Field Service Talent Shortage Part 1: The Growing Concern
In field service, the emphasis has always been to get more from existing resources. Investments in technology have been built on the business case of increased productivity and utilization of existing field service resources. Process changes have been prioritized to ensure that field service engineers are getting the most out of their days. In addition to productivity or task completion, revenue growth from existing field service resources has also become a major focus point for field service organizations.
But what happens when talent and workforce levels begin to drop? Can field service organizations expect to drive the same levels of growth from a shrinking pool of workers? This is a major issue that is quickly becoming a strategic priority for field service organizations globally.
The Manpower Group conducts an annual talent shortage survey of over 42000 employers. In its 2016/2107 survey, 40% of employers reported having difficulties filling roles, the highest since 2007. For the fifth year in a row, skilled trade positions (electricians, carpenters, welders, etc.) were the hardest roles to fill, followed by IT staff and sales representatives. Rounding up the top 5 were engineers and technicians. In its previous talent shortage surveys, Manpower reported that more than one half of organizations were seeing a ‘high’ or ‘medium’ impact in their ability to meet client needs because of existing talent shortages. Talent shortages were also leading to reduced competitiveness, lower employee morale, and reduced innovation and capacity.
Three of the top five groups in Manpower’s survey can be linked to field service. The Service Council’s research, dedicated to the field of service management and field service, has also tracked the increasing challenge of talent shortages over the previous three years. In 2015, our field service talent research found that a third of organizations were already challenged by knowledge loss because of an aging workforce.
At the end of 2015, 47% of organizations also reported being unable to fill open field service positions. In 2016, talent issues rose to the top of major challenges forecasted for the year. 46% of organizations polled at the beginning of 2016 highlighted talent and workforce issues as being a major focus area for their field service businesses in 2016.
Early polling of service leaders in 2017 highlights how talent continues to be a major concern. One-half (50%) of service business leaders polled by The Service Council indicate that workforce and talent shortage issues will have the most significant impact on their service businesses in 2017. These leaders identify talent management as their second most pressing challenge, behind changing customer expectations around service delivery.
In addition to those already saddled by talent challenges, another 38% of service organizations indicate that they will begin to feel the adverse impacts of a retiring field service workforce in the next 5-10 years. In certain industries, such as medical devices and services, 50% of organizations indicate that talent issues will become extremely critical in the next 5-10 years.
Focusing on the impact of an aging workforce is one thing, and there are many investments that organizations are beginning to evaluate to ensure that the tribal knowledge, inherent in the minds of the existing field workforce, remains within the walls of the field service organization. Solving for knowledge loss is only part of the solution. This is because most service organizations are struggling to deal with the paucity of new available talent for future field service work.
In Manpower’s 2015 and 2016 talent shortage surveys the top factors leading to poor job-fill rates were:
- Lack of available applicants
- Lack of technical competencies (hard skills)
Only 13-14% of organizations reported that the workforce’s demand for higher pay was a major factor in being unable to assemble the right talent. In our own work, we’ve seen several organizations struggle with the development of a future talent pool from their traditional talent sources. Enrollment in vocational and technical schools has remained subdued leading to an increased reliance on alternative sources of talent.
So how do organizations begin to solve this talent crisis? There’s no silver bullet as the solution to such a comprehensive problem requires a comprehensive review of:
- Existing workforce and talent priorities
- Technology investments to support workforce development
- Talent sourcing and onboarding priorities
- Training and workforce development capabilities
Over the next 4 weeks, The Service Council will share insight on how organizations are preparing to deal with their looming talent challenges. In addition to this post, we will publish content on the following areas in the coming weeks:
March 16: The Opportunity in Changing Field Service Workforce Dynamics
March 23: Prioritized Actions to Deal with an Aging Field Service Workforce
March 30: The Role New Technology Will Play in Solving the Field Service Talent Crisis
At the end of the month, we will publish a summary report detailing the steps taken by organizations to ensure a sustainable talent pool in field service management. The information in this report will be developed from interviews and surveys conducted by The Service Council within its overall service talent and leadership communities. If interested in accessing a copy of this report, please follow our posts on Field Service Matters or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
 ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey 2016-2017, November 2016