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January 8, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

Field Service Upskilling: Opportunity or Challenge?

January 8, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

Field Service Upskilling: Opportunity or Challenge?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Field service organizations are struggling with several staffing problems simultaneously. The workforce is aging, and experienced technicians are retiring – taking valuable institutional and technical knowledge with them. Younger workers entering the labor market often lack the technical skills needed for field service work, or viewed by some potential employers as too demanding when it comes to pay, scheduling flexibility, and work environment.

For companies on a growth path, an inability to resolve these issues can stymie your ability to take on new business or even to deliver quality service to existing customers. But by leveraging some creative thinking and the right technology, service organizations can address at least some of these labor challenges by developing an upskilling or development program.

Setting up an internal training or career development program can seem daunting, particularly for companies already struggling to hire enough people, who are short-staffed and feel there’s already too much to do. While an investment of time, a well-designed upskilling initiative can pay dividends when it comes to attracting and retaining workers.

First, it helps the company stay on top of technical training. Whatever industry you are in, servicing your customers gets more complex every year. Products are always changing, along with the environments in which they are installed. A good field service operation should already have an education/training program in place so that technicians are up to date; the upskilling program can piggy-back on that.

Second, a focus on upskilling can help attract new hires and keep them around. Competition for technicians means that many companies are going to have to hire relatively green employees with non-traditional backgrounds and provide a lot of upfront training to get them up to speed. By providing training and certifications not only at the beginning but on an ongoing basis, field service organizations can become more attractive to their pool of potential employees and have more success retaining existing talent.

Upskilling Increases Employee Engagement

How? Upskilling and career development keep employees engaged. We know that there’s a correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction, so this is a worthwhile effort. It also provides employees a path for growth within the company, empowering employees to strive at their pace toward advancement and better pay, while sending a message that the company is invested in them.

Finally, these programs can potentially help keep retiring workers around a little longer by offering them opportunities to shift their work responsibilities as they age. You can also ask older employers to stay on, perhaps on a part-time basis, to help run these training programs.

Training is labor intensive, but technology can help. A number of solutions and applications have emerged that can bolster training/upskilling programs without the need for hiring more trainers:

  • Augmented/virtual reality tools allow technicians to virtually diagnose and repair equipment. There is no substitute for hands-on training, of course, but this type of 3D virtual instruction can accelerate the process.
  • Virtual collaboration tools leverage this type of AR/VR interface so trainers can work with new employees (or even techs operating in the field) remotely. A handful of trainers or senior technicians can support new employees (and each other) from anywhere.
  • On-demand training assets can be accessed by technicians on their mobile devices. This can reduce some classroom time, which can help keep the training schedule manageable. This type of flexible, self-directed training can be appealing to younger workers.

I wrote recently about the importance of career development, and interviewed Jennifer Morehead of Flex HR about how these programs can benefit service organizations. An important theme that came up was that you must consider taking care of your employees needs in the same way you look at providing good service to your clients. If your technicians are not happy or they don't feel like they have the right tools to do their jobs, that will eventually affect client satisfaction.

That element of workforce development also came up in my conversation with Gyner Ozgul, former President and COO of Smart Care Equipment Solutions. In describing the Smart Care training/development program – which provides opportunities to become managers, trainers or sales reps – Gyner told me “We've been very clear to map out each one of those for our technicians, so they feel that this is an organization that no matter what path they take, they can feel supported and be successful.”

How has your company approached upskilling and development? What challenges have you faced, or opportunities have you created? I’d love to hear your experiences.