By Bruce Breeden, VP of field service operations, Fairbanks Scales
I recognize this is a journal about field technologies, but let’s back up a bit and talk about people and process and their relation to technology. We often talk about our worry, concern, and strategic plan to attract talent and replace our aging workforce. Knowledge transfer is always in the forefront of our minds, and of course consideration of millennials and many other valid and evolving issues. Certainly I am in such a venerated audience.
I was on a long drive a few years ago with wandering thoughts as I reflected on my 35 years in the field service business; maybe it was just wanderlust or thinking of younger days! The point hit me about the wonderful attributes of the field service industry. How many cool careers are out there that combine technology and business responsibility? Get real, I thought, when I was 19 years old and just out of U.S. Air Force technical training and beginning a civilian career servicing precise scientific instrumentation. This gateway, unbeknownst to me at the time, led to a career journey of multiple technical and business roles, paid education, relocations, global business, and opportunities to work with wonderful organizations and people, many of whom became lifelong friends. This, to me, is field service!
These thoughts spawned the idea to publish a book to tell my story about field service and share my experiences on how to best develop a field service engineering career to have such opportunities and fulfillment. I firmly believe in this profession and the need to combine people talent with good process and today’s technology to achieve customer excellence and operational performance.
Attracting Field Service Talent
The first step in attracting field service talent is to tell the field service story and explain how a person can be involved with cool technologies and have a level of responsibility and independence with interfacing directly with customers. Like many FSEs, I couldn’t imagine only working at one facility each day and loved the idea of both local and regional travel. The dynamics of working with different customer personalities, scientific instrumentation, and the various problems was engaging and interesting to me. I even met my wife 31 years ago on the job —she was a laboratory research technician when I was a FSE! No day was ever the same. Personally, I feel there is so much to tell about field service that energy abounds in getting in front of new candidates for our profession. Comparing the focus that our nation and many other countries in the world have for attracting skilled labor for high tech manufacturing, we need to organize and tell our story for the millions of field service industry service engineers and technicians. A second spark for me is to tell our new hires about the need to develop and focus on the core skills of field service.
Developing Talent For Excellence
At Fairbanks, we have launched a development program called Field Service7℠. The program is inspired by my book The Intentional Field Service Engineer. The book highlights the necessary focus areas of technical, soft skills, and job skills including the use of our service management mobile system, driving productivity, and inventory management. We steadily focus on the technical, soft, and job skills necessary to perform in today’s field service industry, and highlight the many career opportunities that exist for our team. We even created a “opportunity” brochure to tell the story and encourage development, continuous learning, and to drive performance. These potential opportunities are not just for FSEs in the service function, but in many other disciplines that require experience in working independently and solving problems with various customers and product applications. There are many professionals involved in quality, system implementation, training, marketing, and other fields that I know who were previously FSEs.
As service leaders, we correctly implement new technology to automate and improve the customer experience. The successful or “intentional” FSEs embrace their use of systems and combine a balance focus on their technology skills, soft skills, and job skills.
Evolving Learning Mediums
One of the new focus areas we have in our program is learning technology. The traditional blend of formal classroom training and online through our LMS has served us well, but we are now working on embedding “micro-learning” segments into our dispatch and service management system. There are numerous field service roles and products, and constantly evolving technologies and service processes. Some are very specific to a customer. The challenge is to make learning dynamic, interesting, relevant, specific, and delivered 24/7 to a mobile location. Starting with an inventory of skills required, we are mapping the skills inventory with organization learning models and FSE preferences to be aligned with our business goals and performance metrics.
In summary, the field service industry offers a unique opportunity for career advancement and fulfilling roles. Eager talent must be focused on development. Technology is a constant, whether it’s the product and equipment serviced or in the form of service management systems and learning technologies. Embracing people, process, and technology as a directional beacon and focusing your service organization on balanced development and performance criteria is key to growth and mission achievement.
Bruce Breeden is the author of The Intentional Field Service Engineer and creator of the Field Service7℠ FSE Development program from Field Service Resources, LLC. Breeden has a broad array of field service experience including field service management, business development, service marketing, organization development, industrial safety, fleet management, training, CRM, and call center operations. His service industry experience includes clinical diagnostics and scientific instrumentation, irrigation system controls, banking equipment, homeland security optical readers, and industrial weighing systems. Breeden has held positions from field service engineer to vice president. Breeden holds a Master’s degree in Business Management from Pepperdine University and is currently vice president of service operations at Fairbanks Scales. Breeden resides in Asheville, North Carolina. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org