives the program far more credibility among its intended audience and ensures you’re hitting the mark with what’s needed
  • Be sure you accommodate different learning styles and preferences

Is upskilling a focus in your organization? If so, I’d love to hear from you and discuss! Always feel free to email me at

For more on how service organizations are overcoming the skills shortage, check out the report we recently published in partnership with IFS here

Most Recent

March 16, 2022 | 21 Mins Read

Upskilling the Communication of a Technical Workforce

March 16, 2022 | 21 Mins Read

Upskilling the Communication of a Technical Workforce


Sarah welcomes Neil Thompson, creator of Teach the Geek and host of the Teach the Geek podcast, to discuss his personal journey as a product development engineer that found he needed to improve his communication skills when he was put into a position where presenting and public speaking was necessary. As a result, he’s created the Teach the Geek program to help others in similar position and weighs in on how companies can best upskill and reskill an engineering-centric workforce to have more soft skills.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to be talking about the need to upskill and reskill the frontline workforce with some soft skills and communication skills, and talk a little bit about is that possible? How is that possible? To what degree is that possible? Et cetera. I'm excited to welcome with me here today Neil Thompson, who is the creator of Teach the Geek. Neil, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Neil Thompson: Thank you for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, thanks for being here. So, before we dig into the topic at hand, tell our listeners a bit about yourself, your journey, and your program Teach the Geek.

Neil Thompson: It all stemmed from my initial struggles, having to give presentations in front of senior management at the second company I worked at. The first company I worked at I was a research associate. I only worked in the lab, I did experiments, wrote protocols, wrote reports, and went home, came back, did the same thing the next day. And I didn't have a problem with that. I did that for about two years. It was the second job that I took as a product development engineer where public speaking, or just communicating with people, came into play. At least for the first few months I didn't have to do any of that. It was very similar to my first job, but then it came a time where I was made a project lead. So I wasn't product development engineer anymore, I was the project lead.

Neil Thompson: So why the project lead? Well, the company was too cheap to hire project managers, so they pushed that responsibility onto product development engineers, one of which was having to give presentations on project status in front of senior management on a monthly basis. So we're talking the CEO, CTO, CMO, fill the blank O. All these people were in the audience listening to me give presentations. And those first few presentations were absolutely horrendous. I didn't know it was possible to sweat that profusely from one's body. Sweat's not supposed to come out of your fingernails, but there it was. And I know a lot of the other engineers that had to get presentations who also were made project leads. Their presentations weren't all that much better than mine. I think the issue that many of us have is having all this technical expertise, but not putting it in such a way that non-technical people can understand. With the exception of the CTO, basically everybody else in the senior management team weren't technical.

Neil Thompson: So a lot of the times what would happen is I would have to answer questions after the presentation that I thought I'd answered during the presentation, but because I didn't put it in such a way that these people could understand now I'm sweating even more. I was sweating enough during the presentation and now even after the presentation I'm sweating even more than that. And basically was a waste of time for myself, waste of time for the audience. It was just a waste of time in general. So I eventually realized that this is something I really should get better at. And I did just because of all the reps I had to do. I had to do this every month. And I basically took everything that I learned in becoming more effective at communicating with these people and I turned it into an online course and I called it Teach the Geek to Speak. And it's geared towards people like myself, people that have technical jobs and have to give presentations in front of others, and just how to go about doing it more effectively.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, when you started being in a position where you had to give these presentations, would you say it was more nerves or more not feeling like you related the people you were speaking to, or that they didn't relate to you? Or was it more actual skill of here are some of the things that make for an effective presentation, or just a combination of all of that?

Neil Thompson: Oh, it was all the above, Sarah. It was not preparing. So a lot of the times I would just get up there and talk, or in some instances it would be me preparing slides and just putting a whole bunch of stuff on them and reading them when I got up in front of people. And it's very difficult to engage people when you're reading, because you're not really looking at them. And then as I mentioned, ultimately, what would happen is I get these questions afterwards, so to then nerves even came in there. So it was just an amalgam of a bunch of problems that I had and the other engineers had given these presentations, and it just wasn't effective. And at some point, in case you want keep being a sweaty mess, you're going to do something about it.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. So the program you created, Teach the Geek... I mean, first of all, I think it's really cool that you saw the opportunity to not just... You recognized, "Okay, I need to get better at this. If I'm going to have to keep doing it, I need to get better at it." But you also recognize the opportunity to help others that were in similar positions that had the same struggles. So, I think that's really cool. I also think it's kind of outgoing, right? I mean, it forces you even further out of the comfort zone, because now you're not only doing the presentations and improving your own skills, but you are communicating with enough others that you're helping them improve their skills. So, I think that's really, really neat. Tell us a little bit about what the program is like. So, it's intended to help people who are going to be tasked with public speaking, correct?

Neil Thompson: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And it's an online course. Just kind of give us an overview of what's the length and who is it... It's geared toward folks like yourself. So people in highly technical positions that want to improve their skills speaking to a group of non-technical people.

Neil Thompson: Correct.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So how long is the program?

Neil Thompson: The program if you were to listen to everything from start to finish is about 90 minutes. And I made it that length on purpose. I didn't want it to be too long because I wanted people to actually finish it. From a bit of research that I did on courses one of the issues that there are with courses is the finish rate isn't very high, especially if there's a lot of modules to go through people. Initially it start off, "Oh, we're excited about doing it," but then somewhere in the middle they're going to lose interest and then never finish it. Well, if it's just 90 minutes, I mean, that's really difficult to lose interest.

Neil Thompson: I mean, you probably watch movies that are longer. So I made it that short on purpose. But then at the end of it there are exercises that I suggest people do to actually improve their public speaking skills. And you can listen to all or do all the courses you want, listen to all the podcasts, watch all the YouTube videos you want, but if you don't actually get out there and implement whatever you learn from these various resources you'll never get better. So I have exercises at the end of it to really implement what I talk about in the course.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, that's what I was going to say. It's part knowledge and information, and then it's part, like you said, you improved yourself just by a forced practice, right? And so there's an element... But I think to me it seems like another part of the value of this program for people is just the recognition that if they feel uncomfortable or nervous or this isn't familiar to them, they're not alone in that, right? There's also, I think, some comradery of, "Okay, I'm not the first person to feel this way, I won't be the last person to feel this way, and if Neil and these other people have improved I can improve too or learn these different skills." So I think that's really cool. So, Neil, I explained a little bit before we started recording this that... So, your experience is different than that of our audience, but not so much so that there aren't some correlations.

Sarah Nicastro: And what I mean by that is... So you were an engineer and you had to start giving these presentations. What I explained to you before we started recording is that within our audience a lot of companies are in a situation where they have field engineers. So they have field engineers that go out and do either installation or repair work on sometimes very highly technical equipment. And historically, their job has been very much just go to the customer sites, fix the problem and leave, right? And for a variety of reasons what those companies are asking from their field engineers is evolving a bit because the nature of service is evolving such that rather than just completing the technical work we're now also looking to those field engineers to play a very important role in building relationships with those customers, and maybe sharing knowledge and insights with them in addition to fixing the actual equipment that they're to fix.

Sarah Nicastro: And so, this gives companies the task of really upskilling and reskilling those technicians to be more competent at building and maintaining and nurturing those relationships. And so, while it is a different than your personal experience it's not so different, right? And so I wanted to ask you some questions related to this topic. You call your program Teach the Geek, so my first question is, do you feel like all geeks or all highly technical engineer type people can be upskilled in these areas related to communication and soft skills or no?

Neil Thompson: Oh, I would never say that anyone cannot learn a skill. If they're interested in learning the skill you can learn pretty much anything, and especially if you see the benefit of learning that skill. It's really difficult to be forced to learn something. So if you're a field engineer and you want to continue you to just do your job, fix whatever instrument there is, and then go about your day and rinse and repeat, then yes, those people would be difficult to upskill, but if you are someone who sees the benefit of becoming more effective with just communicating with others, then you'll do it.

Neil Thompson: And not only that, but if you're a field engineer who wants the promotion and pay raises that you think you deserve, well, becoming better at communicating with others is a must. Oftentimes, those are the people who get those promotions and pay raises. It's not necessarily the most technically gifted people in the group or the ones who are the best at their job, technically it's those who do a good job of communicating their worth to the company. And so if you see it that way, then it'd be very easy to then convince you that this is something to get better at.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now, if you reflect back on your personal experience, now you were kind of thrown into this situation where you had to do these presentations and you kind of recognized your own need to polish those skills or improve those skills. If companies are looking at this in a more strategic or proactive way like, "Okay, we recognize this role is evolving and we need to take more steps to upskill and reskill our field engineers with some of these soft skills and communication skills," what would you suggest they keep in mind as they kind of take on that initiative?

Neil Thompson: Well, there certainly may be some resistance to some. I mean, as I mentioned, there's some that just want to continue to do what they've been doing. And change can be really difficult for some people, but there're going to be people that embrace it. And so, those who do, well, they'll be more willing to go along with whatever strategy that the company has in improving these skills with these people. And for those who are more resistant perhaps if they see the benefits that the ones who did embrace it now have perhaps that's enough to convince them that this is a path to go down as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Are there certain approaches or tools, or types of teachings that you would recommend specifically for an audience that's highly technical?

Neil Thompson: Proof. You got to prove that this stuff kind of works. So, just even convincing engineers and scientists types to do anything they want to see some sort of evidence that this is something to even bother doing. So, having case studies of what people have been able to do when they've gone through, for instance, this course and how it's been able to help them is really helpful in convincing them that this is something that could work for them as well. And one of those case studies that I tend to use happens be one of my former coworkers. He was a product development engineer just like I was. And as part of our job, in addition to having to give these presentations in front of management, we'd often have to go to conferences and present either posters or even orally.

Neil Thompson: And so in the event that we were presenting posters, he would often shy away from a talking to the of people who'd come to our poster, and oftentimes that'd have to be the one to do most of the talking. But because he went through the course, he's become a lot more comfortable engaging with others to the point where he doesn't even work as a product development engineer anymore, he works as a product manager. And that's moving from product development to marketing. So if you're working in market, you're definitely going to have a more customer-facing position. So he had to have been way more comfortable dealing with others to have even taken such a position. So, obviously, something must have worked. I'd like to think that my course has something to do with that.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, that's really cool. So, when you work with people, do you find any commonality in sort of how technical people evolve through this process? Is every path different? Or are there are any kind of common stages or phases of what it looks like to move from being kind of uncomfortable to getting more familiar and kind of mastering the art a bit?

Neil Thompson: Well, I think for a lot of technical people there's a lot of technical jargon that they're comfortable with and they use amongst each other. But one thing that they have to understand is that the audience, especially if you're talking to a non-technical audience, they may not understand that technical jargon, so it'd be in your best interest to explain it or perhaps even use other words that are more commonly used. Because what would happen a lot of the times is people may not even ask what those words mean. They just won't listen at all. And so you want to avoid that scenario altogether. So, it's in your best interest if you're a technical person that uses a lot of technical jargon just generally in your daily life doing your work that keep the expertise of the people you're speaking to in mind when you're preparing your presentations.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. One thing I'm thinking about, Neil, as we're talking through this for the organizations that would be in our audience is it might be best to consider either leveraging an external resource or co-creating a program with someone on your technical team who is more accepting of the change, right? Because what I was just thinking as you were talking about kind of the jargon and that sort of thing is there's probably a lot of aspects to this where it's the creation of the program or the execution of the upskilling and reskilling is done by someone who isn't an engineer or isn't the technical person. They could miss a lot because some of the things that maybe come natural to them wouldn't come natural to others, or some of the kind of foundational elements like that, realizing not to use too many acronyms or too much technical speak.

Sarah Nicastro: And so, kind of the training of when you're talking about this with the customer here's kind of the level you want to present at, those sorts of things. You kind of need the firsthand or could benefit from the firsthand input of someone on your team who is highly technical to help with shaping what upskilling and reskilling could look like so that you don't miss important aspects, and so that maybe some of the technical people who are a little bit more resistant to change respect the program more because it's been created or co-created by someone like them. Does that make sense?

Neil Thompson: Well, it makes perfect sense. That's the main reason Teach the Geek is geared towards people like myself, because of that credibility I would think that someone like myself would bring as opposed to someone else that has a communications course who is in that field. I mean, there's a lot of communication courses out there, but are they geared towards people in the technical field? And if they are, were they created by people that come from that field? I don't know of any besides my own. So I think that's been really helpful in me just differentiating myself.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I think that that's just something to keep in mind is... You mentioned change is hard, right? And so when you're asking employees, especially longstanding employees, to really evolve the way that they've done their job for a long period of time, number one, like you said, it's tough if it's just force, force, force, right? The more you can create buy-in the better, but number two, think about how you're creating this in a way that shows you respect the technical talent, not that you're just trying to change it, right? Because you're not trying to remove technical expertise, you're just trying to augment it with some of the soft skills or communication skills that haven't been a focus up to that point. It's a really good point. Okay, so shifting gears just a bit, Neil, I know one of the other things that you're passionate about is creating more awareness around STEM careers, and particularly for black children. So, tell us a little bit about your passion in this area. And I know that you've written a children's book, so tell us about that as well.

Neil Thompson: Sure. The book is called Ask Uncle Neil: why is my hair curly? It's about my nephew asking me why his hair is the way it is, and I use science to answer the question. And the motivation for me writing the book is to encourage more black children to consider careers in STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. And I'm really keen on the messaging of my motivation. My goal isn't to convince more black children to go into STEM, it's to have them see it as an option, because ultimately it's your life.

Neil Thompson: You're going to go into whatever you want to go into, but I just want them to know that there's this other thing out there called STEM that is for them if they want it to be for them. STEM's for anybody who has the interest in it and is willing to do the work. It's not for any particular group of people. And that's what I really want to get across from the children's book. And eventually, it will be a series. That's the plan. This is the first of the series. So the series will always be my nephew asking me a question and I use science to answer it.

Sarah Nicastro: I love that. We've done quite a bit of content on this podcast specifically around creating more awareness of STEM and the skilled trades, right? We need to do a better job of emphasizing to young people the wide variety of career paths that exist. And I think to your point it isn't about advocating anyone go down a particular path at all, it's just about making sure that we're doing a better job of showing all of the options that are exist to all of the people that they exist for, and to make sure that girls aren't just presented with the options of becoming a princess, right? But there's all of these other options, and that we're doing a better job of representation when comes to, what do these careers look like? And all of those sorts of things. So I really, really like that, and I definitely want to check out the book.

Sarah Nicastro: So besides the book you have so far, and the rest that we'll be a part of that series, what are some of the other ways that you think we can all have a positive impact on making STEM, I guess, more prominent and more attainable for those who have an interest in it?

Neil Thompson: Well, it starts with talking about it. I mean, this seems to be coming full circle. If you're an engineer or a scientist who is adept at communicating with others, then you should be more comfortable communicating what you do with others as well. And this doesn't even have to do within the company, this could be outside the company talking to students about what you do. And that's really helpful. People can't do what they don't know is out there. So if you're talking about what you do as your job, then they might think, "That sounds interesting. I want to look more into that." But in the event that they never hear from you or someone like you, well, then they never hear about that particular position, that particular job. And then it becomes way more difficult for them to ever go into it unless they do some research and it's come across it happenstance.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I have two sons, Neil, five and six, and one of their favorite shows right now is Ada Twist, Scientist. And I love that for them. I love that they are interested in that show. I love how educational it is, but I also love how it just shows these career paths and different just things that we haven't done a good enough job showing and influence really early on, so that kids grow up with just more awareness that there are these careers and these different options. So you also host a podcast. So tell us a little bit about that.

Neil Thompson: Sure. It's called Teach the Geek Podcast. And I interview typically people in the STEM fields, a lot of scientists and engineers, about their journeys in public speaking. But then I also talk to them about their career journeys. And that's even been more interesting, especially for the ones who perhaps started at one place and then ended up somewhere completely different. One that stands out is a woman who got a degree in civil engineering, never worked as a civil engineer though. She then went to law school and became a lawyer and did that for a few years, but then she left that and became a stay at home mom for about a decade, and now she works as a personal stylist. Not the typical career path, but it's so interesting to hear those types of stories of people not necessarily starting... Well, starting at one place and ending up somewhere completely different and not feeling like they had to stay on a particular path, but then just they were willing to follow whatever interest they had. And those types of people are always interesting for me to talk to.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I love that. And I think that's the great thing about the program you've created with Teach the Geek, is people shouldn't need to feel stuck. I mean, there's so many options to learn and to grow. And if there are things about your professional life that you want to change, or if you want to completely pivot, it's good to know that's possible. And you have the power to make improvements, you have the power to expand your skillsets. And for people that want to, those stories of how people completely switch it up are really cool as well. Okay, so Teach the Geek Podcast, I want to ask you two questions, and I'm going to pause here to make sure I separate them because I am notorious for asking multiple questions at once and it always throws people off. So first question is, what words of wisdom or advice would you offer someone in your former position? So someone in an engineering role that wants to improve some of their communication skills.

Neil Thompson: Look for opportunities to do it, and don't shy away from the ability to actually get out there and do it. I think I mentioned earlier, you can read all the books and listen to all the podcasts, do all the courses you want, but you won't get better at it unless you do it. And don't be that disgruntled engineer or scientist sitting in their cubicle because someone else in the company got the promotion, the pay raise that you thought you deserved. If they were the one that was out there improving their communication skills, talking to decision makers, and they eventually got that position, and you didn't do any of that, well, you have no reason to be upset.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's good advice. And what advice would your words of wisdom would you want to leave with some of the people that listen to this podcast, which are those ultimately responsible for figuring out how to upscale and reskill those field engineers and help them become better at some of this customer communication?

Neil Thompson: Well, I think to convince people of anything you have to show them what's in it for them. And so if those engineers are told by the management, "Well, you know how people get jobs here, right? It's from networking, it's from communicating with people, decision makers, people in authority." If you're not willing to do any of that kind of stuff, well, then you're likely going to be that engineer or scientist sitting in their cubicle upset. And then that pushes it back on that field engineer or whoever the technical person is to think, "Well, I don't want to be that disgruntled person sitting in the cubicle. So if this is going to be something to help me so that I'm not that person, well, then bring it on."

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. The other thing I'm thinking about, Neil, going back to the point we made about change and all of that, this situation's going to look different for every organization, but one thing to consider might be the role of positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement. So, if you have the opportunity going into this to make it something where rather than penalizing people for not doing this effort, you can incentivize them to do it, then maybe you have more of those case study examples of "Hey, Chris just completed this and as a result he got a raise, or he has some sort of perk, and Chris can speak to his experience in a positive way." Right?

Sarah Nicastro: Again, it's about I think respecting the fact that we're all human and we have the capacity to change and to grow and expand our skills, but that the people pushing that agenda need to do so respectfully, and need to keep in mind how they're communicating the benefit to the employee that they're asking this of. That makes sense. Okay. All right, Neil, tell our listeners where they can learn more about Teach the Geek. So we have the program, let people know about that as well as the podcast.

Neil Thompson: Sure. So the program you can go to And if you want to check out the podcast... Well, you can either check out the YouTube channel or the podcast and you can get to either of them at And then if you're interested in learning more about the book, you can go to

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Excellent. All right, Neil, well, they thank you so, so much for coming on and sharing today. I really appreciate it. I think your story is a really inspiring one. And I think it's great that you've created this program and you are taking your own experience and using it as something to help others. And I'm going to check out the book for sure, and I appreciate you being here.

Neil Thompson: Thank you for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. You can learn more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

March 14, 2022 | 6 Mins Read

REMA TIP TOP Takes Aim at Outcomes-Based Service

March 14, 2022 | 6 Mins Read

REMA TIP TOP Takes Aim at Outcomes-Based Service


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

REMA TIP TOP AG, headquartered in Poing, Germany, is a world leading company in Tire Repair Products, Surface Protection (Corrosion Protection and Wear Protection), and Material Processing (Conveying Solutions and Conveyor Belts). The company has a hundred-year history and 8,000 employees with locations in more than 170 countries across the world. 

Like any company with 100 years of history, customer needs have changed and REMA TIP TOP must channel its legacy to propel the company forward rather than hold it back from the success modernization will bring. This means being open to evolving thinking, approach, and technology use. 

Thomas Moser, Head of Product Management for Digital Solutions at REMA TIP TOP is in the midst of a companywide transformation to address the needs today’s customers have that differ from those of the past. He has a vision for how he wants the company to be operating in 2025 but knows that bringing that vision to life starts today. 

Customer Considerations Expand

Traditionally, REMA TIP TOP’s industrial customers – companies in mining, for instance – have been focused entirely on output. This has changed as issues related to environmental concerns and safety have surfaced. Customers aren’t any less concerned about output, but they are balancing their productivity goals with the realities of having to consider the environment and the safety of their workers. 

“Customers want to avoid the negative attention that comes with environmental impact and safety issues. They’ve experienced some calamities, or have competitors who have, and need to avoid the repercussions of such issues,” explains Thomas. “As a result, they are putting more effort and budget into properly maintaining systems to prevent issues as well as to protect output. Huge mines, for instance, have a key performance of about 10,000 tons per hour. So, if you calculate that maybe one ton of iron ore is about $150 USD, then you can imagine how much money they are losing if this line is down for a week. This is creating more attention around putting effort into predictive maintenance.”

This means that REMA TIP TOP is well positioned to evolve its relationship with customers, because they want to put more focus on predictive maintenance, but they don’t necessarily want – or have the capacity – to manage that maintenance themselves. “This gives us the ability to showcase our capabilities in doing the maintenance and inspection for our customers. We  may agree on a service level contract with defined availability figures, so that customers protect output as well as safety without extra effort,” says Thomas. 

While the opportunity for REMA TIP TOP to transform from traditional service to an outcomes-based approach is clear, it isn’t a simple undertaking. Not only does the company have to align on the path, but the ability to deliver outcomes is dependent upon a strong technological foundation. 

Delivering Outcomes Requires Knowledge 

Thomas has been working on creating both the company-wide awareness that an outcomes-based service model holds immense potential for REMA TIP TOP, as well as the operational realities of bringing the vision to life. “Not long ago, our subsidiaries all operated fairly independently. For the company to move to delivering outcomes, we first needed to ensure our customer and systems data was stored in one place,” explains Thomas. “Centralizing all operations on IFS structures our data and allows us to standardize processes and ensure consistent customer quality.”

CCUBE is what REMA TIP TOP has coined its outcomes-based service offering, and IFS technology underpins this offering. “CCUBE is based on IFS technology. It's a cloud-based management system which gives us the capabilities we need for asset management, planning and executions of inspections, and for keeping all of our data and reporting in a single platform,” says Thomas. “The functionality of the IFS platform is what allows us to execute on our claim to keep our customers’ systems up and running. Further, it allows us to maximize the efficiency of our service delivery through the intelligence and automation build into the system.

REMA TIP TOP’s customer shift to an OPEX expenditure in return for the elimination of all headaches related to keeping performance and safety optimized.The company then relies on its ability to leverage technology and data to meet their target in a cost-effective manner. “We can’t accomplish this evolution by selling service packages and offering manpower, because with manpower alone it’s far too expensive to meet outcomes,” notes Thomas. “By monitoring the condition of our customers systems and then using the intelligence and optimization within IFS when manpower is needed, the value proposition of outcomes becomes achievable.”

As the company grows more familiar with the outcomes-based model, its use of technology can expand to continue to improve profitability of the new delivery model. “In the future, automation is a key factor for success – rather than a visual inspection, for instance, we can implement technology to automate inspections,” explains Thomas. “We can also rely more on artificial intelligence to analyze data and create reports that are today done with human intervention. The more data we gather, the greater our ability to mine it to see how parameters are influencing each other and when and where to take actions.”

The Roles of Enthusiasm and Patience in Managing Change

“We have to change – times have changed, our customers’ needs have changed, our products have changed, and technology has changed,” says Thomas. “Gaining the support of the entire company depends on telling the story, explaining the story, showing the vision, and showing the vision really far away, even if at the moment it looks like science fiction. And repetition – telling this story over and over until everyone buys in to it  and believes in it.”

There are three characteristics that have proven particularly beneficial for Thomas in leading change: enthusiasm, diligence and patience. “I think the most important part is enthusiasm.,” Thomas says. “Enthusiasm is how we transport our ideas to other people. I’m not invested in this because I have to be, but because I’m really convinced it’s what is right for REMA TIP TOP. Showing enthusiasm connects people to your story, your ideas, and your vision – and diligence in execution is what makes our systems deliver what we promise.”

Patience is also important. Thomas admits that change doesn’t always move as fast as he’d like. “It’s a slow process,” he shares. “There are no wrong ideas, but timing is everything. Sometimes you have to wait until the time is right to change. In 1992, I got my first cell phone. Reactions included, ‘You are stupid. Nobody will need this kind of technology.’ Ten years later, everyone had a cell phone.”

Take Inspiration from Outside Your Industry

On REMA TIP TOP’s quest to modernize, it’s been beneficial to seek inspiration and ideas from outside its own industry. “We’ve learned a lot from other fields,” says Thomas. “If you consider the air traffic control sector, for example, and their use of situational awareness – they know what’s going on and react accordingly. The same applies to what we’re working to do.”

REMA TIP TOP has also found inspiration in its relationship with IFS and the use of IFS’ Tailored Success program. “When we began our partnership with IFS, it was to purchase pure licenses – but we came to the point where we wanted a more all-inclusive package,” says Thomas. “Of course, we do have an IT department, but I want them focused on customer data not service management. I want to concentrate our efforts on customer-facing projects, not maintaining servers. With worldwide, 24/7 operations, I need a professional partner who takes care that my system is up and running all the time and my staff around the world is able to access data and use the platform.”

Does this sound familiar? “It's the same as we offer to our customer. IFS Tailored Success eliminates the headaches of self-management for REMA TIP TOP so that we can focus on the transformation we have underway,” says Thomas. “We depend on IFS for the outcomes of the platform so that we can make progress in offering outcomes to our own customers.”

Most Recent

March 9, 2022 | 24 Mins Read

IWD 2022: Break the Bias

March 9, 2022 | 24 Mins Read

IWD 2022: Break the Bias


Octavia Goredema, founder of Twenty Ten Agency, has coached leaders at renowned companies including Google, American Airlines, Tinder, General Motors, Nike, and Dow Jones, and is also the author of the new book PREP, PUSH, PIVOT: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women. She joins Sarah to discuss the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – Break the Bias.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Every year, we do a special episode of the podcast around International Women's Day. And we're doing the same today. The theme of this year's International Women's Day is break the bias. I'm excited to be welcome today by Octavia Goredema, who is a career coach, founder of Twenty Ten Agency, where she's coached leaders at renowned companies you're all familiar with, including Google, American Airlines, Nike, General Motors, et cetera. And also author of the new book, Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women. Octavia, thanks for being here with me today.

Octavia Goredema: Oh, thank you, Sarah. I'm happy to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: Before we get into the conversation, tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your journey.

Octavia Goredema: Oh, well, thank you for that warm welcome. And yes, I'm a career coach. I started my company Twenty Ten Agency because I'm really passionate about helping others to do their best work. And as a black woman, as I was starting my career, which began in England before I moved to the United States, I've been in here in Los Angeles I think 16 years now. I just started to see that there were just so many barriers to advancement and I'm really passionate about opening doors and making sure others have the opportunity to do their best work. And actually when I worked, myself with a coach for the very first time that I really had a light bulb moment and made a pivot of my own and trained to become a coach. And the work that I do is working with corporations, such as some of the larger companies that you referenced and also individuals. With companies help them retain talent, with individuals to find strategies to position yourself for promotion or to bounce back from losing a job or navigate a career break.

Octavia Goredema: But I recognize most people don't have the ability to work with a coach, Sarah. I discovered coaching when I was already maybe 15 years into my career. Most of the individuals I worked with, my team and I, we're the first coach they've ever encountered in their career. And so I realized there's a huge gap there. And so I wanted to write a book that would help underrepresented women navigate some of those really important and often challenging moments, especially if you don't have someone that you can work with one on one. And so my book was released here in the United States in the new year, and it'll be released in the United Kingdom on International Women's Day.

Sarah Nicastro: Nice, awesome. I'm glad we're here to have this conversation. I think it's really cool that you focus on helping on both sides. Helping businesses understand some of the ways that they may need to evolve or make changes, improvements, and then also helping to inspire individuals as well. One question I have is you mentioned the barriers when you started your career. How much progress do you feel we've made?

Octavia Goredema: It's not just actually the barriers when starting the career, it's actually as you are growing and developing in your career and the data speaks for itself. The pay gap persists. Before the pandemic, it was predicted it might take a century, Sarah, to close the pay gap. That's beyond my lifetime, your lifetime, my children's lifetime. Women of color continue to be the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline, almost regardless of industry sectors, data shows it. I'm really nervous and scared about what the data will show as we look back on what's happening right now. We've already started to see studies that show women are being impacted severely when it comes to unemployment and leaving the work force as a result of everything we've navigated and are still navigating through the pandemic.

Octavia Goredema: It's a really challenging and difficult time. And there's a lot of systemic issues that are contributing to the challenges that women face. As a coach, some of the work that I'm proudest of is the work that I've done during this pandemic in terms of supporting individuals in some of the most unprecedented and challenging times. There's still so much work to be done.

Sarah Nicastro: I think this year's conversation just feels especially important because we've seen the impact that COVID had and how it's amplified for women. I've been fortunate enough, privileged enough to continue working this entire time. I have two small children, but I have help. And I haven't had to sacrifice my career, but I feel so deeply for those that have been in that position. And so I think we're going to talk a little bit later about what are some of the things that companies can do to help get those women back into the workforce when they're ready. I asked you about progress because we've had a number of these conversations, one every year, the podcast has been around for International Women's Day, but also sometimes we feature women in field service, women in tech, women in stem and I have gotten feedback sometimes that if things aren't going to get better if you keep calling it out that way. It shouldn't be women in or it shouldn't be categorized that way.

Sarah Nicastro: And the first time I got that feedback, I really thought long and hard about it because I try to be very careful about just reflecting on my own practices and making sure that I'm not doing something with good intent that is having the opposite impact. But I think the reality is there's still so much work to be done. And I think that until it doesn't need to be called out then we keep calling it out.

Octavia Goredema: Yes, absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: Because I don't know how else we talk about it. I'm glad to be here doing that today. As I mentioned in the intro, the theme of this year's International Women Day is break the bias. And so I wanted to start by talking about what are some of the biases that you feel are playing a major role in still holding women back today?

Octavia Goredema: Well, there's so many. And not every woman's experience in the workplace is the same as anyone else's, but the data just shows when you look at the most senior levels of almost any company in any industry, the representation isn't there. The representation isn't there. When you look at what women are earning, it's not a parity with men when you look at the data. We've had legislation that's been put in place to address these things. And even those things still don't translate. Those things are still there. And then as a coach, I have a unique glimpse into what actually happens in someone's career. What happens after they are hired or as they are promoted and then after they're promoted and even senior leaders. And the things that happen day in and day out, no one else might ever know.

Octavia Goredema: There's a lot of biases or experiences that can be invisible even to somebody else who works alongside you, or is sat in the same meeting as you, always on a Zoom with you. It can be a very personal experience that not only is sometimes difficult to identify, but can be very difficult to talk about. Very difficult. Sometimes you don't even know if you've not been invited to a meeting that you should be, or if you've not been considered for a project or how do you know that in that moment as well. And so this is what makes it even harder. That's why we often then look at the studies and we look, well, how many women are there? And there's two black female CEOs in the fortune 500.

Octavia Goredema: We look at things like that because those are the indicators that we have, but the actual realities of what's happening day in, day out are invisible and nobody sees. And when you are building your career, what I often see as a coach is there comes a point, it's not the same point for everyone, where you hit a ceiling. You might not see that ceiling coming. You might not even realize you've hit it for a while, until you are actually reflecting and you're perhaps looking, or maybe looking at your peers or you're comparing, or you have a conversation and you suddenly realize, oh my goodness, that person earning how much, because it's not always immediately apparent to you.

Octavia Goredema: And this is what makes it even harder. And you mentioned you have children, Sarah, I have children too. And it wasn't until maybe five years into parenthood that I really realize, oh my goodness, a lot of these things are not my fault. I didn't make a mistake in terms of what I think it's just that the systems are not set up to support working mothers in many cases in the way that they should be. And that can be a very difficult thing when you are navigating this because you don't know.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Octavia Goredema: You don't know.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I've shared a number of my own experiences as someone who wanted to be a mom and have a career, and some of the things that have worked against me, some of the comments that have been made and are still made all the time and you mentioned some of the systemic issues earlier and I think that the reality is there are still very real gender norms and belief systems around that in place that are not only deeply rooted, but multi-layered, that it, to your point, can be really hard to point all of those things out. I mean, I feel like my husband and I have a pretty egalitarian marriage and it still is influenced by all of those things and the expectations and all of that. Now when you think about the theme of this year's International Women's Day breaks the bias. I know there are a lot and they can be hard to sort of identify, are there any that come to mind that you think people need to be particularly aware of or focused on?

Octavia Goredema: That's a really hard question to answer, because there were so many layers to that. And I think I would like people just to, regardless of their own gender and background, but to really perhaps ask that question of themselves and where can they support other women? Where can we, as women support other women? Where can we pay it forward? What are some of the things that we can do that can help support and amplify? Because I very much believe that these conversations continue, need to be had beyond March 8th and beyond Women's History Month, they just need to be ongoing.

Octavia Goredema: And so I think that would be the challenge that I have often. Often, I sometimes go into companies and work across the board, not just with women, not just with men, not just with individuals who are being coached, but with senior leadership as well to really think about how to set up diverse talent and underrepresented talent and want your female employees for success in the long term. In the long term. Because that's what matters, because it's not just about hiring women, it's about advancing women and supporting women throughout our entire careers. Yes, there's a lot to do.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Besides conversations like this, I mean, if you were going into work with an organization and speaking with them on how do we break these biases and stereotypes in a way that allows us to make more progress, what does that look like? I mean, what are some of the things that organization should be doing?

Octavia Goredema: Yeah. I think visibility and advocacy really matters. Be invested, identify opportunities to support women with their professional goals. As a coach, I see the women that are thriving in terms of the women I work directly with are the ones that have sponsors at their organizations. It's not just about providing what's needed for us to do our best work, but being there to support when we make mistakes and to show and nurture and amplify and be a resource. Often, as we progress, there are fewer and fewer role models we may have. And so it's really important that it's not just having someone to look to, but someone who is invested in your success. If you, as a leader and whatever level of leadership you are, always be mindful about who is on your team, or who is in your organization and the visibility of those individuals and those opportunities for those individuals and what you can do to make a difference.

Octavia Goredema: Because those opportunities can change someone's whole career, whether it's a stretch assignment or even a meeting that you are part of, or a conversation or a mentorship, or just understanding what might come next, or what they might be for you, can really change someone's perspective. The mentors that I have had and continue to have, have been transformative for me. And so I think it's having that intent, which can be sometimes hard to measure. It's not something that's always immediately tangible. A lot of organizations are trying to make those culture shifts to have these systems and to nurture pipelines of talent, not lose women as we progress. I think that is very, very important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. You mentioned earlier that women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline.

Octavia Goredema: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: What is your view on how that changes?

Octavia Goredema: In my book, I think I quoted a study from Working Mother Media that talked about 46%, only 46% of underrepresented women in their study had attended a meeting with senior executives in the last two years compared to 63% of white men. Advocacy, visibility, mentorship, coaching, professional development, it all matters. A lot of companies are trying really, really hard to diversify their recruiting processes and they're bringing it up. But it's retaining those individuals. That is just so key. That is so key. And that takes time. That takes time.

Octavia Goredema: Being an advocate also involves being a good listener as well, providing space to ask people questions and be responsive to what you hear. And so there are some companies that I've seen reports on who are actually, especially at the start of this year, who are actually making a real stake here and we have time compensation for executives to hitting certain goals and targets long term. This is important to us. And if we succeed, these are the measures by which we will, but it takes time. And so when you as an individual are navigating your career, you can't control all of these environments that are around you. And so the book that I wrote, Prep, Push, Pivot, I really wanted to support women who are navigating this. And also if you are a leader who has underrepresented women on your team, read the book and it gives you a perspective on perhaps some of the questions and challenges that we are considering that might not have been front of mind for you and awareness and understanding, I think is really important.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. When it comes to retaining diverse talent and some of the considerations that are maybe unique to women, what do you feel like is some of the most important things. What are some of the needs that companies need to accommodate or address to be able to retain and develop more women?

Octavia Goredema: I think providing the visibility that I talked about too, and also those stretch assignments and opportunities, they've been countless reports that talk about how, when we are looking at roles, whether that's for promotion or new roles, women tend to look at all of the job description an see where we align. And if we align with 80 or 90% of it, yes, we can do that. Well, in comparison, more often than not, men will just put their names forward regardless.

Octavia Goredema: And I've seen that play out in my own household. I was talking to my husband about an opportunity a female friend of mine was considering that she was a little concerned about some components of the job description. And my husband said to me, "Who reads job descriptions? If I want a job, I just go for it." He said, he said, "If I read the job description, I won't be able to do half the things on there so I don't want to pay attention to those things." And so identifying when you see potential, nurturing that potential and creating conversations and opportunities and exposure to get that pipeline of women to feel supported and amplified and ready and mentored, because that is so key when we are breaking barriers of our own, the next opportunity, even the one that we can't see yet are the ones where we want senior leaders to be identifying, highlighting, nurturing for those things.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Octavia Goredema: That's what's so important. Providing space to grow whether you at the start middle or more senior in your career.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I guess what I'm trying to do in my mind is take some of these points that are important, that there are also fairly broad. Like when we talk about create awareness and advocate, I mean yes, but if I'm listening to this and those things aren't intuitive to me, then what does that look like? And what I'm thinking about is three areas, at least that come to mind. One is company culture in a few ways. Number one, I mean, there are companies for which this is genuinely important and a authentic objective. And then there are companies who have these initiatives simply because they have to. But then I would also say related to company culture is the environment that is created to uncover and acknowledge biases to speak up and speak out to have leaders lead by example, in terms of making the culture, working woman friendly, working mom friendly.

Sarah Nicastro: I don't think that a lot of working moms can succeed in a certain type of ultra rigid culture that is a little bit more outdated. The second thing I think of is programs or systems. Some of the things that we've talked about, starting with awareness, but also mentorships and career development paths. Those are all things that companies should be focused on building out so that it isn't leaders who want to play a role in this aren't trying to create the wheel every time. There's sort of a process and a system to help accomplish these goals.

Sarah Nicastro: And then I think the third is leadership enablement. Because there are leaders for whom this will be a personal goal or commitment, but there are those that it's not. So you mentioned perhaps they're incentivized to play a role in this. The other thing is perhaps they are trained or coached in their own right to be better adept at recognizing their own biases and examining what do their teams look like and what does that mean and things like that. I don't know. Those are kind of the three things that came to mind.

Octavia Goredema: And the strategies vary depending on the size of your organization and the demographics of your people and your goals. Large organizations have employee resource groups and networks, which are great, but then you'll have to think about what is how those organizations, how are they funded? Often the people that are leading those organizations are doing jobs. They're doing their day job and they're also creating some kind of mechanism for other employees, which is so powerful. But how is that recognized? How is that supported in the long term? Are you using that? That's a really fantastic incubator to also listen. Are you asking questions in those scripts that could help you and give you insights that you wouldn't hear otherwise? Are you providing safe spaces for sharing? You might have company meetings or channel meetings where you report out, how are you listening back?

Octavia Goredema: There were lots of different considerations for organization, but if you are making an effort to hire, we want to keep your talent. You want to find opportunities. The pay for your business and your organization will just continue. And so you want to make those investments and provide advocacy and mentoring and supporting, and sponsorship, and also hold space to listen to the people that are already part of your culture and your organization, and hear what they might need to your point, because those voices can be so valuable and not everyone perhaps has the opportunity to share in that way when we are at work. Creating spaces and opportunities to do that.

Sarah Nicastro: That's a good point. I mean, if there's an organization that hasn't made as much effort as they want in this area, start by creating a focus group of your women employees and ask them what they think honestly about the experience and what could be better and that's a good point. We talked a little bit earlier about the fact that women were impacted significantly more than men by COVID when it comes to loss of work and having to leave their career. Do you have any thoughts on how we can best support women's reentry into the workplace?

Octavia Goredema: Yeah. The numbers that came out of some of the initial studies for the first year of the pandemic were just horrifying. And as I mentioned at the start of our conversation, I hope it's not the case, but could have the potential to set women back for decades when you look at the ramifications of what that means in terms of not just loss of earning capacity, but just what it takes to rebuild and restart your career. Setting the women that you are hiring up for success as we've talked about is really important. Listening to what might be needed in terms of maybe flexible schedules or roles and responsibilities in terms of locations. But I think above and beyond that, looking for the long term in terms of how to continue to advance women and that next cycle and that next generation, and continue to pay forward because it's above and beyond just this moment right now. The pay gap, which we talked about at the start of our conversation was already going to take decades and decades to close.

Octavia Goredema: Really look at your compensation practices and make sure that you are equitable in terms of how you compensate your employees is so important. Not all women are caregivers, but for those who are, I do hope that maybe the one silver lining coming out of everything that we have been to and are going through the pandemic, that employers that will be much more aware of what it takes to be a working parent today. Because that has been, and will continue to be a challenge. So that we can keep women in the workforce for as long as possible.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I should have thought to write this down and I didn't, so I don't remember any of the names of the organization to reference, but I have seen some different programs created to help with this effort people that are strategically looking for opportunities to offer really flexible roles and hours.

Octavia Goredema: And reentry into the workforce.

Right. So that if there are women who left that can't just come back, maybe in the manner they did before, what are some alternatives? The other thing that, sorry, I thought was really important was, I don't know if it was an article or a podcast, but it was around looking differently in this situation, but really just in general about gaps on resumes and not using that as something that is negatively perceived. Sorry, what were you going to say?

Octavia Goredema: Yes. I was going to say, yes, I just received an email, I think yesterday there are a lot of companies who have reentry to work programs where they're specifically recruiting from large companies like Wells Fargo to Facebook, to smaller companies too, and really targeting women who have taken a break, maybe not just because of the pandemic, but have taken a break in their career. And yes, to your point about gaps in resumes, I know often as employees we are looking to minimize risk. But I can attest as a working parent, I have done my best work ever since becoming a parent. Women have so much to give and there should not be ... A gap in a resume is a non-negotiable. This is what I say to women that I coach who are concerned about this. I talk about, you can do this role.

Octavia Goredema: Your skills and your acumen remains regardless. But I think the pandemic also perhaps has made that more aware that there is no one perfect way to navigate anyone's career and we have to as a whole support people who've stepped away from the workforce for whatever reason, so that we can get our economies back and so we can continue to thrive. And so, yes, I hope the silver lining will be that there's been a lot of less that have been learned in a very short and very pronounced space of time. And I hope that we can find ways to support women who are looking to reenter and rebuild whether it's now or in the future.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think the other thing is I've read a number of different articles and studies is looking at this isn't applicable to every single type of role understandably, but I mean, looking at the need to evolve the culture around how we assess value. And this, I think was exacerbated by COVID when we had so many people working remote, it becomes less about, okay, how many hours, minutes, seconds is your butt in a seat at a desk versus what is your contribution toward the objectives. I think that's the way it should be, but I think this situation maybe has helped employers that were kind of hanging on to that need for control to recognize that if you focus on creating an environment in which your talent can thrive, they will most times step up to the challenge.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, people care and want to do well generally. It goes back to kind of that cultural part as well. You talk in your book about how fear is a very big challenge for women when it comes to their careers. And you mentioned earlier the example of your husband saying, I don't even read job descriptions. I just apply. Whereas sometimes a woman or a particular personality would kind of overanalyze every single characteristic. Why do you think fear is so prevalent and what advice can you share?

Octavia Goredema: I think often there's fear of making a mistake. Fear of dropping a ball, fear of just not delivering. And I see that manifest constantly, and it's not about level of seniority. And so I think it's really, really important to know that building your career's, yes, the most personal and valuable investment you'll ever make, but also know you have to give yourself permission to fail sometimes. That doesn't mean you want to set out to fail. That's how you learn as you go. I think it's so important. I always have a smile when I see you see these very senior executives who get fired and bounce back better.

Octavia Goredema: If you really look at it, you see people make mistakes at very senior level. It's not necessarily a career ender, really keep pushing and keep striving and don't be afraid of making a mistake. Don't feel you have to do everything perfectly. We have to learn and we have to grow and I think it's very important if anyone is mentoring someone else to be really transparent about the mistakes that you have made. What you learned from those, how you navigated those. It's really important thing to do and to give space for that. And also you as an individual trust. But even if you do make a misstep, you'll learn from it and you'll keep moving forward.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think another area where fear plays such a big role in all of this for everyone is fear of speaking up. I think that when it comes to this idea of breaking the bias, like you said, so much of the cumulative effect of why women are not equal to men in the workplace today is those little things. I mean, it's the daily, I forgot to put you on the meeting invite or gaslighting or all sorts of things. And every day, people see that happen and it's really easy to be fearful that if it's a leader that's doing that, oh, well, I can't say something because they're my superior, or I don't want to start anything, or let me just stay in my lane.

Sarah Nicastro: And the reality is we all play a part in making the progress we want to make. And yes, it can be very uncomfortable to have hard conversations. I can think back on times where I avoided them myself, but you know better, you do better. Right. And I think that's another area where people need to consider stepping outside of their comfort zone and helping keep the progress moving by addressing things like that when they see them.

Octavia Goredema: I agree. And everything you say is valid. It can be very difficult. In that moment, if there is someone more senior than you to use your voice in that way. And I've been in that situation, before I had my coaching company, I was employed. And I remember having to say to the CEO of the company where I worked, "Is there a reason why I wasn't included in that meeting?" I feel I should have been there and I would've liked to have been there. And this is the reason why. And I did end up receiving an apology, but that wasn't the immediate reaction. It came much later. You don't know what the response will be, but ideally your employer wants employees who are there to add value and to solve problems and to help do things better.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Octavia Goredema: And to help do things better. And so if you are using your voice to show where you add value or where things could be different or where things could be better, then you need to observe and then see what happens next.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. All right Octavia. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom. What do you hope that people take away from this discussion?

Octavia Goredema: It's an ethos that underpins everything that I do. And that I open my book Prep, Push, Pivot with, which is knowing your worth matters, especially in the moments where your worth is not being reflected back at you. I think that is really important. And for employers recognize the worth of what women on your team and your future female hires will bring to the table. And it's, of course your worth is represented by what you earn, but it's more than just that. It's what you need to do your best work and what you need to thrive. And as individuals, what are the non-negotiables for us in our career and making sure that we are building careers that align with our goals and our values.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I have a special shirt on today. I don't know if you can see it says carry as you climb.

Octavia Goredema: I love that.

Sarah Nicastro: And it goes back to the point you made earlier, which is, as women, we have an obligation to help one another as well. Yes, all of the white men in senior leader positions need to really reflect on what their teams and organization looks like and how genuine they are about their desire to really progress related to this. But until we are at a point where these conversations become less necessary, we really have to help each other out and support one another, speak up on one another's behalfs, just really advocate for one another, lift each other up, all of those things.

Octavia Goredema: Paying it forward really matters. And it can be also in ways where we're not necessarily using our voice in front of others, but in terms of suggesting opportunities or resources to others. It can be in small ways or it can be in really impactful ways. Paying it forward is so important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think there's a real thing particularly because women are still at a disadvantage in the workplace. I think there can be a tendency towards the scarcity mindset and well, if I help her, then I will somehow disadvantage myself and we just have to move beyond that. I mean, we all need to be helping one another and you're never going to be disadvantaged by championing someone else.

Octavia Goredema: Absolutely. Yeah. I couldn't agree more.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Tell folks where they can find Prep ... Oh goodness. Prep, Push, Pivot. Where can they find the book?

Octavia Goredema: Prep, Push, Pivot is available wherever you love to buy books. You'll be able to find it at your local bookstore or at your favorite online book retailer. And you can also go to my website, if you need more information.

Sarah Nicastro: Excellent. All right, Octavia, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Octavia Goredema: Oh, thank you, Sarah. It's great to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureofFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

March 7, 2022 | 13 Mins Read

Wise Words from Women in Service on IWD 2022

March 7, 2022 | 13 Mins Read

Wise Words from Women in Service on IWD 2022


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

This week, March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #BreaktheBias. As stated on the International Women’s Day website, this theme is meant to inspire us to:

Imagine a gender equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Together we can forge women's equality.

Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

When I began my career in this industry in 2008, I was often the only woman in the room. I lost count pretty quicky of the stereotypical comments and was put in more than one very uncomfortable situation because a man felt it was perfectly acceptable to treat me in a manner he’d never consider treating another man. When I had children, I was forced to face the realities of just how difficult the traditional corporate structure makes it for a woman to succeed as both a mother and a career woman. I combatted gender discrimination with grit and tenacity, knowing many wouldn’t have the confidence to speak up in that way – or didn’t have the privilege to risk doing so. 

I’ve learned a lot from my own experiences with bias, stereotypes, and discrimination and one thing I’m certain of is that while we have most certainly made progress since I entered the professional world, we must acknowledge we have a long way to go. I still encounter comments fueled by bias on a very regular basis, and I am acutely aware that there are women who grapple with the added complexities of being women of color or differently abled or any number of other compounding factors. 

One way I feel I can play a role in the need to #BreaktheBias is by speaking out about my own experiences. But another is using the Future of Field Service platform to share the stories, journeys, and experiences of other women to share different perspectives and points of view that we can all learn from. I’m grateful to have that opportunity and thought, to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d share some wise words from some of the women who I’ve interviewed this year.  

On What Inspires Us

While we may sometimes become frustrated by our individual or collective circumstances, or feel angry about the inequity that persists, we – women – are an imperative piece of achieving equality. We must forge ahead, and a good tool for those frustrating days is turning to what you find inspiration from. 

For Jennifer Deutsch, CMO of Park Place Technologies, that inspiration comes from her team. “I get inspiration from my team. For the size of our business, I have a fairly small team, I’ve got 11 people on my team, and I am the oldest,” she says. “We have people that range in age from 23 to 58, and from the young talent and the diversity, I’ve learned an awful lot. A 25-year-old looks at social very differently than I look at social. I’ve got a 25-year-old who runs our social program, and I’ve got a content guy who used to write for Rolling Stone. I also have a guy on my team who was an agency veteran for 20 years, who was never in the tech space. He writes copy for us beautifully. The team inspires me.”

Maybe your inspiration comes from seeking camaraderie, maybe it comes from finding some solitude. Perhaps there’s a power song you can listen to that will get you back into a positive headspace, or maybe journaling is a good outlet for you. It doesn’t matter what your inspiration is, just that you find a source of it – because on the hard days that are inevitable in the face of massive change, we have to seek what we need to fuel up and keep going.

On Knowing You Have the Power to Pivot

Sometimes our circumstances can make us feel stuck. It’s important to remember that you have the power to pivot. Catherine Wood, Service Owner for Engineered Deployment at Compugen, went to school for fine arts and was a teacher before she entered the world of IT. “It's been a strange road. I went to school for fine art. I loved art, always have, but I've also been interested in computers since I was a kid,” she shares. “When I finished school and started having a family, I wanted to go back to work after my kids were in school. So, I took a computer course at a local college, but just to be able to use a computer again as it had been a while. I got a job as a teacher, teaching arts. At one point I was teaching at a private school and their computer teacher left and they asked me to fill in. So, all of a sudden, I became a computer teacher and it turned into me only being a computer teacher after a few years. And from there I went to IBM and there began my career in IT.”

Catherine’s story brings about another important point, which is that not only do you have the power to initiate a pivot – but you can also benefit from staying open to the opportunities that are presented to you. We hear all of the time about how women won’t apply for a role or accept a position unless they meet every single criteria, but sometimes things work out when you are willing to take a bit of a risk on a growth opportunity. 

On Our Individual Power to Effect Change

While the overall objective of equality can seem incredibly daunting, we need to ensure we don’t see our power as too small and as a result pass the buck on our individual responsibility. If you’re a leader in a company, yes that company should have a strategy in place for addressing biases and creating better diversity, including and equity, but that corporate strategy doesn’t absolve you from your personal responsibility. Lauren Winans, CEO of Next-Level Benefits, says, “You can even make small tangible changes for your own teams. Any leader can make small changes to some of the things that they’re doing to increase inclusivity or help someone get promoted by getting more development opportunities or making sure that everyone on your team is making a fair and equitable wage for the work that they’re putting in. You have the power; we all have power when it comes to this. It’s just a matter of figuring out where you fit in the equation.”

The acknowledgement of our individual power goes for women too – just because this is an issue we are at times on the receiving end of, we are still responsible for being a part of the change. Looking for ways to lift other women up, to help, to create connections or suggest opportunities, whatever that looks like in a certain scenario – we need to be playing an active role in being a part of the solution. 

On Having Hard Conversations and Exploring Unconscious Bias

Our individual power – and responsibility – also bleeds over into our willingness to speak up and speak out when we see an action, behavior, or belief that doesn’t align with #BreaktheBias. This includes being sure we examine our own unconscious biases. Latasha Reindl, Director of Service Operations Excellence at Schneider Electric Digital Buildings suggests a book on how to take advantage of opportunities to have conversations that will prompt reflection and hopefully change. “I read a book a while back called Crucial Conversations,” she says. “I thought that book was fantastic. It talks about how important effective communication is as well as making sure you take advantage of opportunities that you’re in and have that courage to speak up in that moment, because they’ll be more impactful.”

During our podcast conversation, we talked about some of the work Schneider Electric has done around improving diversity, equity, and inclusion and Latasha has been particularly impresses by their commitment to addressing unconscious bias. “I think it’s important to understand that we all have some kind of unconscious bias. Schneider Electric does a great job at sprinkling the concept of unconscious bias throughout their organization, whether it be initiatives, business processes, communications. And when they sprinkle those little topics and things throughout the year, it makes you think not only at work, but outside of work as well,” she says. “For example, I was interviewing candidates for a global position and working with the recruiter. They send you the overall package that includes the candidate’s resume and with it there’s interview tips and tricks and a specific reminder and checklist to leave your unconscious bias behind. This was the first time that I’ve experienced that before in the 20 years that I have been managing people and I’m so proud to be a part of an organization where I can see that they’re really taking tangible steps toward progress.” 

On Being the Minority in a Male-Dominated Field

I often ask women how they’ve handled being in a male-dominated industry, and I’m always interested in the variety of responses. I find the answers to be incredibly telling of their personality types and while there’s absolutely no one right way to handle these situations, it is important to think about how best to be your own advocate. 

Catherine Wood of Compugen first transitioned into the IT industry 20 years ago and found she was often the only woman in the room. I asked her how much that has changed, and while she doesn’t deny that there are now more women working alongside her, what is surprising is that the treatment by the men in the room isn’t all that different. “I'm not as often the only woman in the room. Men are more comfortable seeing women in IT. And we're seeing more women in leadership roles in IT, which gives other women the confidence to see themselves in these roles,” she shares. “But what’s unfortunate is some of the conversations that still occur. Just a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting, and someone tried to explain to me where the start menu is. He knew we both work in IT; he knows my role. And he's explaining to me how to find the start menu. I don't keep quiet in those situations. I used to when I was younger, but I don't anymore. I asked him as politely as possible, ‘What makes you think that you need to explain to me where the start menu is?’ My goal wasn't to make him uncomfortable; my goal was to gently educate him. Because he wasn't doing it on purpose. He was trying to help. He really thought he was trying to help, but he just was going about it in a way that he needed to be more aware of.”

This example reminds me of a lot of the comments I receive every time I travel for work, related to how much my kids must miss me, how hard my husband has it, and so on. It isn’t necessary ill intent, but they are microaggressions that – conscious or not – become frustrating. As Catherine says, this is one area where we still have a lot of work to do. “I'm asked questions that nobody would think of asking a man, because if he's in that room, he's already qualified to be there where they see a woman walk in and they think, oh, she can't possibly be technical, or she can't possibly know anything about this. Women still get spoken or talked over in meetings or dismissed or someone will say something and will get ignored. The conversation will just keep going. Those are still challenges that we deal with today. We can’t use the ‘boys will be boys’ kind of excuse. Just move on, get over it. If it happened once in my lifetime, I'd get over it. When it happens multiple times a day, it starts to have an impact on me. And maybe it's multiple people during the day and they all didn't mean it. But the challenge is changing everyone's understanding of what those comments mean and not dismissing the fact that it has an impact on the people it's happening to.”

On Diversifying the Workforce

When you consider the industries that Future of Field Service covers, they are ones who are largely in need of fostering greater diversity. Karin Hamel is the Vice President of Services for US Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, and she’s very focused on how to create greater diversity among the company’s frontline workforce. “I’m very proud of the programs that Schneider has been driving over the past few years regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think we do a really good job internally with our core values driving the right types of behavior that we want to see with our people and making sure it’s a safe, inclusive environment for everyone. When I think about the work that remains to be done, it will be all about enticing that talent, that diverse talent to come into Schneider Electric,” she says. “If we think about the look and feel of that Maytag repairman persona, and the workforce that we’ve had historically, think about the why. Why has it traditionally been white males of a certain age? We have more awareness now around STEM and we need to embrace and leverage that. So, what we’re doing is trying to find opportunities to create more entry level roles to get that talent in as soon as possible. Having programs like university recruit programs, apprenticeship programs, great onboarding and training to attract and retain that talent is a big focus right for us.”

Creating greater awareness of career opportunities that haven’t traditionally welcomed women – or that young women don’t grow up considering – is certainly important. And efforts like Schneider Electric is making to offer more entry-level positions so that experience isn’t a barrier to recruiting more diverse talent is spot on. But as you’ll read next, to dig deeper we need to explore how we begin changing the early childhood narrative. 

On Changing Early Influences to Overcome Systemic Stereotypes

For our 150th podcast, we featured Shannon Tymosko whose story is just fantastic. In her late 20s, she grew tired of making low wages in childcare and other entry level positions and wanted to seek more opportunity for herself. After working on home remodel with a friend, she began exploring the trades and is now an apprentice electrician. Her story is both interesting and inspiring, and she’s begun advocating for how we make the potential of the trades more accessible to others.

“If you can see it, you can be it. Right? How often do we see celebrities more than we see anything else as children? We see Disney princesses, but do we see skilled trades workers? Do we see ladies as skilled trades workers? And so how do we believe we can do something that unless we even know it exists? And, so, the problem I think with the skilled trades is we don’t educate soon enough. There’s so much, I don’t want to say brainwashing, conditioning. There’s so much conditioning. We see us as women, we see princesses. The boys see trucks and construction workers. Well, where’s our equal balance of women construction workers to say that you can do that too?” she emphasizes.

But it isn’t just about showing it, letting young girls visualize the breadth of their options. It’s also about giving children the opportunities to try different things. “We can put the representation there all we want, but unless we present the opportunity to try, they’ll never know if they like it. Get some tools into the hands of young people. If you have a project at home, drag your kids out to experience it, get your kids involved, get their hands on the tool. You don’t know if they’ll like it until they’ve tried it, and it’s so important to give them that opportunity to try,” she adds.

Leading by Example

Shannon understands the value in leading by example. On a construction site, she is often the only woman – and while it can be intimidating, she realizes her role in not only doing work she’s proud of but in shifting these outdated perceptions of what a woman can do. “Some of the men don’t think you belong there. They don’t say it to you, but I know. And so there most certainly is this pressure to perform. With so few women in the skilled trades, I am a representation of every woman on another construction site who’s going to follow me, because men are judging me and they’re judging women as a whole at the same time. That’s not the same pressure that my fellow male apprenticeship peers feel,” she says. “Actions often speak louder than words. And being a woman in the skilled trades today means I am still a minority, underestimated and a trailblazer for other women to follow. It means I must be strong, self-aware and realistic that I’m still in a man’s world. I must be patient and not push change but be an ambassador and advocate for change. I must be persistent, work hard and show the young women of tomorrow that they too can do whatever they desire.”

I hope during this year’s International Women’s Day you will spend some time considering what you can do to help #BreaktheBias. Join us for Wednesday’s podcast, where I’ll have a conversation with Octavia Goredema around this topic. Octavia is the founder of Twenty Ten Agency, has coached leaders at renowned companies including Google, American Airlines, Tinder, General Motors, Nike, and Dow Jones, and is also the author of the new book PREP, PUSH, PIVOT: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women.

Most Recent

March 2, 2022 | 26 Mins Read

The Future of Manufacturing

March 2, 2022 | 26 Mins Read

The Future of Manufacturing


Sarah welcomes Jake Hall, Founder & Content Creator, The Manufacturing Millennial to discuss the key trend shaping the future of manufacturing, including automation, robotics, what new skills and roles are needed, and how companies will need to work to attract younger talent.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. We are going to be talking a bit today about the future of manufacturing. I'm excited to be joined by Jake Hall, who is the founder and content creator at The Manufacturing Millennial. Jake, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

Jake Hall: Thanks so much for having me, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, thanks for being here. Okay, so before we dig in, we have a lot to cover, before we do that, tell our listeners a bit more about yourself.

Jake Hall: Yeah, absolutely. My background has always been in the world of manufacturing and automation. When I was a kid, I loved growing up playing with Legos, the mindset of building and creating. That just got me so excited. Fast forward years, I went to college and got a manufacturing engineering degree and a biomedical engineering degree. Fast forward 10 years later after that, and currently I'm a business development manager for a company called Feyen Zylstra. We're an industrial tech company that helps manufacturers modernize their existing systems and integrate new ones. At the same time, I have a personal brand called The Manufacturing Millennial, where I love to advocate manufacturing. I love to tell companies stories of what products and solutions they're bringing to the market that really solve a lot of problems that manufacturers are facing. And then talk about workforce, talk about skilled trades, and just a lot of great conversations around that.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love it. We're not dissimilar, Jake, in what we do. It's exciting that our two worlds are colliding here. All right, awesome. There is a lot that I'm excited to pick your brain on. You cover a lot of the trends that are happening from a technology perspective in the manufacturing space. Let's start there, so anything that comes to mind for you. What are some of the most exciting trends that are happening in manufacturing that you think are really changing the game?

Jake Hall: Yeah, absolutely. Let's talk about why those trends exist. In manufacturing, manufacturing has always been viewed as an industry that's dark, dirty, and dangerous, right? It's the industry that your grandparents worked at and your parents never encouraged you to go into. Well, what's happening now in the manufacturing space is our industry is turning from a product-based industry to really a digital one. We're innovating a lot of ways that are leveraging new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality, what we classify as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0.

Jake Hall: And some of the really cool stuff that we're seeing is new technology that's being adapted by younger generations, that's being adapted by the millennials and the Gen Zs of the world, where we're taking product innovation that we've used a lot of times in our daily lives and then bringing them to manufacturing. Something as simple as digital work-based instructions, the manufacturing industry, when we're setting up a machine or doing a tool change over or setting up a new job, a lot of times we always had these paper notebooks that we turn to a page and we find, "Oh, page 53, this is my process." Well, instead of doing on that manual three-ring binder, we're using an app do. What's cool about this is by leveraging all these new technologies, we're making manufacturers smarter and more efficient within their daily tasks.

Jake Hall: But more importantly, we're attracting a future workforce in the manufacturing space that is critical right now. By 2028, so within five or six years, they're saying there's going to be somewhere between 2.4 to 2.8 million jobs unfulfilled in the manufacturing industry. A lot of that has to do with what we call The Silver Tsunami. It's the baby boomers that are going to be retiring in the next few years who've been in the industry for decades, who carry all those skills, who carries all that knowledge. There's going to be a massive labor shortage, and we're feeling it right now. I mean, manufacturers, their biggest struggles right now are supply chain issues and then essentially the same thing, the supply of labor. So by leveraging these new technologies, it's really making manufacturing setting because it's making them more efficient and it's making the industry more excitable for people to come and work in.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Way more appealing-

Jake Hall: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: ... than our parents were maybe making it out to be, or then it was. Okay, if you think about some of the trends you mentioned, robotics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, those sorts of things, what are some of the biggest ways you see manufacturing operations evolving? And what will that look like in, say, five years from now? I'm curious for you in your role, how widely adopted are some of those cutting-edge technologies and how much do you think that will expand over the next five years?

Jake Hall: Yeah, absolutely. How widely adopted, the answer is simply just not enough. For a long time, automation was viewed as a risk. Because with automation, becomes the skill and the knowledge of knowing what to automate the know-how of how to build systems or how to work with integrators to create those automation solutions. And then the third part is turning that capital investment into, really, an operational expense of how do you keep those investments running after the person who supplied those resources forward to you has left. When you look at the manufacturing industry, somewhere around 95 to 97% of manufacturers are small to medium-sized businesses, SMBs, SMS, there's different abbreviations, but that represents the majority of the manufacturing industry, is small-to medium-sized businesses, under 50 employees.

Jake Hall: Well, with a company that's under 50 employees, a lot of times the owner who's running that company has to worry about a lot more than just the automation of integrating a new robotic system, for example. Let's use a machining company as an example. So, Tim down the road has a machining company where he employs 20 workers. And those 20 workers are running 15 CNC machines on their floor making parts for a tier-three automotive company. Tim has a lot to worry about. He has to worry about scheduling. He has to worry about getting materials and battling the labor shortage, all that stuff. And all the people who currently work for him aren't necessarily engineers or robot programmers or all that stuff, so how can he leverage new technology but at the same time being a low cost entry point for him?

Jake Hall: Robotics is a fantastic example of that. Collaborative robots is this idea of industrial robots that have been around for decades. They first entered the automotive industry 40, 50 years ago, more than that. But collaborative robots are interesting because they've been viewed as not necessarily used as a collaborative space, but because it was very easy for first-time robot user to learn how to program a robot and set it up. Well, what this robot's doing is it's allowing a worker to not stand by a machine anymore and wait for that part to complete. A worker or a CNC person can then program that robot to then take parts in and out of a CNC machine autonomously. So now that one worker can now run four machines instead of just a single one.

Jake Hall: Because what's happening right now is Tom who's down the street, or Tom or Tim, whoever I use as an example, is also competing against Amazon, who just installed their brand new 600,000 square foot facility where they're paying 401(k), four weeks of benefit, flexible hours, all that stuff. He can't pay or be as competitive as one of the largest companies in the world, so how does he stay in business? Well, he leverages automation by reducing the risk of, really, of labor, of keeping talent inside of his area, where if he can't hire 20 machinists, he needs to find some way to stay in business. And he's going to use collaborative robots or automation or machine tending or a work sell, for example, to make his operations more efficient. That's-

Sarah Nicastro: Now... Sorry, go ahead.

Jake Hall: Yeah that's just an example of leveraging automation from a smaller scale.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Now, the ultimate objective, though, is not for Tom, Tim or Tim, Tom to not hire anyone, right?

Jake Hall: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: That's where the collaborative word comes in, right? You're talking about tools and technologies that can assist the workforce to maximize their utilization, to make their jobs easier, to keep output high, those sorts of things, not the idea of completely replacing the machinists.

Jake Hall: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Am I understanding that correctly?

Jake Hall: Absolutely. We want people to work with robots, not like robots. Those are two different things, right? If a person is doing this repetitive task over and over again, what value are they bringing? What is their purpose? What are they proud to go home and say they did at work when they go home for dinner that night or they're talking with family? If they're just doing the same thing over and over again, that's working like a robot. But if you can go and you can work with robots to make them do those boring, repetitive, a lot of times unsafe or high physical demanding jobs and have a robot do that instead and you're managing these robots, that's of value.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Jake Hall: Maybe several decades ago when the manufacturing in the US was struggling competing with a global economy where a company could go and get a product in China for pennies on the dollar compared to what they could get it in the US, yeah, manufacturers needed to reduce their cost as much as possible. But that time is changing where the cheap labor is gone. China, not to go off on other domestic countries, but China's actually integrating more robots than any other country in the world combined because they're taking their cheap labor force and they're making automation solutions because their middle class is growing dramatically. The same thing goes back to us where a lot of these companies are automating just for them to stay in business or for them to grow because they can't find the labor to actually grow their business. So, they're needing to automate to stay competitive.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I don't have any statistics on this, but I have to assume that just if you look at consumption, right, it's grown significantly, which means that scaling to meet demand with manpower versus technology is not sustainable, right? I mean, we can't just scale to meet growing, growing, growing demand. The reason I'm asking some of these questions, Jake, is in a lot of ways I cover... So even the manufacturers within our audience, we're typically talking about the aftermarket aspect and servicing and things like that. But a lot of the concepts are very similar so far in the sense of there's this almost fear among the workforce of automation when in reality there's no desire to replace the frontline workforce. There's a desire to evolve their role to be more value add, right?

Jake Hall: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: And then the other point you made, which is small company, mid company, large company, what we find is these leaders who are overburdened with putting out fires to the point where something like this, that ultimately is going to help them significantly short term and long term, is just insurmountable because they don't have to think innovation because they're scrambling to do what they need to do in the day.

Jake Hall: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, cool. If you had to pick one technology trend in manufacturing that you are most amped to track over the next five years, what would it be?

Jake Hall: The adaption of artificial intelligence within manufacturing. We're seeing it a lot within the warehouse and the logistics industry right now. There's a lot of companies that are out there leveraging artificial intelligence with robotics to do autonomous picking and material handling. I have a really good friend over at FedEx and he's responsible for adapting new technologies into the logistic systems to make them more efficient. Down in Memphis, he worked with the team to integrate robots that are handling literally millions of parcels a day that were once a heavy labor process, from like 3:00 AM to 7:00 AM or some crazy number in the middle of the night that no one wants to work, it's such a boring task, but someone had to do it. Well, they're leveraging artificial intelligence to autonomously find the parcel or the package or the bubble wrap that they're picking, a robot will pick it, separate it, and take these tasks that were once a very strenuous high turnover rate person, because no one wants to do the same thing of this over and over again... For those of you listening, I'm just throwing my hands back and forth like you're in a post office just throwing packages over the place.

Jake Hall: No one wants to do that. There's no value in that. There's no like, "Man, I'm so happy with my life I'm doing this right now." What they want to do is they want to take those tasks and give that to a person who can then say, "Hey, you're going to run four robots now. You're going to make sure they're running. If there's a question that a robot has, we're going to send you a notice and you're going to make a decision for the robot." There's value to that. With every robot that's being integrated, it's a responsibility of a manufacturer to educate their workforce who's there to reskill them with the tools that they need to create value back to the company. And I think that's the biggest thing I always get back from my audience is, "Well, automation's taking jobs or low skilled jobs." In a lot of areas, we're taking low skilled tasks and we're automating them, but it's a responsibility for the manufacturer to then take that person who does have a lot of knowledge of the processes and retool that person to then create value at a much higher, hopefully higher-paid, higher value-added level than they what they were doing before.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. All right, let's shift gears and talk a little bit about the people part then. Okay, so we've talked about some of the trends. It would be cool to get maybe some stories from you, maybe some of the companies you've worked with that might be willing to share some of the advancements that they've made. I mean, it would be interesting to hear some of those applications. I was at an event for DHL a couple of years ago before COVID. It was at their innovation center here in the Americas and they had a picking robot set up and working. I mean, they had a lot of really cool things that they showed. They also did some virtual reality stuff. But that robot definitely stuck with me because they put it through the rigors, if you will, of some different jobs to show the scope of what it was able to do, and it was quite impressive. All right, so let's talk about the impact all of this has on people, okay?

Jake Hall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sarah Nicastro: And so, the first thing I want to talk about is how would you comfort an individual who has a career in manufacturing that has heard the first 10, 15 minutes of this conversation and has that immediate automation-is-going-to-take-all-the-jobs mentality?

Jake Hall: Well, automation's not going to take all the jobs because right now there's going to be 2.4 million unfulfilled jobs in manufacturing. Automation's never going to take jobs, it's going to fill the massive gap we have right now in manufacturing. And that's just because the growth of the industry, the growth of demand. When you're going to see a lot of reassuring happening here in America as a result of the pandemic really spiking that stuff, when people can't get their product off of a cargo ship, it really doesn't do great for them when, yeah, they might have saved 20 cents on the dollar by manufacturing it overseas, well, if they're not getting it, what's the point? Your 80 cents on the dollar isn't doing anything for you.

Jake Hall: So you're going to have an increased demand of localized manufacturing, domestic manufacturing here in America and domestic supply chains. So the person who's saying, "Well, automation is just going to take my job," automation is going to take jobs, but what we're going to see is you will then hopefully be moving up within the area to basically be reskilled in an area that's going to create more value. What I'm not saying is it's just one of those things that's just going to happen. In my mindset, you always need to keep learning. You always need to learn new things. If you are living at the status quo for 40 years not learning something new or learning a new skill, for me personally, that's pretty boring. It's your responsibility, I think, just as a human to continue to always learn and reeducate yourself with the changing times. So that would be my whole entire thing.

Jake Hall: And there are so many free ways for people to reskill themselves now than whatever before. In fact, you see a lot of people going back to community colleges right now for their second career in a lot of areas. They might have went to a four-year university and got trained in some... or got an education in some liberal arts degree. They couldn't find a job better than working at a coffee shop for five years, and they have $45,000 in student debt. Well, they need to find an industry that's hiring. Well, manufacturing's hiring at a great rate right now. So they go back in there, they get their apprentice program in robotic programming or welding or plumbing or HVAC, and now they're getting reskilled at the middle of their career, 30 and 40 years old. And now they have the opportunity to have a much more stable career that's going to continue to keep them successful and take care of them for many years to come.

Sarah Nicastro: You mentioned this a little bit, but there is a personal responsibility for people to upskill, reskill themselves, right, just to continue learning, right? Manufacturing or service or automation or not, I think collectively we are past an era of just complacency, right?

Jake Hall: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: We are past the time of being able to show up to any job for 40 years in a row, punch in and punch out, and never give an increasing amount of value over that span of time. I just don't think that exists anymore. So, there's a personal responsibility there, but there's also a responsibility of the manufacturers themselves to make sure that they're planning on how to reskill and upscale. What I wanted to ask is, what are some of the areas when you think about these education paths and some of the skills that are going to be increasingly valuable in the coming years, what are some of the areas that come to mind would be applicable for people to consider evolving into?

Jake Hall: Yeah. I mean, with every robot that is put in place, you're going to have to have people who can manage those robots, people who can program those robots. With any level of automation, there's going to be people who need to be skilled in understanding what that data is, making decisions off of the information that you're being provided from an interconnected, smart manufacturing floor. But if people aren't in the technical side of things, you don't need to be an engineer to do stuff, if you're good with working with your hands and you're not necessarily the brain type but more the physical type, great, there's a lot of skilled trades out there like welding or plumbing or being a machinist who can just work with their hands or working in the construction industry as that becomes more modernized. It's one of those things where there's always going to be those circumstances, I recognize it, but what I don't want people to say is, "Oh, we're automating, and things are taking my jobs." It's no, you're just choosing not to create a better job for yourself. There's always the outliers, but the outliers do not match by any means the current audience of what is viewed in manufacturing.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. And so, there may be some incumbent employees that feel some emotion around all of this change, but on the flip side of that, as you mentioned at the beginning, this evolution and the way that the process is becoming more technologically advanced and more digital and more data centric creates a whole new appeal for people that are the next generation of-

Jake Hall: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: ... workers. Let's shift gears and talk a little bit about that side of things. Obviously we've talked about a couple of the key elements. We're coming up against a 2.4 million employee gap, right?

Jake Hall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sarah Nicastro: We are coming out of a generation where this industry and other skilled trades were just sort of, "No, that's not the way you want to go. You want to go over here and get a four-year degree and do this path." So how do we bring this all together, right? How do we increase the appeal and appropriately evangelize the modernization of manufacturing? How do we let young folks know about the potential that this industry holds? How do companies find them? What are some of the elements here that you have thoughts on.

Jake Hall: Yeah, oh man, lots to cover in all those questions. Manufacturing is consistently innovating. As I mentioned before, with innovation comes new technology, with new technology comes the adaption of using that technology. The one thing that I can say is millennials and Gen Zs, we grew up with technology. We are not afraid to program things. We're not afraid to leverage technology to get us information or to teach us things. When we want to learn something new, we want to learn how to make a recipe or change the tire in a car or change the oil or how to fix an appliance in our house, we turned to video, we turned to YouTube. We are a new society of self-learning, self-teaching skills. 25, 20 years ago, if we wanted to know how to replace a component in our car, we had to go to AutoZone, pick up a owner's manual, and learn how to do something and find the correct page through the appendices.

Jake Hall: Well, now we just go on YouTube and type in "How to replace component on car," and you're going to get 45 videos. I think it's the exact same way when we look at manufacturing. When we want to change how we're running, we can adapt automation at a much higher comfort level than what we did before. And so that's one of those things that I always encourage with small to medium-sized manufacturers. Well, I don't know how to program a robot. I don't know how to program this. I don't know how to do this. You know who is willing to learn, who is learning to learn how to use new technology? Millennials and Gen Zs. Because we grew up with learning how to do all these different apps and programmings and all this stuff just naturally. For something that's very intimidating and difficult to an older person, it comes very easy to a younger person.

Jake Hall: I was actually talking to my wife earlier, it was either yesterday or today. My four-year-old daughter knows how to operate a TV remote better than what my dad does. So here's a four-year-old, who's relatively young but knows how to work an app or an iPad or a TV remote better than my dad who literally has been around than technology has been existing. That just shows the mindset of how younger generations can think around technology and adaption.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Jake Hall: I go back to manufacturers, what you view as a high risk or area of not understanding is completely different perspective than younger generations. Let's just say you're not in manufacturing, this is just a general person who's listening to this conversation, marketing or social media influence, you might find it very difficult to create posts on LinkedIn or social media, or film a video as a segmented expert talking about a topic. You as an older person might feel intimidated by that, but your college intern or the person you just hired out of college might say, "Oh yeah, I can totally do that. How many videos do you want a week?" And that's just -

Sarah Nicastro: Do you know how many TikTok followers I have?

Jake Hall: Yeah, exactly. But it's just one of those things as leverage your generational skillsets to what they're good at. And this new generation is very comfortable with technology and sharing and expressing more than any other ones. So, if you don't know how to do it, maybe your problem is not hiring or changing the mindset of getting the right people in to leverage those solutions and be innovative.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I agree with everything you've said. There's two challenges I see. One is organizations who have historically hired based on experience that are unsure at best or unwilling at worst, to change that to instead of looking for experience, they're looking for skills or aptitudes or abilities that they can allow to grow in the role that someone's taking. And then the second is on the flip side going back to the challenge we talked about earlier, which is how do we then have these opportunities hold appeal for the young workers that are the ones who could come in and learn on the fly and figure it out and do some of the things that the existing leadership is uncomfortable with?

Jake Hall: Yeah, so your first comment, what was the question of that that you're seeing as an issue?

Sarah Nicastro: Sorry. I'm notorious, Jake, for asking multiple questions at once. The first part is that companies are historically hiring on experience.

Jake Hall: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: So they're only finding these people if they have five years of experience in X role rather than looking at the kind of generational aptitudes that you're bringing up, which is maybe they come from... I had a friend on the podcast a couple of weeks ago and he said they've started looking for people that worked at Chick-fil-A before because they're very organized, they're very good at customer service. He doesn't care if they have experience, he can bring them in, teach them what they need to know, and send them on their way. But historically, these organizations are just dead set on looking for X years of experience.

Jake Hall: Oh, absolutely. You always see those posts on social media like, "Hey, we need you to have a four-year degree plus five years of experience and a starting salary of $16 an hour." I think it goes back to a whole entire HR thing where there's a massive misconception of what you actually need versus what you're putting down on paper. Manufacturers, I know just with the industry that I am, need to realize that you aren't going to find your golden person to come work for you. You either needed two options. One is you need to take employees working within your company right now and retrain and reskill them with the talent that you need to make that happen, right?

Jake Hall: If you need a person who's sufficient in programming Rockwell Allen-Bradley PLCs, great, take your maintenance tech and start teaching him how to program Rockwell Allen-Bradley PLCs. That's like the first thing. If you are needing skills but you're not investing in your employees for them to get those skills, that's a huge red flag on your own because you're not creating an opportunity to retrain and then retain your employees. Because if another company is saying, "Hey, your experience, you're working in the industry, don't worry if you don't have the skill, we'll come and hire you, we have a training program to make that happen." Well, the person's going to jump ship and go over there because they're saying, "This company's going to invest in my career beyond just what I'm doing now." And that's a huge thing that millennials and Gen Zs look at is, "It's not just what am I doing now, what are you going to do to prepare me for the future?"

Jake Hall: And then going back to the whole entire hiring thing, I think it just goes back to with the 2.4 million unfulfilled jobs that are going to be in manufacturing, you just simply need to hire people and then teach them what they need along the way. Stop always looking for the best person and then just trying to buy them with your money. Because if your culture isn't a hireable culture, you will lose people over time. Because eventually there will be another company that's willing to pay just as much as you are, but also is willing to invest in them beyond just a monetary value.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Jake Hall: All companies need to look at it's not just about how much you pay them, it's about how do you invest in them.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now, what about how we attract young people to the industry?

Jake Hall: Yeah. Within younger generations, I go to colleges and I advise engineering students when they're graduating and they're looking at jobs and they say, "Hey, who is my boss? And who would I work for? And what did they do five years ago?" Because I always want know, is the person who I'm going to work for, have they been in that position for five years? Because a lot of times, if it's a position and you're working for someone in a department or a category, the person you're working for probably would be the next step in your own promotion. And if that person's been doing that exact same job for 25 years, you're going to get a very quick idea of, am I going to move up in that company or not? Versus if your current manager has only been there for 18 months because he was in your position 18 months ago, and to say, "Hey, maybe they're growing a lot. Or maybe there's a lot of turnover within the company."

Jake Hall: I always like to know within a hiring process is, who is my manager? How long have they been there for? And then what is the opportunity for growth? I think the manufacturers as well need to understand, their interview is their showcase. If they're not showing you how they're investing in you or how they're investing in new technology, they're not being attractive. If you're going in there and you're trying to hire someone and say, "Oh yeah, we've been doing the exact same thing for 20 years," there's no opportunity for that person within that company. They're going to look for somewhere else who say, "Oh yeah, we've added three new automation cells in the past six months and we want you to help learn how to run those." There's opportunity there because they're investing in something new for growth. If you're not adapting new innovation solutions, then you're not going to attract the people to come work for you either.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now, can you talk a little bit about the role social media can play in bridging this gap, changing the perceptions of what manufacturing is, helping organizations sell the story of why someone would want to come work for their company? I know you're a big proponent of the power of social media. I mean, at least my perception is that it's not something that's broadly utilized by manufacturers. What are your thoughts on the role that could play in helping them find more talent?

Jake Hall: Like we talked about originally, right, manufacturing is an industry that's viewed as a dark, dirty, dangerous, dull environment, the four Ds. Social media is the way to begin to share the innovation that's happening in the manufacturing industry to your future workforce, which is millennials and Gen Zs who leverage social media to get their information. They don't go on websites anymore to look at stuff, they're on social media to learn about new solutions. You as a manufacturer need to begin to create content on social media to attract your future workforce.

Jake Hall: But also, for the workforce that's already in place that's making decisions, right, for a lot of manufacturing companies, engineers who want to learn about a new product don't necessarily call the sales rep anymore to find out information, they'll go on YouTube and they'll learn what that product is. I think YouTube's probably one of the biggest source for design engineers and controls engineers because if they run across an error within a PLC they want to learn, I bet you, they're going to go on YouTube and type in that error sooner than they're going to go to that manufacturer's website and look in their instructions or their reference articles, right?

Jake Hall: So the exact same thing with manufacturers need to leverage social media as just an information platform beyond just this idea of thinking it's just fancy videos. It's an educational source as well. I view social media as an educational source for me to educate the existing workforce but also the future workforce on all the cool technology and innovation that's making manufacturing great.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jake Hall: And that's why social media should be leveraged as well. It's not about just attracting your future workforce, it's about sharing the innovation that you're doing to address the problems that we're facing right now in the industry. And do that in a way that's showing how you're solving a problem and not just how you're selling a product.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I love it. All right, Jake, is there anything we have not gotten to that we should touch on today?

Jake Hall: No. I would just say the last thing would be is if you are a company, understand that it's your responsibility to invest in your future workforce and invest in the skills and the trades that need to happen. In this case, if you're a manufacturer, what are you doing to invest in your local community colleges or universities or career tech programs to make sure the kids who are graduating are applied with the correct skills that make them hireable. If you're a manufacturer and saying, "Oh, well, the kids graduating from a local college and university don't have the skills that they need to make them hireable and we need to go hire someone else," then that's your own fault and failure because you had the opportunity to impact that program, to say, "You know what? I need you to have these classes and these subjects taught in your college because that's what we need right now in the industry." Right?

Jake Hall: The college, university should be designed around to prepare people for their future career. But if there's a mismatch of people graduating, not being prepared to enter the workforce because they don't have the skills, we're going to fix that. I think the best way is for manufacturers and local companies to invest locally in their educational programs, and not just universities, your two-year colleges and apprentice programs as well, to say, "You know what? We're going to invest in them from a monetary impact but also from an advising and a teaching impact as well." And that's what I would encourage manufacturers and companies to do.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I mean, there's just far more responsibility today than there was 5, 10 years ago to create the talent you need. You can't just sit back and wait for it to come to you. I mean, it's not happening. I like the point you may earlier too, I mean, you mentioned that you go and speak at some of these colleges and schools and universities. That's another really good opportunity. The earlier organizations can plant the seed of the potential in the industry and the innovation in the industry and the career opportunities that exist, the better chance you have of getting someone's attention before they've already chose another path for themselves. So that's really important as well. All right, cool, Jake. Tell our listeners where they can follow The Manufacturing Millennial.

Jake Hall: Yeah. The best place is just to go on LinkedIn and search Jake Hall, or just go on Google and just literally type out "The Manufacturing Millennial." I probably will come up in all the top searches right away. But I'm on all social media platforms. LinkedIn is my main platform, but I'm on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, all social media platforms. And if you have any questions as well, you can email me to directly, and that's

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. All right, Jake, well, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Jake Hall: My pleasure. Thanks so much, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter, @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.

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