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August 21, 2023 | 4 Mins Read

Selling Field Service to a New Generation

August 21, 2023 | 4 Mins Read

Selling Field Service to a New Generation


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

It appears we have passed through what economists were calling The Great Resignation and the job market upheaval that occurred during the pandemic. But labor markets are still tight and the field service sector was already struggling with staffing issues before COVID. We talk often about the fact that recruiting and retention remain a big challenge and how accommodating the decidedly different expectations of younger workers can sometimes flummox entrenched field service companies.

But not all of them. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Billups, North America Vice President of Sales and Market Development at air conditioning pioneer Comfort Systems USA. And although he works in an industry with a very long history, Anthony has some pretty forward-looking ideas when it comes to attracting and managing younger and more diverse technicians.

We talked a lot about outdated thinking, and one area he highlighted was the way the industry talks about field service jobs. In the past, most companies talked about technician jobs exclusively in the context of technical skills required and the type of work done, but that has led to a bit of a branding problem. It's actually a bit challenging to describe field service work in a way that makes it both understandable and interesting to young people who may not know anything about it. 

Consider other types of work that students or new graduates easily grasp – teacher, doctor, police officer, musician, truck driver. When people talk about those jobs, they don't just talk about specific tasks or skills. They talk about the work in its entirety. Police officers protect the public and help people. Doctors heal people. 

“It's important as a leader to go back into your community and to talk about what it is that you do, right? Talk about … your day in the life, talk about the things that made you excited about the role,” Anthony said.

There are a lot of aspects of field service careers that many may find appealing that we don’t highlight enough. That could be talking about travel. It could be talking about the types of facilities you have access to and the people you meet, and what you can gain by working in the industry. It could be how the work you do enables a hospital to run or a pilot to fly, or any number of other very critical, often cool roles that seem to stay invisible. 

In the case of air conditioning, Anthony emphasized that it's an industry that has been around for 100 years and is only becoming more important (and resilient) as people look for new ways to cool buildings. This means there is job security there, along with opportunity and healthy compensation – characteristics that deserve recognition. 

The Value of Storytelling

The field service sector must do a better job of selling itself to potential employees and perhaps that starts with telling better stories about exactly what the market has to offer its employees. Anthony pointed out that in his job, he has worked with everyone from big tech companies in Silicon Valley to major sports facilities. Not everyone can score a nice job at Apple or play professional sports, but service technicians get a backstage pass of sorts to all of these facilities. 

“So, what are some of the jobs that are cool? What do people want now? It's easier to get in through the mechanical room than it is through the front door, and I think that's when we want to change the narrative of the profession,” he said. “We need to start with the end in mind. We need to start where these individuals want to be a part of these industries.”

Anthony also cautions that field service organizations need to be more realistic about how younger workers view their careers. Most people are not going to stick with a job for years at a time, as was the historical norm. In many cases, people change jobs every two years or so. To retain those employees (who are expensive to recruit and train) within your organization, it is important to offer more than just a good salary. People want a real path for advancement, and schedules that allow them to have a rich personal life, too.

Manager-employee relationships are also critical, along with development conversations and making sure there is a career path in place. Managers need leadership training (something Anthony says Comfort Systems has made a regular part of its culture). 

“The reason that we really focus a lot of attention on training is that we understand the value of our leaders, and if you can teach a leader to not be a manager, but to be a leader and to learn,” he said. Promoting someone to management without helping them with those leadership skills can put them at a disadvantage – and it can negatively impact the experience of employees, ultimately contributing to turnover. 

Another area of our discussion was that focusing hiring on specific technical skills or experience is cutting field service off from a lot of qualified candidates that have other good qualities – reliability, leadership skills, customer service skills, etc. Non-traditional recruiting can help address technician shortages while also improving teams by adding members with new skill sets and different perspectives.

“It's about the qualities that the person is bringing, the experiences that the person is bringing, and not just where they worked before and the things that we’ve looked at historically when evaluating talent,” Anthony said.

Anthony had much more to share and his insights are well worth a listen. Check out the rest of the conversation here.