There’s no denying that companies with industrial assets, regardless of business model or sector, are still suffering from a labor shortage. This is a growing problem around the globe. Despite a brief respite in May 2022, when U.S. job openings decreased to 11.3 million on the last business day, the hard reality is that more workers are retiring or resigning than are joining the labor force.
The situation isn’t much better in Europe, either. In 2019, one study found that 39% of manufacturing firms reported their production was being limited by labor shortages and the situation has not abated. In the UK, manufacturing job vacancies are 30% higher than their pre-pandemic peak, per a 2021 Deloitte study. Another report found that British manufacturers are experiencing the worst skilled labor shortage in more than 30 years. A McKinsey “future of work” analysis predicts that by 2030, the EU will have lost more than 13.5 million working-age people. Exacerbating the issue, many firms lack the resources or knowledge to vet and hire the right people. In the meantime, senior-level engineers are being asked to perform the work of junior people, frustrating them and potentially accelerating their retirement plans. Realistically, they want to help their employers, but they also want to perform the work they were hired to do.
Acceleration of retirement among senior workers makes the problem even worse than one might assume. Why? Senior workers possess “tribal knowledge” and historical perspectives that younger, more inexperienced staff do not.
Addressing the Knowledge Deficit: Outside Training for Maintenance Workers
Often, the most logical solution may seem to be training and upskilling younger workers. This is great in theory, but the only staff who are experienced enough to train and upskill others are often senior workers. That just makes the situation more difficult. Fortunately, there is hope. One approach that can deliver significant value involves letting experienced staff act as mentors. They will gain a sense of purpose by sharing their knowledge and skills with younger workers/apprentices, and the facility’s capabilities will be increased.
Another approach is to allocate resources for outside training. Firms who go this route must confirm the training is recognized by respected entities such as Technical Associates of Charlotte.
In essence, it is far more effective for senior staff to spend time training junior and intermediate-level maintenance technicians rather than to perform the work themselves. Not only is this less frustrating for the senior person, but it also creates an environment of “mentorship.” Senior (and often intermediate) personnel can share best practices and life/work experiences that inform the younger workers’ knowledge base.
Delivering Expertise to Customers
Another area where resource matching is vital is when a company seeks referrals of possible technician hires from a vendor or a partner. Not all companies define the scope of maintenance technician positions in the same way.
When an I-care customer asks us to help them in this effort, we get precise answers. We need to know exactly what the resource will do. Sometimes, a seemingly small effort might require all three levels of expertise. In those cases, it may make more sense for the customer to work with an outside firm for talent augmentation or convert the effort to a project that will be outsourced. We have identified the complete range of different responsibilities that should be assigned to each level of engineer. In essence, a senior-level person should only be doing high-level or management work, or training/mentoring junior or intermediate engineers to do fieldwork. The result is better outcomes, and it frees the senior worker to oversee more or bigger projects.
Perhaps most importantly, it avoids wasting resources. A junior reliability engineer will be challenged by doing walk-downs, writing work instructions, doing computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) integration work, etc. Once the engineer has more experience, he/she will probably be able to perform criticality analyses, technical coaching, spare parts management, and other activities. That leaves senior engineers to focus mostly on project and change management, assessments, RCM facilitation and other higher-level activities.
Too many companies use an $80-an-hour person to solve a $20-an-hour problem. That’s not sustainable. It blows budgets and makes best-practices facility maintenance look less appealing due to the excessive cost versus the outcome. If you are not following the guidelines outlined above, we invite you to give us a call. We can help you better align your workforce to their specialties and fill in the gaps where you lack resources.
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