This is part of an ongoing series of articles about the current State of Service going into 2022, along with the contributing elements that have and will continue to impact the industry in the years ahead. Read this to get caught up:

The service workforce has been a fraught topic since years before the pandemic. Even back in 2018, service employee turnover was nearly 50%, meaning new training, aging employees, and job vacancies that sometimes remained unfilled for years.

And COVID-19 has certainly not improved situations, with an estimated 1 million more jobs than job seekers today. We’ve felt the impact of this in every sector, and service is by no means immune to these challenges. Taking manufacturing alone as a benchmark, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that job vacancies have more than doubled. We knew that this ramp-up was coming, but I don’t know that we were prepared for the secondary effects that COVID would have on the labor market.

Hiring for technical trades was already a challenge, but today, the challenge is doubly exacerbated by retraining, changing employee wants and expectations, and shifting business priorities. Businesses are increasingly closing the windows on their ability to hire their way out of labor shortages, as apprenticeships and other incentives can’t keep up with the pace of churn.

Because of this, businesses are rightly rethinking service from top to bottom, to support their current employees, attract more talent, and do more with less, sometimes next to nothing.

Doing Something with Nothing

Remote Assistance is now well-tread ground around here, so there’s not much of a surprise that RA utilities can do quite a bit to paper over an overextended staff, and permit less seasoned workers in the field tap resources in the backoffice in real-time.

An alternative to that is the inverse—put less tensured employees in front of a computer where they have their full reference library, and have them work through step-by-step repairs with on-site customers to resolve issues. Individuals are much more amenable to managing their own destiny, so in many respects, as little as a skeleton crew with minimal training can get a service brand through lean times. Yes that might seem like an extreme scenario, but for manufacturers, it might end up being a more viable option as organizations move away from repairs altogether.

The Death of Repair

We know that, on top of workplace challenges, businesses have an incentive to maximize the remittance of materials to their original point of origin. Here’s how I described it in the linked article:

So—if manufacturers are incentivized to invest in the circular economy, that means a couple of things:

  • Manufacturers are going to want parts to be reasonably intact upon extraction from a product
  • Manufacturers are going to want parts and products back as much as possible
  • The act of repair will, in many circumstances, be eclipsed by the act of remanufacturing goods into wholly new items

The first point here hinges upon a simple premise: Manufacturers are going to focus on increasing not only quality control, in order to mitigate repairs, but part modularity, in order to make the act of repair itself a different type of process. If, for example, you need to replace a shock absorber in your washing machine, rather than 3,200 proprietary screws, if the part’s locking mechanism is self-contained, it can easily be removed and replaced.

Making parts easier to replace also means less actual service appointments. Why? Because easier parts means easier on-site service. When things break, manufacturers can ship parts to customers, and provide the packaging to allow the broken part to be shipped back to the manufacturer, thus keeping it in the circular manufacturing loop. Add in tools like remote assistance and even moderately complex jobs can be completed without a truck roll or a local tech.

This reflects yet another avenue for organizations to consider when grappling with a reduced workforce, one that has the added benefit of lowering overhead costs for manufacturing, and allowing businesses to recoup resources from themselves, thus changing the nature of new, and building a more sustainable world. A real win-win.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service