The Uptime Blog
There’s a lot of buzz about social media tools today, especially since Facebook recently filed to go public, but do maintenance engineers, planners and technicians currently use social media tools to help them perform their jobs? Will social media become more embedded in the daily operations of maintenance professionals, or will it always be something people use only in their spare time for news, networking and educational purposes?
I was curious to find out what others are saying on this topic, so I searched online to see what’s been published. The search yielded few results. One of the articles was titled “People Power,” recently published in Air Transport World. But it was mostly about how airlines are using Facebook on the operations side, to support customer relations and drive ticket sales. It seems that most commercial airlines or transit agencies use Facebook only as a sales or ridership promotional tool.
If you are a maintenance planner, engineer or technician, which social media outlets do you turn to for news, tips and discussions that help you accomplish your professional objectives? Below is a brief summary of three major platforms—LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook—and my observations about their value to maintenance professionals in the aviation and transit industries.
In the past couple of years LinkedIn has become an important network for plenty of maintenance, planning and engineering professionals. Look around for a LinkedIn group in various industries, and you’re sure to find one that’s relevant, with educational discussion threads that are pertinent to your profession. LinkedIn is not a tool that one uses to actually perform one’s job (unless your job is to research best practices in your industry), but it’s becoming a go-to source for industry knowledge and networking.
Twitter serves as a source of micro-blogs; it’s a handy way of hearing the latest buzz from industry experts, vendors and colleagues. Compared to LinkedIn, however, it is more difficult to 1) find the most relevant Twitterers for your industry and 2) scroll through all the Tweets to find ones that are relevant to your job.
As of this writing Facebook offers some pages and posts that are pertinent to the maintenance profession, but it can be hard to locate them. (This may be a function of Facebook’s search engine, and/or the lack of pages and posts.) A brief search on Facebook for “aircraft maintenance” yielded a substantial number of results; most were for MRO shops, aircraft maintenance schools, and interest groups. Many, if not the majority, of aviation-oriented Facebook pages exist to promote products or services rather than sharing useful information. That could be changing, however; some pages contained numerous posts/updates that were indeed educational; for example, look up “Aircraft Maintenance General Knowledge.”
Are these trends likely to change? Are there other social media platforms that are gaining traction in the maintenance profession? Please post your thoughts/comments on this topic. And, of course, feel free to follow Enigma on Twitter and LinkedIn.
An article by Ben Casselman in the Wall Street Journal (November 26, 2011) describes a recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte that found “83% of manufacturers reported a moderate or severe shortage of skilled production workers to hire.” And that “74% of manufacturers said a shortage of skilled production workers had a ‘significant negative impact’ on either their productivity or expansion plans.”
The article uncovers other evidence of growing demand for skilled jobs as well, “While hourly wages in the broad category of maintenance and repair workers rose 6.4% from 2007 to 2010, increases were 10% in the subcategory of heavy-vehicle mechanics and 15% for specialists in electrical repairs on commercial and industrial equipment. The implication is that employers were competing for a limited pool of qualified workers.”
Clearly the Wall Street Journal is challenging the notion that good jobs are hard to find. There is demand for skilled workers in the manufacturing sector.
For instance, according to the article “AAR Corp., a Chicago-based aviation-parts manufacturer, has 600 job openings, mostly for skilled trade jobs like welders and maintenance mechanics. Chief Executive David Storch said the shortage of workers has forced the company to pass up business and delay some manufacturing work. He said the company would like to start a third shift at its Indianapolis aircraft maintenance facility but has been unable to do so because of worker shortages.”
And while the shortage of skilled workers can be seen across multiple industries, retirement is making matters worse. Casselman’s story indicates that almost 10% of Union Pacific’s employees will retire in 2011 (4,000 out of 45,000).
Finally, in this slow economy it seems that companies are becoming more selective about who they hire. “Jeffrey Joerres, CEO of staffing firm Manpower Inc., said that with demand for their products weak, companies only want candidates who have all of the skills they are looking for, and if the companies can't find someone who fits the bill really well, they'll just leave the job unfilled.”
Think about it; companies are leaving skilled jobs unfilled. That indicates two things about today’s manufacturing sector:
- Quality is more important than quantity (i.e., companies would rather do the job right than do it fast).
- The return on investment (ROI) for training skilled workers is too low (i.e., the cost of training exceeds the revenue generated by an inexperienced worker).
Given that over the past 20 years lean and six-sigma initiatives (LSS) have been implemented at almost every manufacturing company, the focus on quality isn’t surprising. However, the issue of training ROI is surprising. It’s amazing that companies have not yet applied their LSS expertise to address the bottlenecks in training skilled workers.
Skill is developed in two steps: knowledge and experience. For unskilled workers, knowledge is the technical information about how to perform a task; experience, on the other hand, is gained as they perform that task and apply that knowledge. There is no way to develop experience except through…experience. However, there are many ways to share knowledge. The closer you can bring the knowledge to the experience, the faster you develop a skilled workforce. In other words, when you get workers out of the classroom and into the field—and still provide them with the required knowledge—you revolutionize their training. This can simultaneously improve training ROI and work quality.
Enigma provides the technology to deliver knowledge, especially for organizations that maintain and repair complex equipment: planes, trains, trucks, cars, power sports, construction equipment, medical devices, semiconductor equipment, etc. Our solutions provide a one-stop shop of product information wherever it may be needed—consisting of parts and service information, best practices from the field, procurement, sales, remote collaboration, etc.—allowing workers to quickly apply knowledge and gain experience. With Enigma’s technology companies are empowering their service technicians to quickly become experts on the job, which improves equipment uptime, first-time-fix-rates (FTFR) and mean-time-to-repair (MTTR).
According to the Wall Street Journal, companies are looking for skilled workers. Enigma makes it cost-effective and easy for companies to train and develop skilled employees.
The October 2008 issue of Air Transport World includes an article titled “Mechanics Wanted,” regarding the challenges of recruiting enough aviation service technicians to meet the future needs of the aviation industry.
According to the article, the demand for aircraft maintenance technicians is expected to more than double in the next two decades, to support fleet growth and replace retiring technicians. This echoes what we’ve referenced in a previous blogs about the graying of the workforce and the need to accelerate the education of new service technicians.
Why can’t the industry recruit the number of technicians they need? First of all, it takes a long time to complete maintenance training, typically five years to be licensed to sign-off on repairs. Second, service technician jobs often don’t pay as well as other professions (both inside and out of the aviation industry). The opportunity to work on aircraft is just not appealing to enough people.
To make matters worse, once recruits are in place it has become harder to train them because there aren’t enough planes on the ground to provide the hands-on experience they need. (This is a good thing for travelers but makes training a challenge.)
“It’s getting more and more difficult to get access to a real maintenance environment for training purposes because the planes are always in use, the maintenance schedule is getting tighter and tighter, ground time is getting shorter and shorter.” —Klaus Schmidt-Klyk, Director of Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service, Lufthansa Technical Training.
Since Enigma is in the business of reducing maintenance delays, we are happy to hear that aircraft uptime is increasing, and customers tell us that our aircraft maintenance solutions are part of that improvement. But we sympathize with the MRO shops and airline operators that are trying to train technicians and believe that technology plays a strong role in achieving further improvements.
A recent BusinessWeek article (Big Oil’s Talent Hunt, Dec 24, 2007) describes one of the oil industry’s biggest challenges — the workforce is graying. That’s a nice way of saying that a lot of workers are getting old and retiring. This seems like business as usual, older workers retire and younger workers take their place, but right now the number and quality of new workers can’t meet the demand. This situation is great for employees, they get higher salaries and bonuses, but the business takes a hit as the quality, consistency and efficiency of service deteriorates. The problem goes beyond the loss of manpower, the bigger problem is the loss of expertise.
Most labor-intensive businesses face the same challenge as the oil industry. Whether it’s technicians, mechanics or field service engineers, companies that need people to keep assets up and running are finding it harder and harder to attract, educate and retain workers. Experienced technicians are leaving the workforce, and it can be difficult to “ramp up” new technicians; as a result, many companies are extending the retirement age and offering bonuses in an attempt to delay the inevitable.
But coaxing people out of retirement or into a second career is essentially the same as giving all those gray hairs a dye-job. It works for awhile but no matter how young it looks, sooner or later that hair will fall out. Fixing the problem of the graying workforce requires more than a dye-job.
It should be obvious that reading page after page of technical information looking for clues to complete a repair isn’t efficient, but that’s the norm. Fortunately, technologies like Enigma 3C understand the context of each situation —the configuration of the machine being fixed, what’s wrong with it and the parts needed to fix it —and provide exactly the information mechanics need to get equipment up and running as soon as possible. Enigma helps new technicians perform like pros. With this kind of system, even a novice mechanic can display wisdom beyond his/her years—without getting any gray hair.