Real Talk on Combating the Talent Gap | Future of Field Service
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Real Talk on Combating the Talent Gap

In a special episode recorded on site in Palm Springs, California, Sarah talks with Roy Dockery, VP of Customer Care at Swisslog Healthcare about an issue that is top of mind: how to recruit, hire, and retain good talent in 2022. In line with the brand of his own personal podcast, Roy shares his “savage truth,” explaining his stance that the issue is less of a talent gap and more a resistance to doing the work to find (and keep) the right employees.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro, coming to you from Palm Springs, California. So those of you that regularly watch or listen to the podcast would know that typically I am in my home office. Today we are filming on-site at Field Service Palm Springs. And I’m thrilled to be joined by my friend, Roy Dockery, who is the Vice President of Customer Care at Swisslog Healthcare. Thanks for being here, Roy.

Roy Dockery: Thank you. Good to be back at an in-person event here in Palm Springs when it’s not Coachella.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, true.

Roy Dockery: Like November.

Sarah Nicastro: Is this your first in-person event post-COVID?

Roy Dockery: It’s not. I was at the TSIA event a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas. So that would’ve been my first conference, but I’ve been well back into traveling since May.

Sarah Nicastro: Do you know what’s funny, today’s podcast, the one that actually published today is Kevin Bowers from TSIA.

Roy Dockery: Okay, yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, all right, cool. So we’re here, we’re back in Palm Springs. Happy to be back at the Field Service event. Roy and I were catching up yesterday, reflecting on the first podcast you were on, which was episode two. I think this week we hit 137. So it’s been a while, but we’re going to talk about the same topic today. And we’re going to do that because I think we were maybe a little ahead of the game when we talked about the topic the first time, which is recruiting, hiring, retention. So when you were on the podcast the first time, we were talking about this talent gap, which has only exacerbated as a challenge being talked about here. So you and I both observed over the last couple days, everyone is part of every session, right?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. The Great Resignation.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, the great resignation, yes. So we started talking about this a while ago and I realize it is a growing challenge for folks, but I like your take a lot and have a lot of respect for it because you think people need to take a little bit more responsibility for the problem. And so I want to talk about that again today, because I think that the conversation warrants a revisit because people are really struggling with this right now. And I think some of the thoughts you have around how and why people should look at their role in solving the problem a little bit deeper is good. So give us your take on this.

Roy Dockery: Yeah. So one, you have the great resignation that’s around people leaving and jobs and purpose. There’s all these assumptions. No one really knows why people are leaving jobs. Some people are taking pay cuts, some people are taking promotions. There’s remote work being factored into it, flexibility, work-life balance. But when we look at it from a field service perspective, like we’re here now, probably a couple of years after we originally had these conversations, we also talked about it in magazine interviews. And so you fast forward, I’ve been talking about recruitment at these events for five years. So before the great resignation, before the pandemic, I was trying to raise the awareness and make the clarion call that this going to be a problem.

Roy Dockery: We can’t keep hiring people the same way because on top of people resigning to go into different fields, we had an aging workforce in field service, and they’re retiring. And a lot of them now are retiring early or just taking advantage of benefits. There were health concerns with entering facilities and travel. And so the same problem is there, it just got exacerbated. So just like here at the conference, everyone’s talking about digital transformation, everybody wanted video assistance tools. All of those things got accelerated and implemented during the pandemic because they became a necessity.

Roy Dockery: So I think you and I were talking about it, what now, 135 episodes ago, because we didn’t want to have to be reactive. So right, we were trying to be proactive in saying we can’t keep each other’s technicians. And it’s still happening now. I’m experiencing attrition right now, it’s not significant. Our attrition rate is still less than 10%, but I’m losing people to other field service organizations. And you’re overpaying for that talent. So I have an employee work for me for six or seven months and then can go get a job just because they have field service on their resumes.

Roy Dockery: So now people can jump from company to company and we’re seeing that. And it’s like, no one took the initiative to be able to develop a workforce. And I was talking to somebody last night at a dinner about that farming, we’ve been hunters for so long. And when you say take responsibility, we have to take responsibility for the fact that we got lazy in our recruitment. We got lazy in our development. We just were comfortable getting people who had industry knowledge, and not having to go through the basics. So when it comes from a training perspective, when we look historically 30 years ago at field service, when we were pulling people out of apprenticeships and out of electricians and mechanics and different union shops and taking them through all the building blocks, the foundational aspects of our business, our technology, our software, a lot of us got lazy.

Roy Dockery: We don’t want to do hand tools, we don’t want to teach people about multimeters and reading diagrams, even though that training takes like two days. It’s not a three-month long process. And so for me, being someone that’s ex-military, seeing people who are 17 and 18 years old be able to be trained in anything, as long as you give everyone the same essential training, you give everyone the same building blocks. And so my team and in our organization were like, we can do the same thing. We’ve effectively done the same thing because we hire people right out the military that don’t have industry experience, which is consistent across field service, but you have less people who join the military, you have less people who are getting out of the military and you just have more competition now because everyone figured out that equation, everybody figured out that hack. So it’s like, let me go hire military people. So even that’s becoming ridiculously competitive.

Roy Dockery: So switching to and taking responsibility for the fact that if you can’t bring somebody in that has the skills that your organization needs, that has the behavior that meets your culture, if you can’t bring those people in and train them, that’s not a talent gap problem, that’s a training problem. That’s a training and development issue. And that’s what I think a lot of companies are wrestling with right now because it’s not like there aren’t people who have skills and probably the right behavior. They don’t have the experience that you’ve been taking for granted and substituting that for an effective training program. So that’s my approach and it’s just we have to own it.

Roy Dockery: With all the generations and people don’t stay, everything gets blamed on us millennials, oh, millennials don’t stay at jobs. But it doesn’t seem like Gen Xers are staying at jobs either, or that baby boomers are staying at jobs. So people just have transition, but you have to be able to develop and we’ve got to get back into farming and developing talent. And the cool thing about field service, like at my company, I was a field service technician, I’m the Vice President of Customer Care, but we have people from field service in every aspect of our business. They’re customer success managers, they’re product managers, they’re software engineers, they’re in our development team and our engineering department.

Roy Dockery: So it’s not only a good place to farm talent for the field, it’s a good place to farm talent for the organization. We have people in sales that come from field service. And installation and things like that. So if we make more of an investment in bringing those people in and be willing to develop them and let them move through the organization, that can help with the retention as well because you might not retain them in a role, but then the ultimate goal is to retain that talent within the company as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So the reality is hiring based on experience, which is what a lot of the people at this conference are still trying to do, and they’re very frustrated good that it’s not working, the experience is becoming extinct and, or far too expensive, right?

Roy Dockery: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: So that is the reality that hopefully a couple years later people are now ready to hear. So let’s talk about some of the antidotes to that. So if we can all accept that, that is fact and hopefully people are coming around to the idea that you can’t just keep looking for people that have five years, 10 years of experience, you need to start thinking differently. There’s a couple areas we need to think about. So one of the things that we’ve talked about is the branding problem or the PR problem that this industry has, in the sense that younger people just don’t know that there are viable and fulfilling career opportunities at companies like Swisslog. They’re just not known. So what are your thoughts on that part of the solution? How do you as a company, as a leader and us as an entire industry make progress in creating better awareness around field service as a career?

Roy Dockery: Yeah, right. I think to go back to what we said before, the first thing is you have to accept that you have a problem. And because of the fact that we haven’t been leveraging what’s available that once you accept that, then you have to be okay, what am I doing wrong now? Because you’ve got to admit you’re doing something wrong. Hiring just for experience is wrong, it’s ineffective and it has a lifespan that we are running into right now is ending. So that’s the first thing. It was like, okay, so then what areas am I not looking at?

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So let’s assume that we have an understanding among people we’re speaking to that the idea of hiring based on experience is no longer an option. So one of the things we need to think about then is how we create more awareness about the career opportunities that exist in field service, right?

Roy Dockery: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So you’re talking about really a lot of different industries, a lot of different types of companies and types of work, but all things that fly under the radar of, when you ask a kid what they want to be, when they up, they say a doctor or a nurse or a teacher, they don’t say like a field technician because it’s just not something that is widely known as an option. So what are your thoughts on how we, as organizations, as an industry collectively, how do we overcome that problem?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. And I think one, we have to look at it collectively as an industry, right? Like computer science programmers, like artificial intelligence. All of those things are industries. So there’s outreach within that industry, there’s the progression of this is what you do in high school, this is what you do in college or in technical school. We’ve been taken for granted, the value of people we already had within the workforce that I think field service is never really, and even now, with the podcast and we’ve never really marketed and publicized ourself as an industry.

Roy Dockery: So I think one thing is even with IFS and what you do on the podcast, it’s like, okay, how do we reach back and say, how do we do outreach to high schools to let people know you can graduate from high school, go to a two-year technical school and then get a 50 plus thousand dollars a year job, how do you go to the technical schools and say, if you have people graduating with EET or associates degrees and information technology, let’s move it forward because it’s hard for us. One thing for field service, a lot of us, it’s not like we have an office where we’re hiring 50 people, I have 150 technicians spread across like 40 states in an entire continent.

Roy Dockery: So individually, I think it’s a lot harder for us to do that outreach, but then collectively, when you look at the number of field service technicians in any given city, not necessarily in a given company, because we’re talking about HVAC, retail, hospitality, restaurants, they’re everywhere. But like you said, no one knows that. And I remember talking to my daughter’s middle school principal and I asked him, I said, because he also had some relationships with the high school. And I said, if I asked the class of high school students right now who wants to make over $50,000 a year and travel 75% of the time, how many of them you think would say yes? And he was like, like 75% of them. And I was like, that’s what field service is, but nobody knows what it is.

Roy Dockery: So right. One, we need an outreach arm. Let Sarah be the face of outreach to schools and in that space. Because I think we need to collectively foster that reality, because we all struggle from it. But even if you’ve got 8,000 technicians or 2,000 technicians, they’re spread all over the country. So I think having that intentionality as an industry to come together to say, we need to reach into education, we need to work with workforce development, we need to work with vocational rehab through the VA and just say, these jobs are options, you don’t need a bunch of experience, you need an aptitude, you need the right behavior, you need a skillset that’s trainable, and then we can get you into the field.

Roy Dockery: So I think we’ve got to make it public, we’ve got to make it known as an industry, not just as employers. So we’re going to have to collaborate a little bit instead of hiring all of each other’s employees because in the next five years, all of those people are going to be gone, five to 10 years. So I think there’s collaboration required in that to market that, like I said, in workforce development, in the education sector and in secondary and vocational education. So I think that’ll be important. And then on top of that, we just have to commit. You’ve got to commit to doing it different, you need a different net, you got to cast in different water. You can’t keep doing it the way that you have been. That might get you people for the next year or two. But like you said those people that are coming more are expensive. And then those people are just going to get hired by somebody else who will pay them more money. So we’ve got to learn to farm talent, and then we’ve got to know that that talent may come to us, but when they want to move to another city, they may go work for you. So it’s like, we can’t take that selfish approach because what we’re all finding right now is that when somebody wants to work from home or needs a job that’s maybe in the city versus regionally, when a lot of our people, my employees leave, it’s like, okay, I love field service, but I don’t really want to travel outside the city.

Roy Dockery: So then you go work for an ATM company. They’re 40,000 ATMs within two hours versus 20 hospitals within a four-hour radius. So people are switching in between those companies to make those personal life choices and not like, we just have to be accepting of that. But if we’re all working to increase the size of the pool by farming talent, instead of just hunting it, then I think we all collectively benefit. Right now we’re just robbing Peter to pay Paul, as one of my managers loves to say.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So there’s the PR issue. And then there’s a couple other things I want to talk about. One is, we talked about the military, and that’s kind of like, if people accept they can’t get someone with five years’ experience, the default then is to go try and get them from the military. That’s kind of become the new go-to, right?

Roy Dockery: Yep.

Sarah Nicastro: So that doesn’t mean it’s a bad source, it just means that can’t be your only source. So what other sources are you exploring or finding success with when it comes to looking outside of now that as a new area of opportunity?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. And like you said, with the military, I’m ex-military, almost all my entire management team, we’re actually all ex-Navy, but one thing we’re noticing as well, it’s becoming more competitive. So people coming out of the military with three or four years of experience now, they can demand or they can get $70,000 salary in like a non-metro area, because, like you said, that’s the go-to now. So that’s the new thing. But then also now you have no experience and expense. So now I have someone with no experience, that’s actually more expensive as a candidate. So the main thing we’ve been successful with is really just changing how we’re trying to recruit and what we’re looking for.

Roy Dockery: So when you change your job postings, when you remove experience and specific industry knowledge, I’m not trying to hire a healthcare field service engineer, I’m not trying to hire a field service engineer at all because I know the industry has poor PR. We just had a meeting a couple of weeks ago at our HR department, and I said, find me people who worked at Chick-fil-A, I want customer service people. If you got Chick-fil-A and you’ve got a technical background, my managers have walked into Best Buys, to Geek Squads that are in their territories where we have job openings. But the main thing was, it’s one thing to go and try to advocate or build relationships with, if we’re doing stuff with handshake and building relationships with technical schools. But if when somebody from that technical school goes apply, but my job requirement and my job description still says two to three years of experience or an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree preferred, people are going to eliminate themselves. And so I think one of the problems we have is that even from hiring managers, supervisors and managers aren’t really looking for people with experience, but our net is eliminating people who don’t have it either through the screening process with recruitment in HR or because people don’t apply to begin with.

Roy Dockery: So one thing that we found in getting more diversity and just different types of candidates, it’s removing some of the obstacles that were actually just in our job posting. So remove experience, take the industry specific stuff out of it and just advocate for people. It’s like a one ad for people, like not a technician. 

Sarah Nicastro: So what’s some of the terminology, if you don’t use field service, you don’t use technician, you don’t use healthcare, what does it say?

Roy Dockery: So we’re recruiting for field service technicians. But when we put in experience, we want people with customer service experience, we want people who have a technical aptitude, so you don’t have that technical experience. And so we’ve really just dumbed down those requirements so that we have more people to apply because once you can look at a resume and then get a feeling for a candidate, the issue was, my team wanted to hire different people, but they weren’t applying, so it’s like, I can’t hire you if you don’t apply. And we do it on a revolving basis, if we get a candidate that happened to apply and we look at their resume and be like, okay, they applied, even though from our job posting, it doesn’t look like they were qualified.

Roy Dockery: So what we started doing is like, who have we hired lately that’s like a nontraditional employee that’s doing really well? And then so we continue to go and revise. And so that’s, we hired somebody recently that was an employee at Chick-fil-A, recent tech school graduate, she’s doing phenomenal. So let’s put more weight on customer service, let’s get people with more of a customer service background. So it’s an ongoing kind of evolution. But the first thing we did was remove education requirements, because the vast majority of our employees do not have associates or bachelor degrees. They just don’t. Most of them have military experience. We reduced the amount of military experience that we required or that we had as preferred, and then we started focusing more on customer service because we trust our technical training program.

Roy Dockery: We think we can get people up to speed technically. So we really want the right behavior, we want the right skillsets. People who are trainable, people who come up to speed quickly and mostly can interact with customers. We’re in healthcare, it’s a high stress environment. I used to tell people that I trained when I was in the field, this job is 90% communication and 10% fixing. So those are the skills we started looking for. And that’s the same thing when you recruit. And anytime I consult with or speak to companies that are dealing with recruitment issues, that’s the first thing I tell them, look at who your top performers are and tell me if they match your job description. And nine times out of 10, they do not.

Roy Dockery: Your best software engineer doesn’t have a software degree, your best field service technician doesn’t have an EET degree, he’s the guy from Home Depot. I was talking to one guy, it was like, it was the CEO’s son. And we thought we were going to hate him because he was a high school graduate, but he’s our best applications engineer now. And he had no experience whatsoever, he would’ve never gotten that job if he wasn’t related, if it wasn’t nepotism, but he was good at it.

Sarah Nicastro: So I mean the point that brings up though is then you have to be willing to take some risks, right?

Roy Dockery: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Because it’s calculated, but in that example, he got the job because he was somebody’s, whatever. But the point is you might need to try some different things to see what works, but you’re better off doing that than just not trying anything.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, because you have no choice. You have to do something different. And it’s like you said, it’s a calculated risk. If you’re hiring people who are heavier on customer service, then that means your management team has to be more intentional about training on technical. But at the same time, when we hire people who are very technical, we terminate more people for behavioral issues than we do for technical competency.

Sarah Nicastro: We were at the table yesterday, Marcela from Eppendorf said the same thing, I hire on soft skills, I can train anything else. So if you think about that, you can get good soft skills from a lot of different places. So to your point, if you invest in being able to train on the technical stuff, it opens up a lot of opportunities. Training, that’s another podcast. We’re not talking about that today. But there are a couple more things I want to get to.

Sarah Nicastro: One is, so we talk about making the application process more appealing so that, or I guess eliminating barriers so that you can get more people to apply and not field themselves out based on some words that are in there. But what about the job itself? Because this is the other thing you and I have talked about a bit in the past is the idea that people looking for jobs today want different things than people looking for jobs five, 10, 15, 20 years ago did. And a lot of field service organizations haven’t necessarily changed the structure of their, not just, compensation probably is the most regularly changed thing. But looking at, how are we describing the role, what parts of it are we emphasizing or what changes could we make as a business that we might not have thought we needed to make, but we are capable of doing to offer more flexibility or something that is appealing to people that we want to bring into the company today?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. And I think it has to do with the type of, one, the kind of services that we can dynamically offer as an organization. So field service has high demand, travels. Sometimes you got to be flexible, you’re on-call. That’s an eliminating factor for some people, especially people have to deal with childcare and things of that nature, having to run a call at two o’clock in the morning with no notice and you have a four-year old, that’s just not a job that you can take. So one of the things that we’ve even looked at evolving over time is, we will interview somebody and then we’ll have multiple openings and then we can make a suggestion, okay, maybe you take this role that is a resident for this particular hospital, and so that’s all you have to do. You cover that site and you have on-call, but it’s once every four weeks. And so you create that flexibility. And a lot of it has to do with how forthright and open the candidates are right about what their needs are, which I think is improving now.

Roy Dockery: A lot of people didn’t feel like they could stress what they needed and the flexibility had. They thought, think it would put their job at risk. And so I think one, that’s one thing you have to encourage people to be open, I don’t want you to take a job that you then can’t physically do as well.

Sarah Nicastro: I think it’s another change from COVID too though. Because work from home became more common, flexibility became a more in-demand criteria. And I think it is something for field service companies to think about because each business is different. So there’s no prescriptive answer, but we had a consultant on the podcast, not so long ago, Lauren Winans with Next Level. And one of the things she brought up is, if we know flexibility is and is going to continue to be very, very important, then again, it’s another area to break out of, well we just can’t. It’s just field service we just can’t and actually sit down and look at like, okay, operationally, are there ways we could, can we do some sort of rotating schedule so that it does become possible to provide that in some way or is there some halfway point?

Sarah Nicastro: Maybe it’s not flexibility to this degree, but you could have an extra day off every two weeks. You know what I mean? Whatever it is to meet in the middle, if we know that that is such an important factor for people. There’s recruiting in terms of getting fish to bite, to get in the door. But then there’s recruiting in the sense of am I offering an employee value proposition that is appealing. And that means you need to understand what your target audience wants and needs. And that might be then a second phase of having to really examine where you’re at and if you need to make some changes. Just because they’re telling you they want flexibility doesn’t mean that you just kick them out the door and… If you’re going to hear that every time somebody walks in for an interview, then you have to start thinking as a company, what do we do with this data?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. And it becomes limiting from that standpoint as well, because there’s a pool. In field service, I’m never surprised when somebody leaves. It’s a difficult job, who wants to be on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When I interview people, I’m like, we’re crazy, we’re a unique breed of people, but-

Sarah Nicastro: You’re going to love it till you hate it.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, you’re going to love it till you hate it. And it’s a certain dynamic of people, but I think that’s why organizations also have to be intentional about not just training people but developing them. 

Sarah Nicastro: That was the last point I wanted to talk about, which is, you have to figure out how to get more people interested in the career opportunities, you have to make sure that you are creating an employee value proposition that is appealing to the people you’re trying to hire today, not the people that work for you now.

Sarah Nicastro: You have to come to grips with the fact that there are realities you have to contend with, you can’t just offer the same thing you’ve always offered and expect people to be interested in it. And while there are constrictions on how much a given industry can recreate that value proposition, I think people, again, it’s another area where people are kind of lazy, they just default to, nope, we’ve hired on experience, we’ll do that. Nope, this is what it is. You take it or leave it. And that just has to change. But the last area I want to talk about is this idea of retention. And I like the point you made at the beginning about maybe field service is sort of the entry level where we can bring people in without experience, without education requirements, train them on the technical parts, as long as they have the soft skills and the aptitude to learn and then farm them up for the rest of the business.

Sarah Nicastro: So you kind of keep that continual flow. You have the talent you need when you need it, but you know going in, it’s not going to stay there for 10, 15, 20, 30 years like it has in the past. So talk about that part.

Roy Dockery: So I had dinner last week with an employee that was retiring after 30 years. I’m like, so why do you see people coming in and going? But people define success in different ways. So success was to have a job that would let me retire with the pension and I can take care of my family. That’s a very traditional kind of concept, but people want challenges, they want to do different things, they want to have transitions. I’ve had technically five jobs in the last 11 years, but I’ve worked at the same company. So I’m not someone who wants to keep doing the same thing constantly, but luckily I’ve been able to find additional challenges at work.

Roy Dockery: So I think when we bring them in, we’ve hired people from the warehouse to work in technical support. Within an organization, we have to be focused on what skills do we have within the organization. And then when we have those foundational skills and behavior, if you understand my customer base, if you understand my product, if you understand our processes and our workflow and our installations, where else can you be beneficial? So we have people that go from the field to be project engineers and then become full-fledged project managers. We have people become estimators, and then go from estimating to doing applications and design and go from that to being design analysts.

Roy Dockery: So you can bring them in and they get a feel of the company, but we can get value out of them, we can get revenue out of them. But when I tell my team, if we can retain somebody in the field for two or three years, I’m happy about that. I just think the type of people that worked in the field for 30 years, I just think there’s less of them, regardless of like, some people will come in and they’ll be happy. That’s what they’ll do. Other people are going to want challenges. They’re more into software than they are into hardware.

Roy Dockery: So as they start working, they start leaning towards one part of the technology than other, then find them a role in that space instead of constantly robbing from other companies. And then you said there’s a risk, there’s a risk, I can take you from the field and put you in a more technical role and you won’t get it. But you face the same risk when you take an external employee and bring them in. They may not meet your culture, they may not understand your customer base, they may not understand your products. So it’s a risk, but we’ve just got to be, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: And when it comes to the overall puzzle of what we’re talking about here, maybe the fact that people aren’t as willing to stay still in these roles is that actually something companies can use to their advantage. I think that part of that though is again, thinking ahead and making sure that you accept the reality for what it is and then work backwards on how to communicate with the employees about it. I’m not saying people only leave because they don’t know the growth potential, but I’m saying companies today know growth potential is very important for new employees. So if you’re not communicating from the beginning what that growth potential is for them at your company, don’t expect they’re just going to figure it out or know it or they’re going to stick around and wait for you to communicate it.

Sarah Nicastro: If there’s some way to provide some of that information up front on, here’s what your potential is as a field service technician, but then beyond that, here’s a bunch of different paths you could take within Swisslog and here’s the different timelines that you could start exploring, whatever. I’ve seen people charted out very specifically or I’ve seen people just be a little bit more high level, but I think the point is you need to understand that these people from the beginning are going to want more. So how do you use that to your advantage instead of letting them just get picked off by other people?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. What’s funny for me, so starting in the field and then moving up through the company and becoming a VP, I’ve been a Vice President now for over six years. So I started noticing… And when you say communicating that, I think sometimes we do a good job of communicating that during the interview and like, oh, the Vice President was in the field and the person who’s interviewing you was in the field, but then that’s it. So we don’t keep communicating that. So I started noticing a couple of years ago, there were people who worked within our organization that never knew I was in the field, they thought I came into the company as a vice president. I’m like, no, I came in as a technician.

Roy Dockery: So even reiterating that story and keeping that narrative where… We were talking to the HR department, I’m like, I need to celebrate more when somebody leaves my organization and goes into design and applications or into estimating, because I don’t want to make it seem like, they took from me, we’re retaining, and even our HR department, did they joke, they were like, they have a ratio for me, it’s called the internal development ratio. So it’s not attrition for my team because half of my attrition is internal.

Roy Dockery: So they leave and go to other departments and we advocate for them, we recommend them. And we also try to do individual development plans, which I think is, right, you’ve got targets and you’ve got objectives that you’ve got to measure, which is how we’ve done performance management forever. And I love the fact that our company said, okay, we’re going to do that. But then we’re also going to have individual development plans for everyone, so where do you want to go, what is your short-term goal, what do you want to do in the next one or two years, where do you want to be in two to five years? 

Sarah Nicastro: And if you think about, that process serves multiple purposes. Because you’re able then to understand what people like, where they see themselves, what their goals are and that helps you map them into different functions of the business. But at the same time, I think when it comes to retention, it also makes them realize that Swisslog as a company is invested in their long-term potential, not just their short-term ability to help the company meet metrics.

Roy Dockery: Yeah, and do the job, right? Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So in terms of engagement and satisfaction, it’s not just smart because you get an idea of what you could present to them as their next step, but you’re investing in the relationship with them and creating more loyalty. So that’s kind of like the secondary benefit. You know what I mean?

Roy Dockery: Yeah. Because you don’t want them just focused on the job. I know this job is rob Peter pay Paul, I know somebody else will pay you 10, $20,000 more than me to travel internationally until you get to go to Brazil. From a job perspective, it’s very competitive. There’s a lot of different places you can go work. And my management team was talking with HR, they were like, we don’t try to sell people on the job, we try to sell people at Swisslog. Everyone in my leadership team comes from the field. Everyone, every manager, every director, they all came from the field. So it’s like, we’re examples of what we’re trying to represent and just building it in that way.

Sarah Nicastro: That is a story you should be telling.

Roy Dockery: Yeah. And that’s what we do. And we had that discussion with HR and I’m like, so that’s why sometimes somebody’s more expensive and we just pass on them. And it’s not because they want to come here for a job that pays more money, no, we want to give people an opportunity to build a career. And I tell my employees all at time, I hold you responsible for developing your employees, even if it’s developing them out of this company. So if we’re developing people and helping them reach their individual potential and we don’t have a position, then I’ll give you a referral to go work somewhere else, because you’re interested in the person and their career. So if they really want to go and they’ve been doing project management and we had one opening, but it’s filled now and we may not have another one for a year or two then fine, I’ll give you a referral to go work somewhere as a project manager, I’ll let you shadow some of our project managers, so you have experience so you can intelligently speak to it during an interview.

Roy Dockery: I’ve got supervisors right now that I know are interviewing for management roles. I encourage my managers to go for director roles. And even my directors, I want them to be a Vice President, but I have three directors and there’s one me. So two of you might need to go be Vice President somewhere else, or when they take my job, I’ll go somewhere else. But I think that’s the thing and you’re right, there’s more that you can sell in that story. But I do think organizations, because then that changes how the entire organization looks at field service.

Roy Dockery: So can you pull from sales, can you pull from engineering project management? What’s an entry level position in engineering that you can transition to field service technician to? So if you build out that map of, and we kind of know, so we’ll say, hey, one of our people went into engineering through this role or one of our people went into project management through this role, so we can kind of map it out. But as organizations to come together from a leadership perspective and say, okay, if we had success, and almost every company does, there’s someone from field service in every department, but map that out for people and make it plain. And then that can probably help more with retention. And again, maybe not retention specifically in field service, but keeping that talent within your organization so that you don’t lose the history and the experience and whatever passion they already have for what they’re doing.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So in summary, let’s say we had this conversation a few years ago, here we are having it again and hopefully people are ready to listen this time, what would be your closing words of wisdom for people that are now ready to hear what you’re saying?

Roy Dockery: Take responsibility, it’s our fault. We have to own it. I’m not one to defend HR, we all have our struggles with recruitment, but we incentivize the behavior we reward. If you keep getting candidates and are not the kind of candidates you want, but you keep hiring them, then human resources and recruiting is doing their job. So we have to own it. If we see the price of a new employee going up, if we see attrition from new employees that have been here for a year or two taking other jobs, then we’ve got to own that and understand what we need to do to better retain our talent and also to give people more opportunities to grow within the organization. But we just have to own it and we should be proactive. And we all have to react right now because we don’t have a choice, but we also have to think past the immediate problem.

Roy Dockery: So like I said, we’ve got to start worrying about how do we do outreach to high schools that are doing alternative paths and people not going to universities for four years. How do we work with workforce development agencies at the state level, at the federal level, how do we bring back apprenticeships and really be able to offer an entry level position where we can trust. There’s limiting things for field service, like credit cards. A lot of us got rid of company cards, a lot of us require people to rent vehicles. Most of that stuff you can’t do under 21. So they’re even fundamental roadblocks, and obstacles that we have that we could eliminate or that we could create some mitigations for that really allow us to develop the next generation of talent that we’ll need for field service. But we have to own it and take responsibility and take action.

Sarah Nicastro: Roy, thank you for being you here with me. I appreciate it.

Roy Dockery: Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter at The Future of FS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.