CONTRIBUTOR
President,
IFS Service Management Business Unit (SMBU)

In a resource-scarce economy, where rising costs and supply chain shortages present huge challenges for manufacturers, business leaders are searching for innovative ways to remain competitive and profitable. There aren’t enough workers to simply recruit more—businesses must instead take advantage of technology developments to attract new talent and upskill existing employees, argues Marne Martin, President of IFS Service Management Business Unit (SMBU). Here’s how.

A lack of skilled workers, ever-nearing sustainability targets, and a need to effectively address growing consumer expectations, is creating a pressurized service landscape. Technology is the missing piece in the jigsaw to combat market challenges. It can revolutionize workforces and optimize maintenance and service operations to achieve new efficiencies.

A recent global report on the State of Service in 2023 illustrates this situation. Businesses didn’t become aware of current worker shortages in time to react, before it became problematic, resulting in the current clamor to retrain and recruit. Clearly, if businesses fail to prepare, they prepare to fail—and businesses need to work smarter by using modern field service technology to overhaul operations.

When new labor is in short supply, look inwards and retrain existing employees.

The current skills shortage has impacted businesses across the globe. Currently, a record 74% of U.S. employers have difficulties in filling positions. In the State of Service 2023 report, technicians not having the necessary knowledge and skills to complete the job at hand was ranked a top concern for field service companies, with 64% citing this as the number one reason for multiple site visits. The issue is a complex one, but it is true across the globe—between a low birth rate, and aging workforce, businesses simply don’t have enough skilled workers to fill the job openings. The same research conducted in 2018 found skills shortages ranked as number six in a list of concerns. Today, no matter the size of the company, the struggle to find, employ, train, and backfill thousands of people to fill skilled labor positions has becomes a prominent concern.

Businesses across all industries clearly need to address these issues and they need to do so urgently. Today there is less and less new blood entering the workforce, further entrenching the old ways of doing things, and causing people to be retrained on the way the old employees have worked. It’s a never-ending cycle, which is impacting the adoption of new technologies.

Digital workers need empowerment—not micromanagement.

For some time, service companies have struggled to transform field engineers into digital workers—that’s due, in part, to undervaluing the role, a lack of change management and, in some cases, a lack of attention to issues around business transformation or the adoption of digital tools. But all this is putting pressure on field supervisors and the wider operations model, forcing a shift in mindset.

The conversation among service leaders has now changed to less about “how we control them”, and more about “how we empower them.” Keeping employees satisfied is important for the performance and long-term health of any company—with research finding that empowered employees have more than three times the engagement levels of their less-empowered counterparts. Here, not only can technology help “plug the gaps” in field service worker shortages, but it can help empower and retain current employees out on the frontline to reduce attrition rates.

Innovation will need to start from the very beginning, right through to the use of tools that accelerate the speed of onboarding for new workers. To ease some of the burden, companies must focus on implementing solutions that help expedite new worker training and encourage employees in the long-term. For example, remote assistance powered by augmented/virtual/merged reality can be tied to knowledge management and self-service to help technicians perform self-diagnosis or resolution. With 44% of organizations planning to implement and 21% having it on their wish list, remote assistance has become a primary focus to remain competitive.

Workforce planning and AI-powered scheduling optimization can also be key in this context. It makes working with a constrained workforce more effective, and takes complex SLAs, ones as stringent as 2-hour windows to resolve an issue and makes it possible for technicians to deliver on those expectations.

Be proactive on sustainability issues to attract the younger generation’s attention

The power of AI-powered scheduling optimization now goes way beyond meeting customer expectations, it provides significant sustainability benefits too—and the direct incentives of “going green” now go way beyond a commendable corporate objective. As net-zero emission goals creep closer, the spotlight is firmly on organizations proactively making an impact—and workers from the younger generations are watching.

Recent research has found that more than half of employees would be more likely to work for a company that provides resources and tools for them to become more sustainable, with a quarter saying they would never work for businesses that profit from unsustainable practices. Here’s where technology can help. With a sophisticated planning and scheduling optimization tool companies can reduce technician travel time between 35% – 50%, which significantly reduces their carbon footprint.

It’s also put reverse logistics in the spotlight—it’s even become a desired component of modern field service management platforms, as 54% of service organizations currently have reverse logistics capabilities, with another 28% planning to implement them. Having the correct tools in place to anticipate wear and breakage, combined with the digital processes to remedy issues in a timely way, helps companies control operational costs, and manage their sustainable impact.

The sustainable impact matters to employees, and in a scarce economy, companies should be putting staffing needs to the top of the priority list. Promisingly, IFS research revealed that 40% plan to implement scheduling optimization and automation, with another 15% having it on their wish list.

Technology overhauls operations and empowers employees

During a period of uncertainty across manufacturing, businesses need to offer personalized experiences to make market gains. It will facilitate staff empowerment, worker training, and prioritizes business areas such as sustainability and resource management. Modern service management tools make this all this a reality—allowing businesses to make staff shortages a thing of the past.