Anyone involved in servicing and repairing sophisticated equipment understands that new hires into the field service professionals don’t just start a job and immediately know what they’re doing. This is complex stuff—advanced HVAC technology, medical/clinical devices, complex electromechanical machinery, IoT integrations, sophisticated computer-driven equipment, and more. These systems need skilled technicians to install, calibrate, diagnose, and repair them.
There’s a particular pride that comes with knowing “how things work.” Field service technicians have always been the type of people who get things done by figuring it out; there is no substitute for the sweat equity of learning on the job. In fact, research has shown that the vast majority of field service technicians joined the profession precisely because they “like fixing things.” They’re the ones who keep the lights on, and they know it.
But as technology advances, we’re asking a lot more of our technicians. Becoming proficient in servicing today’s highly sophisticated equipment requires in-depth training, time, and resources. Moreover, experienced technicians continue to retire in record numbers, taking 30-40 years of institutional knowledge with them. These factors are creating a huge problem for hiring managers, and as they struggle to fill these gaps, there’s a growing movement behind elevating the perception of technicians and the work they do.
What’s in a name?
I have worked with many enterprise companies that employ highly skilled technicians during my career. I have noticed a growing sentiment toward referring to service technicians as “field engineers” or “field service engineers'', especially when complex equipment maintenance and repair is involved. Indeed, well-known companies like IBM, Northrop Grumman, Philips, and others have included the word “engineer” in the titles for their field service people for decades.
If you ask the average technician, he or she might not care what you call them, as long as the pay is right, work is steady, good work is acknowledged and respected, and an appropriate work/life balance is sustained. But this is also about evolving how we represent field service technicians’ roles and responsibilities within the company. And those roles and responsibilities have changed dramatically in recent years.
An increasingly valuable asset
The global pandemic upended almost every industry, and it was no different for the myriad field service specialties. While our technicians were once tasked with straightforward on-site visits, companies now offer contactless/remote service using augmented reality (AR) tools to access information on mobile devices, and artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive maintenance technology to evaluate and monitor the health of equipment to anticipate problems.
Such advanced capabilities require reskilling and upskilling service technicians. And these added skills and responsibilities need to be accompanied by a greater contextualization of the technician role within the company.
Even the simple gesture of referring to field service technicians as field “engineers” or field service “engineers” can make a positive difference in giving your team members a greater sense of purpose and value. I’m not necessarily advocating that every service technician title be changed to “engineer”; that may not be appropriate for some roles.
But we are advocating that service management give suggestions like this some serious thought, along with other considerations that will boost the perception of the field service role. We’re talking about evolving mindsets here, to a mindset that openly, purposely, and regularly recognizes field service people for the invaluable role they play in advancing customer satisfaction and cementing brand loyalty.
Reporting for service
The future for field service is bright. I’m optimistic that field service engineers and technicians will keep evolving to meet the market's changing demands. But the reality is that we are still losing many of our most experienced and skilled workers as baby boomers continue to retire and many others leave as part of the “great resignation” trend.
For those companies who want to get proactive about futureproofing their field service organizations, here are a few suggested takeaways to ensure you are attracting, hiring, and retaining the right talent:
Reinforce the vital role your field service team plays to further empower your current workforce
As any good manager knows, employees do their best when they have a strong sense of purpose. Everyone must understand how their contribution makes them valuable assets to the company. By contextualizing each person’s impact on productivity, performance, and profitability, you’re nurturing a personal sense of pride and improving the entire team’s perception of the role of field service employees. If enough companies do this, we’ll all be doing our part to dispel false narratives about the job, inspire recruits, and elevate the broader industry perception of field service roles.
Ensure you have the proper training and mentoring programs to build resilience for the future
Attracting talent is one thing, but retaining a skilled workforce requires an ongoing investment in their capabilities and support systems. It’s a competitive market, and if employees feel like they’re not operating in an environment where they can thrive, they’ll look elsewhere.
By implementing things like employee recognition/award programs, regular training and upskilling opportunities, and mentorship or guidance from senior management and other leaders, you’re signaling to your field service team that you have a vested interest in their future at the company, which will ultimately boost morale and lead to increased loyalty.
Set your team up for success by giving them the best technology and resources
To elevate the industry and give field service teams pride in what they do, they need to have the right technology at their disposal. Younger people entering the workforce today are “tech-savvy”. They’re accustomed to using technology tools at home that are easy to learn, easy to use, modern in form, and rich in features and functions.
They expect no less of the tools they use on the job. Today’s field service people need and deserve to have state-of-the-art, mobile-friendly tools that are as good or better than what they’re accustomed to in their personal lives; if they can’t find that where they currently work, they’re more likely to look for it elsewhere.
At Zuper, we hear from clients every day how our automation increases operational efficiencies, provides real-time performance data, and helps field service businesses provide both customers and employees with better experiences. By arming your team with the right technology, the most flexible and up-to-date software, and an exceptional mobile experience, you’re helping them do their job better, providing a superior customer experience, and you’re sending the message that your company is committed to their success.