Where Have the Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Gone?

Without maintenance and reliability professionals, a manufacturer risks asset reliability deterioration, increased maintenance costs, and lost time. To avoid this, something must be done to counteract the shortage of maintenance professionals entering the workforce.

Without maintenance and reliability professionals, a manufacturer risks asset reliability deterioration, increased maintenance costs, and lost time. To avoid this, something must be done to counteract the shortage of maintenance professionals entering the workforce by all manufacturers.

While industry professionals like Shon Isenhour and Michael Aroney are working to battle this shortage, manufacturers themselves must join in the battle. Without renewed interest, the shortage of maintenance and reliability professionals will only become more troublesome.

How We Got Here

“Today, there are over 600,000 open jobs in manufacturing and that is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years when the Baby Boomers can afford to retire” says Aroney, the Principal Consultant for Allied Reliability Group. Further compounding the general employment gap is a shortage in the area of maintenance and reliability professionals. 

The retirement of the Baby Boomers is not the only factor driving this shortage, either. Isenhour, a partner with Eruditio LLC, asserts that there is a “negative cultural bias toward blue collar employments,” making skilled trade jobs appear less desirable. A negative but pervasive opinion has been built in the U.S. culture, that to be successful, one must have a college education. Aroney adds, “Getting one’s hands dirty was deglamorized over getting a white collar job.”

But this stereotype is not even necessarily true. In a study done by the Society for Human Resource Management, the average starting salary of a college graduate in 2013 was $45,327 annually. While the average college graduate was also encumbered by approximately $29, 400 worth of debt, according to Money Magazine. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor reports, an average electrician will make a starting salary of approximately $49,840 per year, with no student debt.

Training, or lack thereof, is another significant issue. Aroney points out that North American manufacturing apprenticeship programs have been discontinued for the past 25 years, therefore young adults are not being exposed to these career paths with as much frequency.

There has also been a movement away from skilled labor in youth in favor of other pursuits, which, according to Isenhour, “has lessened the number of mechanical skills and technical aptitude acquired early on.” As a result, the education required now is much different than that of past generations.

The lack of training is particularly troublesome as the workforce, says Aroney, is becoming extremely stratified. On one end are the highly skilled employees with years of experience, and on the other end entry-level employees with some skills and perhaps a few years of experience—but not much else. 

Filling the Skills Gap

In an effort to battle this shortage and to minimize the current skills gap, both Isenhour and Aroney stress engaging in a multitude of strategies. Both agree that efforts must begin with encouraging a pursuit of technical training, instead of the typical college emphasis.

 “It’s ok to get your hands dirty,” says Aroney “[you still] have to use your brain to understand precision maintenance and predictive technologies.”

Aroney specifically works with transitioning military service members to help fill these important positions. He explains that these candidates, “transition to a team environment quickly, are problem solvers, are mission focused, and provide leadership.” Another unique approach is the Craft Skills training provided by Allied Reliability Group. This training is delivered to a manufacturer’s site to develop troubleshooting and precision maintenance skills with existing employees.

Isenhour references a similar strategy provided by Eruditio LLC. This organization provides application based learning and training solutions through project training. Upon completion, students receive a certificate from the University of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center, as well as a chance to take the Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professional certification. The Eruditio strategy is particularly effective as it works with existing employees based upon the employer’s suggestions, which helps with overall retention and fewer disruptions with company policy and culture.

The benefits of having skilled reliability and maintenance professionals within a manufacturing enterprise are significant. “Precision maintenance skills are the first line of defense against unreliable equipment and demonstrate a plant’s ability to keep its equipment performing up to design standards,” says Aroney. With skilled professionals on staff there are simply superior problem solving and troubleshooting strategies in place. “This culture and skills leads to more up-time, production and profits for facilities,” Isenhour adds.

So while the manufacturing sector continues to add jobs, it is important to remember that there still exists a potentially dangerous shortage. Maintenance and reliability professionals are an integral part to a manufacturing enterprise and yet there are not nearly enough of them. As the looming retirement of the baby boomers comes closer, manufacturers must remember to be recruiting and encouraging the growth of such professionals— or risk falling behind in the critical area of talent development.

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