Developing the existing and future workforce

The great resignation movement is forcing companies to adjust their tactics and turn to third parties who can provide the technical support needed to keep manufacturing system online.

By Randy Otto September 15, 2022
Randy Otto is the CEO of ECS Solutions and brings more than 25 years of experience in diverse industries, including glass fibers manufacturing and custom assembly machine manufacturing. Courtesy: ECS Solutions

There are fewer employees available who can install and maintain the higher end equipment used in manufacturing today. “The great resignation and/or retirement” movement along with changes associated with the recent pandemic landscape has sent many highly qualified workers to the exits in search of new and often altogether different opportunities.

The stage has been set for a while due to the wave of baby boomer retirements churning towards manufacturers. Parallel to this has been the increased reliance on high tech manufacturing machines and processes. These two situations pair well for the idea of future proofing low-to-mid complexity manufacturing but, in an interesting juxtaposition, amplify the core problem.

How are companies supposed to balance this? Labor shortages are not exclusive to skilled trades, but industrial employers face especially significant challenges given the amount of time it takes to train staff to maintain today’s equipment and systems. As the modern workforce becomes more mobile, many estimates indicating three years is the current average tenure, employers are left with a conundrum of whether to invest internally in the highest tech positions on the organizational chart.

Should employers only search for personnel who are 100% qualified to maintain all their technical equipment immediately upon hire date? Is that possible given most factories are a menagerie of equipment of different makes and vintages unique to only their site? On the other hand, should employers invest in new hires only to achieve a minimal return before their team member moves on to greener pastures?

Unique problems generate unique solutions and successful control systems integrators are using a variety of solutions to address the challenges. One solution some have leveraged for a long time are technical service contracts. The manufacturing industry has embraced outsourcing services for all types of things like maintenance of uniform and clothing, safety equipment, fire suppression systems, pest control, IT systems and more. These contracts allow clients to leverage the client’s troubleshooting, training, and technical task management skills on a more regular basis. The result is a flexible, recurring arrangement which places highly qualified personnel inside of their facilities alongside their internal staff at a ratio of time and personnel that fits their needs.

The typical service contract arrangements define the level and frequency of support they receive.

The technical services manager (TSM) works directly with the client to identify their needs and inventory the onsite assets in terms of the direct employees.  They also work to establish priority and frequency standards for regular or recurring tasks.

With this information, the TSM can build a staffing solution that seamlessly works with the client’s situation. This allows the integrator to interchangeably provide staff with complimentary skills as well as people to address gaps that exist within the client’s structure. Then the TSM administers the marshalling of tasks into meaningful groups and determines who will execute the requisite work on an ongoing basis. Clients receive the best qualified personnel for specific work, whether it requires a technician, engineer, or computer/software support-centric teammate. Thus, clients begin reaping benefits from having the most qualified staff handling technical tasks on a regular basis without having to hire and train the team themselves.

Most contracts include provisions to use team members as troubleshooting assistance. This is extremely valuable as many clients now realize that contract partners receive priority support, much like one would expect with warranty situations. Beyond that support, the assigned team operates on a principle of teaching their clients’ teams to be increasingly self-sufficient wherever possible. Since the team is likely engaged with multiple clients, it behooves them to collaborate with the client to develop internal staff who can handle regular and support tasks, as well. A true multi-level benefit is generated every time the teams collaborate as the client’s staff grows and learns alongside the ECS experts.

Higher turnover will be the norm in manufacturing for the next generation. The most successful manufacturers will be the “most successful” by embracing this reality and adjusting their cultures to include a different mixture of internal and external support than prior generations had to. Just as clients evaluate their next equipment and systems purchases and immediately check the box to add a support contract, they should strongly consider how the balance of their plants and systems could benefit from a similar arrangement.

Author Bio: Randy Otto is the CEO of ECS Solutions and brings more than 30 years of experience in diverse industries, including glass fibers manufacturing and custom assembly machine manufacturing. Before joining ECS, Randy spent 10 years managing the delivery of assembly equipment for Integrated Systems Manufacturing and process control systems for Premier System Integrators. For most of the last 18 years, he has managed business development and sales for ECS and more recently as a part of his duties as CEO. Randy graduated from Purdue University with a degree in electrical engineering technology. He has an MBA from the University of Southern Indiana.