Does it matter how well students are prepared for the real world if the real world is not prepared for them? Youth unemployment (under 25 years old) is approaching all-time highs in the U.S.A. and has reached epic proportions across the globe with unemployment rates as high as 50% in parts of Europe.

Yet at the same time, many industries and governments are facing a very related crisis as the majority of maintenance professionals are getting ready to retire in the next few years. With the average age of maintenance professionals in their early 50s, industry and government facilities must find a way to stop infrastructure from crumbling.

The Need for Top Level Action

Unless industry, educational and government leaders get together on this soon and develop a long term plan, our nation’s infrastructure is in serious jeopardy. Without adequate maintenance professionals, in just 10-15 years the cost of ongoing operations in asset intensive industries and facility management will skyrocket.

This will happen because poorly maintained assets costs more to operate and will result in higher energy costs, more equipment breakdowns and higher labor expenses due to emergency repairs. And the problems do not stop there as the upcoming global recession will limit the available capital for replacement assets and facilities.

Clearly, one of the solutions is to guide more youth into the maintenance profession. Don’t get me wrong, there are not enough maintenance related positions to cure youth unemployment. However, the maintenance problem is symptomatic of other fields where youth perception, job skills mismatches, recruiting techniques and employer perceptions need to change with times and technology.

What industry and government leaders can do is to address the problem by having a better understanding of the asset and maintenance management problem and then expanding similar measures to other professions where there is a critical shortage of skilled workers.

Connecting Youth Unemployment and Maintenance Staffing

You would think that will a national problem of youth unemployment that there would not be a problem filling these positions in the maintenance arena. But there is, some of the significant reasons for this are:

  • Perception:Maintenance is still perceived to be a blue collar profession. It does not hold the glamour of white collar careers such as software engineering, consulting and executive management etc.The youth of today has a picture of a career in maintenance as a person with a tool belt or a plunger. For the most part, they are unaware of the skill sets needed to take care of industrial machinery or facility management.These skills sets frequently require the use of technology such as a CMMS or EAM system as well as a variety of backgrounds such as business (maintenance) planning, engineering or specialized training.The future of maintenance will see maintenance staff and maintenance management using mobile devices instead of paper and pen to run operations. Maintenance teams need to be recognized as the glue that keeps facilities in operation.
  • Job Skills Mismatch:
    FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Universities are churning out degrees in a variety of highly technical fields with the promise/hope of a great paying career. The problem is many of these students are unable to find work after they graduate. In essence they are being educated for jobs that do not exist in the numbers needed to employ everyone.In general, educational institutions have done a poor job of aligning education with reality. A new alignment is necessary to avoid our infrastructure crumbling and the unrest that is developing on a global basis.
  • Recruiting Mismatch:How employers recruit possible maintenance and maintenance management candidates is also a problem. Too many employers insist on using obsolete methods of attracting job seekers. For example, newspaper advertisements are not going to be seen by youth that have been brought up in the age of the Internet.What we glorify is what we get. That is why we have a surplus of future athlete, singer, and dancer wannabes but not enough pipelines being developed to fill to fill positions from retirees of key functions that truly drive our economy.More importantly, the pipeline for maintenance professionals coming into the marketplace has dwindled. Prospective employers seem unaware of the newer internet techniques for developing an interest in maintenance, uncovering candidates or establishing a pipeline.
  • Experience:It is an age old problem that employers prefer not to hire people without experience. Part of this is because of fears that young employees will leave for greener pastures after training is completed or after they get a couple of years of experience.
    “…This trend persists over time because young workers are relatively new to the labor market—often looking for their first or second job—and they may be passed over in hiring decisions due to lack of experience. For young workers who are already employed, their lack of seniority makes them likely candidates for being laid off when the firm falls on hard times.”Source: Economic Policy InstituteAt the same time, employees don’t always feel secure in their position. Clearly, keeping newer maintenance staff together is in the best interest of an organization. How to do this is a Senior Management issue as it is a direct reflection on the culture of the organization.
  • Calibration:We currently ask our kids to make future life decisions with limited information. They are not allowed to visit employers, take tours and meet with key decision makers because of the SILOS we have built in our society and insurance liability issues.
    These SILOS (Self Interested Locations of Our Society) need to be broken down if we are ever going to eliminate future employment gaps.
  • Debt Sentences:Not only is the misalignments of the aspirations of our youth not generating enough qualified workers but also creating false hope and Debt sentences for students and parents to pay for expensive educations that generate minimal future revenue returns.

How to Start Reducing Youth Unemployment by Thinking Maintenance and Job Forward

There is no doubt that the unemployment problem of youth across the globe is self-inflicted. Because of a lack of entrepreneurial planning and a misalignment of societal needs, government, educational, industrial and human resource leaders have to change the way they think in order to prevent the crumbling of American infrastructure.

If we look at the causes listed above, several solutions come to mind. However, since each organization is unique only senior management can make the proper determination of how to stop the bleeding.

Change the Perception of Maintenance

Modern maintenance is no longer the domain of a trained handyman. Equipment is more sophisticated requiring the use of intricate electronic monitoring systems, CMMS softwareRCM methodology to name a few. In addition, the use of other advanced technology such as infrared thermography, laser shaft alignments, ultrasound and vibration analysis tools brings a whole new dimension to the world of maintenance.

The keys to changing perception include:

  • Increasing maintenance visibility within an organization. Everyone in an organization should understand how maintenance impacts their jobs and profitability.
  • Increase the allure by appealing to youth brought up in a mobile world. For example, EAM and CMMS mobile systems include the use of mobile devices to expedite work reducing the need for boring paperwork.
  • Promote the range of skills and advanced technology needed to run a successful operation and the opportunities these skills bring with them.

Fix the Maintenance Job Skills Mismatch

Job Opportunities

Today, engineering degrees and specialized vocational training are a must for many organizations as asset failures can cost millions of dollars and/or lives. In addition, the emergency of Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) has brought in a need for business and maintenance planning skills so assets can be managed from conception through retirement.

“Len Shackleton, labour market expert at the Institute of Economic Affairs, points to those countries with consistently low jobless rates, such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. Their vocational education system, which steers young people into specific careers, is undoubtedly behind the low jobless numbers, he argues. “These countries appear to have cracked it. Their unemployment rates are half those of the UK,” he says.”

Source: The Telegraph

Aligning skills with opportunity requires coordination and long-term planning between industry, educational institutions and governments. Some of the opportunities for improving job and skills alignment include:

  • Co-ops and internships need to be developed and promoted heavily. Years ago companies decided to save money by cutting their apprenticeship programs, Now that there are limited qualified workers available to hire some are beginning to become farmers of talent and not just pirates taking talent from elsewhere.If job hungry communities worked with area schools and businesses they can establish formalized program for internships that will help build future talent pools.
  • Externships which means allowing teachers and guidance counselors the opportunities to work at area businesses so that they can help uncover real life local career paths for their students and help support them.
  • Improve University skills education such as offering courses on using advanced technology or applying business planning to EAM.
Modernize Recruiting

The Internet helped propel job websites in the limelight. It also enabled many organizations to setup and accept online job applications. Unfortunately, with high unemployment rates there may be an over reliance on using these vehicles to uncover the desired candidates from the mass amounts of applications.

Organizations need to develop other pipelines as well as find other ways to get their message out. They also need to discover ways that make a career in maintenance, maintenance engineering and maintenance planning more appealing. Some ways to do this might include:

  • The use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter by their employees. Not many people have an interest in reading boring company info pages, on the other hand, they have a better chance of being reached through the feeds of friends and family. Incentive programs for employees to participate do not hurt either.
  • Develop grassroots campaigns through educational institutions. Colleges and Universities love to brag about the percentage of students able to find work after graduation. The internships mentioned in the preceding section also work well for this.
  • Accept that the culture of your organization must change. Rigid dress codes, disdains for tattoos and other displays of personal individuality should be embraced as recruiting people who think outside the box.A great example of this is the NASA flight Director who went viral because he sported a Mohawk haircut. Creative people find solutions! Recruiters should be more focused on energy and attitude versus finding a fit to corporate culture.
Resetting the Experience Bar

Most legendary sports franchises such as Manchester United and the Dallas Cowboys almost always have a mix of veterans and rookies. Yes, some years are better than others but over the long-term the organizations remain competitive. Business organizations can learn from this and strive to find a balance between experience and newbies.

With the adoption of internships and externships mentioned before, employers can ensure that even their rookies have a basic foundation of knowledge. In addition, their learning curve is greatly accelerated when knowledge transfer occurs using the asset and maintenance history collected by an EAM.

Recalibrating Expectations

We must calibrate the aspirations of our youth to the current and future needs of our employers by giving them more than the current information that they learn in school or see on TV.

Information is the key here. Greater effort has to be made to inform people, such as when Joel Leonard (of SkillTV) speaks before high school students and asks them their future plans and is amazed that several kids plan to travel 2500 miles to Alaska to become crab pot fisherman but are ignorant of high paying, safer jobs locally.

Debt Relief

Educational debt is as much of an educational institution and political issue as it is an opportunity for employers to develop pipelines. Part of this can be fixed by better aligning societal needs with education through long term planning and collaboration.

At the same time employers can do their part by establishing scholarships or tuition assistance and tying service to them much like the military academies do. It all ties back to developing new pipelines of candidates.

Wrapping the Maintenance Profession Opportunity

The opportunity to fill maintenance profession positions has never been more important. The solutions are not maintenance specific and can be applied to many professions. The four critical elements are:

  1. Changing culture and perceptions
  2. Long-term planning and commitment by industry, educational and governments (local to national) working together
  3. Adopting technology
  4. Realigning expectations