The ‘Maintenance Crisis’ & Innovations that are Changing it

by Ashley Halligan
Property Management Analyst, Software Advice

A couple months ago, I wrote an article about the top five careers in facility management. I interviewed a broad range of professionals for that story. But it was during an interview with Joel Leonard, President of SkillTV, that I started to ponder what he referred to as “the maintenance crisis”–a depletion of skilled workers in the maintenance management workforce caused by baby boomers retiring and too few young professionals entering the field.


Leonard got me wondering: What does the maintenance crisis mean for the future of maintenance management? And who is doing something about it?

Defining the Maintenance Crisis

When I spoke to Leonard this morning, he opened the conversation with a startling statement:

“I was at Harley Davidson yesterday. They have 4,500 manufacturing personnel, and the average age is 55–and it’s one of the most legendary entities in the United States. If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.”

And he’s not the only one discussing the growing shortage of skilled workers. A Minneapolis Star Tribune article published this week released poll results in which 72 percent of HR professionals surveyed “identified the pending retirement of baby boomers as a problem their organizations hoped to address.”

In fact, a 2010 Pew Research Center report shows that every day for the next 19 years, approximately 10,000 baby boomers will cross the 65-year-old threshold. Furthermore, data supplied by the Congressional Research Service indicates that as many as 56% of maintenance and related roles across industries are held by baby boomers.

What does the maintenance crisis mean for the skilled labor roles that are being vacated as retirees leave the workforce? It means the number of skilled labor professionals will soon be at a startling low, and unless younger generations enter this field, these roles will be left unfilled.

I interviewed a handful of industry professionals to see who they think are making strides in this transitionary period–and how they’re using innovation to overcome it.

Starting Young

Clearly, children and young adults need to be encouraged to consider trade schools and pursue technical positions. One example of a pioneer in this respect is the Nuts, Bolts, & Thingamajigs summer camp series, whose main purpose is encouraging hands-on “tinkering.”

In a November press release, the organization said, “The United States has become a nation of ‘non-tinkerers,’ a new survey shows, and manufacturing leaders say the ‘hands-off’ policy around the house is a leading cause of disinterest among American youth to fill much-needed, future skilled labor jobs in the industrial arena.” Specialized camps can help youth discover new interests, and learn valuable skills that could lead to more skilled labor career choices.

Subduing Stigmas & Stirring Interest

There are two significant stigmas in the skilled labor workforce: (1) these are dirty, underpaid positions that are (2) primarily opportunities for men.

“People have a misconception that these roles are dull, dumb, and dreadful–involving mops, buckets, and posterior cleavage,” Leonard says. “People don’t realize the technicalities, compensation opportunities, the innovativeness of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS software), and the job security that comes with these roles.”

Leonard also addresses stigma #2, “The current workforce is 5-percent female–why exclude an entire gender out of tradition? Women can do many of these things better than some men.”

“Women assume they know nothing about welding, for example. But, in virtual reality scenarios, women regularly outperform men. It’s their steady hand, attention to detail, fine-tuned, delicate finesse,” says Amy Earl, VP of Antech Systems.

She adds, “Stereotypes were established when American interest was shifted toward liberal arts, four-year degrees, and programs like law and medicine. It’s an extreme pendulum swing, and has essentially become a public relations problem. I feel most productive when I make something–my pride is in the product. We need to turn the stigma for manufacturing and maintenance around.”

Leonard, in partnership with Antech Systems, created the Occupy a Job application, encouraging Americans to “close the skills gap and occupy American jobs.” This Web-based tool helps students and job-seekers assess their skills sets and find career opportunities in the maintenance world.

Gamification and Innovative Training

One of Antech Systems’ strategies involves the gamification of maintenance training, claiming that real-life gaming scenarios improve employees’ knowledge retention and provide a holistic understanding of their actions.

“We pioneered scenario-based training apps, beginning with military maintenance in the Navy,” Earl says. “Adult Learning Theory shows self-correction leads to more significant retention. This is precisely what game-based training allows for.”

Antech offers this philosophy on game-based training:

“By simulating your equipment and creating real-life scenarios in a game-based environment, you can reduce costly repairs or misuse of machinery by 50%–like we did with the fire extinguishing system on fighter jets. You can let your people perform incorrectly without costly or dangerous consequences, and provide remediation that shows them what they should have done. This helps them understand the repercussions of their actions.”

Leonard also used Martin Tauber, a technician at Advance Pierre Foods, as an example of an innovator. Tauber pioneered Break Through Training, a concept in which TVs in breakrooms at his organization continuously show training videos.

Leonard says, “Break Through allows employees to constantly be saturated with best practices. This has even led to operators becoming technicians.”

The core strategy in battling the maintenance crisis is creating an interest in generations outside of the baby boomers–beginning with training practices for current facility employees, or unemployed Americans–and engaging the nation’s youth in hands-on, skilled labor activities. And this all starts with diluting the stigmas associated with maintenance and manufacturing roles, and providing effective training from there.

Are you a maintenance professional? What are your thoughts on the maintenance crisis? Do you, or your company, have creative strategies to retain, train, and attract employees? If so, feel free to share your comments below, or email me at [email protected]

 

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