3 Tactics to Address the Skilled Labor Shortage in Industrial Maintenance


There is a growing talent gap emerging across the United States. According to a study conducted by Manpower, 69% of U.S. companies report talent shortages. The situation is particularly dire for organizations that are attempting to attract and retain skilled workers. A Deloitte study found that “most companies expect job categories where they have rated the current shortage ‘very high’ – digital talent, skilled production, operational managers – to triple in terms of difficulty in filling positions in the next three years.”


For many organizations, the shortage of skilled industrial maintenance workers threatens to upend productivity. Industrial maintenance technicians play a vital role in maximizing the efficiency of production processes. The same Deloitte study found that the “top business impact of pervasive job openings [is the] inability to maintain or increase production levels to satisfy growing customer demands. Sixty percent of respondents ranked the skills shortage as having a high or very high impact on productivity over the next three years.” In the U.S. alone, the manufacturing skills gap could result in the loss of $454 billion in additional manufacturing value-added by 2028.



The Growing Labor Shortage in Industrial Maintenance


The shortage of skilled industrial maintenance professionals is primarily attributable to three factors:

  • Older generations are leaving the workforce
  • Younger generations gravitating away from industrial maintenance
  • Emerging technologies that require more diversified skill sets

Older Generations are Leaving the Workforce


The oldest baby boomers turned 65 on January 1, 2011. Every day from then until 2030, some 10,000 baby boomers will reach traditional retirement age. The pandemic has also contributed to the mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce. Pew Research reported that in the third quarter of 2020 about 28.6 million baby boomers stated that they were out of the labor force due to retirement. This represents a 3.2 million increase from the third quarter of 2019.


Many baby boomers have had vocational careers and occupied industrial maintenance positions. As they leave the workforce in droves there is a lack of younger workers waiting to take their place.


Younger Generations are Gravitating Away from Industrial Maintenance


By 2025, Millennials will make up an estimated 75% of the global workforce. Yet Millennials have not gravitated towards careers in industrial maintenance. Rather, they have pursued higher-paying positions with flexible benefits in industries that they view as more progressive. For instance, McKinsey describes the oil and gas industry as being “placed on the wrong side of transition,” as well as suffering from a “misalignment between the career-progression timeframes and work-life choices the industry offers and the expectations of newer generations of talent.”


Emerging Technologies that Require More Diversified Skill Sets


The adoption of Industry 4.0 and maintenance management technologies is changing the nature of industrial maintenance jobs. These new technologies require technicians to be able to handle both physical and software-based maintenance and repair tasks. Older technicians that remain in the workforce often struggle to adapt to these new technologies. Younger generations, however, are more tech-savvy and can play a major role in driving organizations’ digital transformation initiatives, provided that companies can attract younger generations to maintenance jobs.



Overcoming the Skills Gap in Industrial Maintenance


For many organizations, addressing the skilled labor shortage in industrial maintenance will require improving their maintenance management processes using innovative new technologies. This will help companies to optimize their resource allocation and do more with less.


Leverage Automation Technologies


Industry 4.0 technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), process automation, and Machine Learning (ML) will undoubtedly play an instrumental role in helping organizations to overcome talent shortages. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2022 “machines and algorithms will contribute 42 percent of total task hours, compared to 29 percent in 2018.”


With automation, organizations can eliminate repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks helping them to better allocate their human resources. According to Doc Palmer’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, “Implementing proper planning and scheduling can improve the productive maintenance time of a typical organization from 25-35% to 50-55% - almost doubling the ability to get work completed.” This means that a company could, for instance, use a planning and scheduling automation solution to create optimized schedules for maintenance and repair tasks. The resulting improvement of wrench time by just 50% would equate to 10 technicians doing the work of 15.

Moreover, adopting these innovative and user-friendly technologies will make industrial maintenance careers more appealing to younger generations. For example, replacing paper-based maintenance processes with mobile devices cater to Millennials by offering connectivity and access to information wherever technicians are located.


Capturing the Knowledge of Older Generations


One of the greatest assets that many organizations still possess are workforces that have intrinsic knowledge of existing industrial maintenance processes. Organizations should seek to capture and pass on the knowledge of the retiring generation. For example, a planning and scheduling solution can improve the capture and structure of data to build better schedules. The system can be set-up to prioritize work order tasks based on known dependencies. Thus, codifying the insights from years of experience with automation here and there in support of the process to transfer knowledge and reduce reliance on people.


Utilizing Visual Aids


Today’s industrial maintenance professionals have something that their predecessors did not – access to detailed visual aids and digital tools. With a mobile solution that gives maintenance workers access to procedures to complete a task while in the field, technicians can eliminate a lot of wasted steps in the maintenance process while improving the organization’s resource allocation.



How Sigga Can Help


Sigga offers powerful digitization and mobile solutions that can help you improve your maintenance management process and work towards overcoming talent shortages. Sigga Mobile EAM is designed to digitize industrial maintenance tasks while Sigga Warehouse and Inventory manages warehouse procedures. These mobile solutions replace repetitive manual paper-based processes with user-friendly mobile features. They also provide robust functionality for both online and offline use with background auto-sync with SAP PM. You can benefit from connecting all users for real-time visibility to work order and inventory status while improving data quality.


Sigga’s Planning & Scheduling solution allows planners to replace tedious spreadsheet work to automatically create a baseline schedule for maintenance and repair tasks. Organizations can automatically check capacities, assign resources, prioritize work orders, track order status, and make informed decisions based on real-time data in SAP.