Sumair Dutta | 03.23.17
Summary >

This is part 3 of our 4-part series on field service talent. Last week, we spoke about the opportunity for growth in an evolving and multi-generational workforce. You can find the piece here.

How can companies begin to tackle the aging workforce challenge? We asked that question to 100 service organizations last year. These are the same group that reported that they would be facing a talent shortage in the next 5-10 years.

Figure 1: Sustaining a Talented Workforce


I’d like to present the solutions in three buckets:

  • Discovering New Sources of Talent

  • Improving Connections in the Workforce

  • Driving the Capture and Retention of Knowledge

Technology would and should be a fourth bucket, but that deserves its own blog. I will tackle that next week.

New Sources of Labor

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the aging workforce issue having two pieces. The loss of knowledge from a retiring workforce and the poor flow of new talent into field service.

To bring in new talent at the recent graduate level, organizations are prioritizing:

  • Relationships with academic institutions to develop more technical talent
  • A review of apprenticeship programs
  • Development of training universities to engage students with hands-on experience. (Wonderful piece from TSC member Lee Company)

At the 2016 Smarter Services Symposium, hosted by The Service Council, Bryan Rathert from Cummins spoke of the work being done at Cummins’s TEC initiative. Brian shared best practices for organizations and institutions to develop a better connection in the battle for talent (his slides). He also showcased a wonderful video of the impact of TEC in Africa.

We’ve also seen organizations find success while evaluating alternate sources of experienced talent. Several organizations have started to work with war veterans, many of who have extensive technical and mechanical experience. Some organizations, like Philips Medical, recruit annual classes of veterans who are then placed in comprehensive training programs before being offered a rotation of responsibilities across the organization. Based on the rotation, veterans can then pick the most suitable position within the organization.

In tight labor markets, grabbing talent from competitive sources becomes challenging (not to mention the possible legal ramifications), but several organizations have had success in bringing on field service engineers from customer or partner organizations. These agents typically have extensive experience working with the organization’s products.

The final piece of the new talent puzzle comes from the increased use of part-time or third-party workforces for the completion of field service tasks. In research conducted by The Service Council in late 2016, 76% of organizations indicated that they were outsourcing some level of field service work. Most organizations believed that their reliance on outsourced or contingent labor would increase in the next five years (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Workforce of the Future?


Improving Connections in the Workforce

This is often the most overlooked piece of the three, especially as organizations focus on either end of the challenge. As seen from Figure 1, there is an impetus to focus on succession planning activities at the field technician level. In this, organizations are looking to build a pipeline of future talent to minimize the risk associated with talent loss. Very few field service organizations have a structured succession management discussion in place at the technician level.

Mentorship programs, where younger field engineers are paired with more experienced field engineers, can also be extremely powerful in:

  • Improving bi-directional knowledge transfer
  • Increasing engagement and camaraderie in the field service workforce

Most organizations only focus on knowledge transfer from experienced to inexperienced technicians, but there is a lot that younger workers can offer to older field technicians as well. As these technicians are asked to do more with technology, their younger counterparts can be an extremely vital source of guidance in reducing the stress associated with new tools and procedures.

Capturing and Retaining Knowledge

Service organizations continue to make major investments in knowledge management and training tools. In The Service Council’s 2017 survey of 30 senior service leaders, knowledge management was highlighted as a top 3 focus area.

There is no easy fix to knowledge management. There needs to be a dedicated focus on the capture, organization, and management of service knowledge. This is made more complex when you consider the creation of knowledge and information in multiple formats (document, video etc.). In global service organizations, the translation into multiple languages is another major challenge. We’re seeing an interesting intersection between training and knowledge programs, where training organizations are no longer just focused on delivering content at pre-established learning times. They are much more involved in the continuous development of the service workforce.

Live video recording and augmented reality tools are also being evaluated for the improved capture of service procedures, as conducted by experienced field service technicians. These procedures can then be re-used or repurposed for training or performance support. The Service Council is currently conducting a survey to evaluate the feasibility of these tools. And early returns suggest that the training value offered by these tools is a major interest drawing factor.

These tools also allow for organizations to move towards a centralized expert model. In this, an experienced field service technician could leverage live video or virtual presence technology to offer live support to multiple field service agents or trainees. These live sessions replace the need for the experienced technician to physically conduct a ride along. As a result, these tools amplify the reach of experienced field service technicians. The centralized expert model often appeals to experienced workers who might be looking to cut back on the travel associated with field service work. It’s recommended that this form of virtual training be paired with in-person, classroom, or practical training, so that experienced agents continue to see and feel a connection with the products and customers that they support.

Our final post on Field Service Matters will focus on:

March 29: The Role New Technology Will Play in Solving the Field Service Talent Crisis

If you’d like to chat with me about our research, or if you’d like to tell us how your organization is dealing with the talent crisis, please contact me at Most of my research and work can be found at  Once again, do take a few moments to participate in our Augmented Reality research project and you’ll see some results in next week’s post. A live AR project is not required for participation.