For decades, not much changed within the maintenance world. The solutions have been reliable, and the workforce generally stagnant.
Industry experts have calm doubts about a radically different future.
If it’s not broken, why fix it? Machines have operated the same way for so long. Experts on the inside don’t see a need for large-scale change.
The problem with this perspective is that it’s deeply rooted in denial about tech advancements--and it’s not surprising given the industry’s background.
End of The “Mr. Fix-it” Era
The stereotype for these maintenance managers and technicians is that they are “Mr. Fix-its.”
They do their jobs very well and have for a number of years as they now reach retirement. Many aren’t very familiar with mobile devices, but may have a tablet at home. They’re resourceful and handy, working long hours to keep an operation going.
Many of them belong to the classic Baby Boomer generation.
But technology is entering these spaces like never before. Many enhancements familiar to consumers are also gaining popularity in business. These consumer trends resonate with a demographic younger than these experts, which has resulted in push-back for tech changes.
The way Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) has incorporated mobility is a prime example of how the profession must adapt.
Having maintenance information available on-the-go saves employees time. A manager who can remain on the shop floor instead of sitting at a computer desk has much better control over operations.
The rise of smartphones has helped nudge mobility into the hands of maintenance technicians. A workforce that has had a traditionally firm foot in the past is beginning to take on newer technology.
But any push-back hasn’t been entirely due to generational differences. It’s reasonable for new industrial-grade technology to be met with resistance.
Two reasons to proceed with caution
There are two primary reasons why maintenance technology has always been slow to adopt:
- Any industrial technology must be tested and proven reliable before used on heavy machinery. With such high-capital investments and the safety of operators at stake, the solutions must gain widespread trust and adoption over time. Reliability has always been a strong emphasis for maintenance operations.
- Maintenance departments have never been cost-saving areas. Emergency fixes are heavy burdens on organizations, causing these departments to be seen as cost-centers.
However, these assumptions are quickly changing.
This is due to the enormous benefit of capturing more equipment information day-to-day. Focusing a maintenance operation on becoming more efficient leads to fewer emergency fixes and more control over key performance indicators (KPIs).
CMMS has gained popularity as an affordable solution for growing organizations. As a tool for scheduling work orders and preventive maintenance, teams are able to document asset data and identify areas for improvement.
When a team can make an asset run longer, whether it’s for a machine churning out 1,000 more products or a vehicle lasting another six months, it directly increases profits.
Mobility is a key component to how maintenance is changing, giving technicians easier access to data that improves their jobs, but it’s only the start.
This trend has connected workers on the ground to decision makers guiding the business.
So, what’s next for the maintenance world?
The combination of a retiring generation and the rise of new technology will greatly affect the jobs of future maintenance employees.
This year, Millennials are paced to outnumber Baby Boomers in the workforce for the first time.
This has resulted in a few distinct changes among the people applying to maintenance jobs:
- Many more bachelor's degrees instead of GEDs and vocational certifications
- More women pursuing mechanical work
- Greater focus on interpersonal and leadership skills than technical ones
The skills needed for maintenance tasks can be mastered through experience, placing more emphasis on hiring for a lasting cultural fit. As women outnumber men pursuing secondary education, more of them will be spotted in leadership roles throughout the field.
These changes add up to one fundamental shift employers will need to address. Millennials greatly value professional growth, and they’ve been characterized as disloyal to companies that focus on filling jobs instead of developing careers.
With the introduction of newer technology in the workplace, organizations will need to reassess roles for managing data, and provide room on the ladder for Millennials to rise.
With more data comes more responsibility, giving control to those on the shop floor, but also insight to executives.
That means workers will have greater accountability, but they should also be given the proper reward for increased efficiency. This is the greatest challenge ahead as automation enters the workforce.