In this Field Service News Research study, they take a deep dive into how the role of the field service engineer is evolving. This article takes a look at the question of the ageing workforce and the entry of millennials into the field service workforce…
Much has been written about an ageing workforce crisis but how much of the worry is based on hyperbole? And what of the Millennial generation entering the workforce – is our industry ready to embrace them?
Field Service is Rapidly Evolving
Technology is continuously pushing the boundaries of field service efficiency whilst simultaneously customer expectations are becoming ever more demanding. Companies like Uber and Amazon have disrupted the very concepts of what good service looks like, shifting the goalposts and creating a race across almost every industry vertical for companies to embrace service excellence.
Companies like Uber and Amazon have disrupted the very concepts of what good service looks like, shifting the goalposts and creating a race across almost every industry vertical for companies to embrace service excellence.
At the same time, digital transformation is the other major trend sweeping across our sector – one direct side effect of which is that increasingly the Field Service Engineer (FSE) is often the only face to face human interaction between a company and their customers.
So what does this mean for the FSE of tomorrow? How is their role evolving? What are the skills that will be vital to their role and how do these differ from those that we have previously sought in our FSEs?
About the research:
The research has been conduct via an online survey across the last two months and our respondents have come from all over the globe including; the UK, Germany, Netherlands, France, USA, Canada, Brazil and beyond.
There was also an equally wide split of industries represented with respondents coming from numerous sectors including; Oil and Gas, Manufacturing, Utilities, Telcos, Print/Copy, Med Tech and many others. Finally, there was also a balanced representation of companies of all sizes with some companies having less than 10 field service engineers right through to companies with more than 800 engineers.
In total there were 126 respondents which is a large enough sample to provide a reasonable snapshot of the thinking and the trends amongst field service management professionals.
The Threat of an Ageing Field Service Workforce:
One of the biggest drivers for the rapid evolution of the role of the field service engineer is the fact that the core demographic of those working in field service roles is going through seismic change as we see an ageing Baby Boomer workforce reach retirement age being replaced by a new generation of workers, the Millennials.
Perhaps never before has there been such a significant difference between the generation leaving the workforce and those that are just beginning their working lives. From the way knowledge is gained and shared through to the key motivational drivers, ‘Boomers and Millennials are often chalk and cheese. One of the key challenges for field service companies of all shapes and sizes is how they adjust to this shift in thinking within their workforce and for many, time is not on their side as they endeavour to make this adjustment.
There has been much talk of an ageing workforce crisis as the existing Boomer workforce reaches retirement age – perhaps magnified amongst field service organisations by the simple fact that fieldwork can often be relatively physically demanding compared to more sedentary office-based roles.
With this in mind, our opening question in the survey was focused on assessing just how real this ageing workforce crisis is amongst field service organisations. We asked our respondents ‘For your organisation how big a threat to your field service delivery do you think this issue will be across the next 5 years?’
The responses revealed that whilst perhaps there may be some hyperbole around the urgency of the issue – it still remains very much a concern for a huge percentage of companies. The responses revealed that whilst perhaps there may be some hyperbole around the urgency of the issue – it still remains very much a concern for a huge percentage of companies.
Whilst only 8% of organisations stated that for them an ageing workforce represented a severe threat i.e. that it is a major issue they are facing that could put their field service operations at risk, 40% of companies taking part in the research stated that the threat was significant for them and that unless addressed quickly they are likely to face major disruption to their field service delivery within the next five years.
In addition to this, a further 34% of the respondents stated that they believed the challenge of an ageing FSE population was moderate that they acknowledged it as a possible issue that they need to be aware of, although they didn’t anticipate it having a major impact on field service operations.
At the other end of the spectrum just under a fifth of respondents (18%) stated that the impact for them would be limited and that whilst there may be some workforce attrition due to FSEs reaching retirement age, it is unlikely to have any significant impact on their field service operations.
So, it would indeed appear that in the main the issue of an ageing workforce is at the very least a consideration for more than four out of five field service companies.
Changes in Field Service Engineer Training Methodologies:
This puts many field service organisations in a challenging position.
The need to recruit younger talent for FSE roles is clearly pressing, but given the aforementioned differences between ‘Boomers and Millennials are the existing on-boarding and training methods suited to this incoming generation?
Our next question was therefore focused on understanding if field service companies did in fact feel the need to change their training methodologies and whether they were actively doing so. We asked our respondents; ‘Have you adapted your training and development strategies to reflect this?’
Only 10% of companies had stated that they had already redeveloped their training strategies to be more geared to the incoming Millennial workforce. Here the research revealed that whilst there was a clear understanding that changes to the traditional means of training FSEs does indeed need updating, it seems that there is something of general inertia amongst field service companies to currently tackle such change.
In fact, only 10% of companies had stated that they had already redeveloped their training strategies to be more geared to the incoming Millennial workforce. However, just over half (52%) of companies taking part in the research are currently in the process of addressing the issue in their organization.
Further to this just over a quarter (26%) stated that they had yet to start making changes to their FSE training to reflect the shift from ‘Boomers to Millennials but accept that they need to do so and is something they are currently considering.
Meanwhile, 12% of companies do not believe they need to make any changes to their FSE training at all.
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