By Aaron Salow
In recent years, the volatility of the economy and growing overall work shortage have compounded the existing skilled trades labor gap. A chronic pain point for trades industries has transformed into a crisis.
Employers are engaged in expensive bidding wars for the few experienced technicians on the job market. Local companies are recruiting talent from across the country. Skilled workers can command large signing bonuses in addition to rising salaries and generous benefits packages.
The hiring arms race isn’t sustainable. Business owners can’t simply spend their way out of a labor crisis. How can contractors recruit and retain the talent they need to meet demand in their market without breaking the bank?
One essential part of the solution for field service contractors is training.
Effective technician training for the 21st century can be a critical differentiator in today’s hypercompetitive job market. A commitment to flexible, self-paced, continuing learning demonstrates that an employer is invested in helping his team members advance their careers. It empowers techs to personalize training habits that fit their workflows and learning styles. It can be the foundation of a company culture that values team members and rewards initiative.
And for contractors, it allows them to accelerate the time it takes to prepare a new technician for the jobsite.
Drawbacks of Traditional Training
Training in the skilled trades has traditionally followed two basic formats:
● Formal, structured and episodic: The one-size-fits-all classroom approach assumes that each trainee comes to training with the same experience, knowledge and skill level. Instructors target an avatar of the ideal student, which can leave more experienced trainees bored and newer ones in over their head.
Classroom training also may not directly address the technician skills that are most in demand. If technicians can’t immediately apply what they’ve learned in the classroom on a jobsite, the information is less likely to be fully absorbed. Without practice, a lesson doesn’t become knowledge.
A further disadvantage is that classroom sessions require advanced scheduling and may take place only once or twice a year.
● On the job: Many current technicians learned most of what they know in the field, watching older, more experienced techs on a jobsite. This approach has many advantages over more structured training settings.
Onsite learning is often one-to-one and allows trainees to ask questions and get hands-on experience. They will learn skills that are directly applicable in the field.
Unfortunately, technicians are usually not trained educators. They may not be able to fully explain why a particular skill or technique is important. Their performance of a skill may not clearly demonstrate the process or principle at work. They may not appreciate the added responsibility, especially if onsite training slows down the progress of their work. They may pass on bad habits and shortcuts that could have major negative impact on your company.
And most customers don’t want their projects to be a training site for your employees.
Increasingly, an alternative view of training has emerged that will play a significant role in which field service companies thrive and grow in the current challenging labor market.
In addition to the formal process of classroom and hands-on learning, companies benefit from organic ongoing training supported by rapidly evolving data- and video-supported technology. This innovative technology allows businesses to tap into the earned knowledge that experienced technicians have accumulated over time and make that information immediately accessible for greener technicians.
Many innovative platforms deliver support and equipment information in formats designed to elevate technician skills, not just provide a quick fix in order to close out a call. Every time a tech troubleshoots a new issue or solves a problem, that becomes a data point for that company. No other company has it, and that team has instant, democratized access. And the tech has added to his or her knowledge of the field with firsthand experience.
Advanced technician-first platforms that prioritize field workers leverage shared institutional knowledge with tools driven by data, analytics and artificial intelligence. With such tools, contractors can improve the job experience for their most valuable workers and maximize accuracy, efficiency and customer experience.
Transforming Training for Today
Tools such as these represent an opportunity to transform and modernize the concept of training for our industry.
Focusing on earned knowledge and implementing tools that help them catalog accumulated experience can enhance operational efficiency and productivity in the field, and also help young workers in a challenging field develop more quickly while making fewer mistakes.
That means that contractors can reduce their reliance on hiring experienced techs. With proven tools that provide organic continual training based on data and institutional knowledge, contractors can take significant steps toward closing the skilled trades gap.
Being able to recruit capable candidates who may lack trades experience widens the talent pool. While traditional training remains necessary to equip new techs with core skills, powerful tech-first technology reduces the amount of time it takes to prepare them for the field and ensures all techs, regardless of experience, have unprecedented onsite resources for informed decision-making.
As a result, younger technicians can operate more effectively more quickly, and more experienced techs are relieved of the support roles they too often find themselves in.
Tech-first technology means you start with the technician’s viewpoint. That’s the perspective it will take to attract, develop, and retain the front line of the industry.
Aaron Salow is CEO and co-founder of XOi Technologies, one of the fastest growing startups in Nashville, Tennessee. XOi is changing the way field service companies in the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing industries capture data, communicate with stakeholders, and service their customers.