By Bruce Breeden, President and Founder of Field Service Resources, LLC
One major area of focus in the field service industry is the development of our workforce, as noted by recent research from The Service Council in which 50 percent of respondents reported they are strategically focused on workforce development. Workforce development is not just a strategic focus area, but can become the pivotal “system” to have success with recruitment and retention, certainly in these competitive times with low unemployment rates.
Workforce development starts with recruitment and continues with a full cycle of development, growth, and retention. There is an underlying energy to an organization that is achieving growth through skill building and a dedication to professional development. Training and commitment to future development is an important, measured value of new and tenured employees alike. It is also a sign of a growing and adaptive business.
As field service leaders, we need to ask ourselves how we ignite the passion for field service, the industry, the dynamic field service engineer (FSE) role, skills, opportunity, and professional development. I believe our opportunity for recruiting and retention excellence starts with our leadership and passion for the industry, along with an equal degree of passion for creating a sustainable “system” to recruit, develop, grow, and retain field service talent.
I remember my beginning in field service coming from a humble plumbing family and with a certificate of electronics from the US Air Force. I had no idea what “field” service was all about. By luck, the jobs I applied for after leaving the Air Force were in field service and the opportunities abounded. I look back and realized that field service is a technology vocation with business responsibility, and because of my company’s foresight and embedded culture, FSEs were groomed to be professional field service engineers and led to develop our interest in the field. Success in both recruitment and retention is based on a balance of attraction and ongoing development. There was a sustainable “system” to my company’s onboarding and ongoing professional development.
A sustainable recruitment and retention system has four main elements:
- The Field Service Story: providing an understanding of our industry, key FSE job characteristics such as independence, responsibility, direct customer relations, and an overview of the career opportunities when combining technology with business responsibilities.
- My Company’s Story: Explaining our markets, products, position, values, vision, and field service organization.
- The Advancement Opportunities: Education on expected projects and assignments, both technical and management career pathways, and even transitions to other functions.
- Employee Development and Growth Program: Provide a continuous learning and professional development program that includes onboarding, annual training, mentoring, coaching, and new assignments that are based on daily engagements and business outcomes. This element propels the continuation of having a growing and adaptive business, which attracts even more talent to the organization.
Let’s look at each of these elements in a little more detail.
The Field Service Story
We need to be adept at forming our stories and being able to describe the field service profession and cite the many examples of positive career development of advancing within the technical ranks or in field service management. Field service is a technology career with business responsibility — you don’t need to have an advanced degree, but technical skills and innate customer service orientation is the key to start in the career. We need to highlight the “representative, brand ambassador” and independent nature of the job. An FSE career is one of purpose and provides direct value to the company, and therefore the FSE needs to be inspired and motivated to continually develop their skill sets. We should attract candidates who want responsibility, not just to work in technology. This is true for high-density metro service operations to remote, individual territory responsibilities. It may be the first time your candidate has heard of brand ambassador, CSAT, NPS, service agreement retention and sales, inventory management, and other key service metrics. But if some of those responsibilities, roles, and measures resonate with a candidate, then that is a good start and should be continually built upon over the years.
My Company and Service Organization
We must tell the story about our company, its industry, market position, key attributes, quality of equipment services as well as the quality of equipment, training, and support for our field service operation. We must highlight the technology used to do the FSEs job — the service management system, mobile operations, even time keeping, telematics, expense reporting, and other peripheral systems to do their jobs. It’s no secret the millennial generation like smartphone applications and detests green screens and paper — who doesn’t? More importantly, millennials and others want direction, vision, purpose, support, and energy. We knock their rumored work ethic and the need for a ping pong table, but my recent experience shows we need to step up to their expectations to not only attract them, but to challenge and retain them.
Describe the opportunities the profession and your service organization provide. The ability of the business to generate new roles and expand into new markets is key to all generations. This includes the senior level FSEs who are interested in knowledge sharing and support to utilize their experiences.
Employee Growth and Development Program
Retention is recruitment. We don’t stay married to the same partner without adapting and growing together. The same is true for field service. Describe your onboarding plan, look at it not just within, but compared to the competitive market. Start with determining how welcoming your organization is and whether you have a culture of learning and development. New employees judge a lot of things, and even after the honeymoon, it is natural to judge the winning nature of the organization. Is yours an organization of continuous learning and growth, or is it static and reactive?
I heard years ago that vision should aspire, inspire, and perspire the organization. Does your organization identify and actively work with high performers? What is the strategic importance of your service business within your company? In the recent decades, services has become more strategic and contributing than products, even with manufacturing due to the residual revenue streams, impact to resale opportunity, and constant ability to conduct brand promotion and ambassadorship with the customer base. As noted, differentiated services have a multiple impact to net promoter score and repeat sales. CEOs get that and have an open ear to service business development and innovation. Bring your service organization along for this position and good people will continue to develop, contribute, and grow with your company. We must start again with storytelling about the importance of the service business and its position within the company, as well as inspiring the FSEs to further develop and contribute.
In summary, view workforce development as a system starting with recruitment and defining your specific service development and growth program to not just retain, but to aspire higher performance and results.
Bruce Breeden is the author of the Intentional Field Service Engineer, speaker and creator of the Field Service7℠ service development program. His company website is www.fieldserviceresources.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org