The economic stability of our nation has seen many stalwart fields of endeavor shrivel up resulting in unemployment well into double digits throughout the land. In contrast, the facility/plant maintenance arena is in danger of not finding enough skilled personnel to meet basic needs. Although there are several schools of thought are behind this phenomena, the fact is the average age of the skilled maintenance professional is in their mid-50s. These workers are the professionals who keep much of our industrial infrastructure up and running and soon many will be retiring.

The Stakes

The issue of an aging workforce is two-fold. The first issue is whether enough workers can be found to replace retiring workers. The answer is an unequivocally yes. Unemployment is very high, labor can found both domestically and internationally. This is the basic premise of  Supply and Demand. Debates on the merits of the validity of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report that there will be up to 14 million unfilled skilled positions open by 2010 are irrelevant. In the grand scheme of time any temporary disturbance in the labor force will eventually be offset long before buildings and infrastructures crumble.

What does warrant concern is what will happen to the decades of practical experience that maintenance teams, engineers and companies have amassed. Because each industry/situation is different we have various shades of grey with regard to the true impact. In industries where the technology has remained almost stagnant the equipment knowledge and workarounds experiences maintenance crews have developed over time may be lost. In other industries where new maintenance techniques such as vibration analysis or sophisticated sensing devices are being used the loss of know-how is likely to be less. Similarly, new facilities containing new equipment should initially be less maintenance intensive giving new hires the ability to progress on the learning curve. In contrast, older buildings or equipment probably require more seasoned professionals.

Creating A Solution

Good facility managers, human resource professionals and executives should be able to identify their individual situation in a heartbeat. For facilities where a substantial loss of know-how is less important, the alternatives are proper recruitment and training. This is also the ideal time for these types of facilities to begin the creation of a knowledge database as new recruits will eventually age. For facilities where the loss of know-how will increase maintenance response time as well as subsequent MROexpenses, management must act quickly and decisively to capture the knowledge of older workers and develop training methods or tools that can expedite the knowledge transfer.

Tools for The Trade

Mintek wishes we could tell you there is one tool that will be the best solution for all industries as well as all types of facilities. We can not do that because that tool does not yet exist. However, we can explain how an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system works to address the preceding problems. For discussion purposes

“Enterprise asset management (EAM) differs from Asset Management because it treats the asset from a company (enterprise) perspective. It refers to the management of assets to the benefit of the organization as a whole and not limited to a specific area such as a department, location or division. It includes the entire process from initial planning, designed use, installation, training, operations, maintenance and eventual retirement/replacement.”

Source: Mintek Glossary of Terms

Properly implementing an EAM brings one other very significant benefit. By tracking the history of each asset from beginning to end, the system collects an enormous amount of maintenance data including but not limited to the original work order request, why work needed to be done, what work was done, who did it, the costs, the parts/inventory needed and the results. Best of Breed EAM solutions make this even easier by integrating mobile handheld devices for near real time data exchange. The result is a very manageable source of data that can be used for training new recruits or increasing operator maintenance skills.

Getting The Buy-In

The key to a successful implementation is achieving buy-in at all levels.

  • For Maintenance teams this means showing them how the system will organize the work flow process giving them more time for proactive maintenance issues as well as greater flexibility in handling reactive/emergency repairs.
  • For Plant and Facility managers the EAM will decrease reactive repairs (lowering emergency overtime labor costs) and minimize downtime as a result of better inspections and preventive maintenance organization
  • For Human Resources this means making sure they understand the FTE equivalent of a senior experienced engineer is greater than one. Also make mention that training costs will be lower and employee satisfaction higher.
  • For Bean Counters buy-in can be achieved by utilizing the capital budget analysis piece of the EAM. Good historical data collection enables capital planners to more accurately project the expected retirement or replacement date of an asset. If overtime is an issue then they will love how an EAM can lower labor costs by streamlining the workflow process.
  • Last but not least, Executive management has to be 100% supportive. Win your case by the numbers. When cash flow is tight non-revenue producing actions are few and far between. Work with your vendor to ascertain a workable ROI.
What else can an EAM Bring to the Table?

As previously mentioned an EAM is more than just an asset management system. The core features of an EAM include the automation of many maintenance management functions such as inspections, preventive maintenance and work orders. The goal of these features is to provide facilities maintenance the organizational tools necessary to decrease reactive firefighting and increase proactive maintenance functions. The effect is to reduce labor cost, minimize equipment downtime and lengthen the useful lifecycle of assets.

We want to know how your company is addressing the aging of the maintenance workforce and what you think. Share with us your stories or thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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