With the recent waves of Baby Boomers retiring from the workforce combined with fewer young people entering the trades, retaining your maintenance technicians has never been more important. In the good old days, finding new technicians took time and money. These days, you’re lucky if you can find any at all. So, how do you keep maintenance techs from leaving? There’s no simple solution, but you can start by looking at ways to keep the maintenance team motivated. 

Why is maintenance tech retention so important? 

In nearly every industry and across basically every department, the most expensive part of doing business is labor, which can be as much as 70% of all costs, once you include wages, benefits, payroll, and associated taxes.  

So, anything you can do to reduce labor costs can have a large impact on your overall bottom line. If you want to take control of your budget, one of the best things you can do is look at labor costs.  

And two things that are likely costing a lot are losing senior techs and finding new talent. 

Old tribal knowledge 

When maintenance managers joke about a technician being an “asset whisperer,” they’re talking about someone who can just listen to the slightly-off hum an asset is making before knowing exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it. And that sort of knowledge usually comes only with hard-won, direct experience.  

Unfortunately, every time you lose a tech, you also lose some of that tribal knowledge, and once enough of your maintenance team leaves, either because they’ve moved to another company or retired altogether, it costs you a lot of money in extra time and repairs as your new techs relearn the ins and outs of your assets and equipment. 

New training costs 

Even the most junior tech at the lowest end of the pay scale is a big investment. You spend money on advertising on job boards, then time and effort going through resumes before setting up and running interviews. Depending on the size of your overall organization, you might find yourself making phone calls and tracking down references.   

On top of all those upfront onboarding costs, you also need to factor in a ramping up period, where even though you’re paying the full salary, your new tech, through no fault of their own, is only able to deliver a percentage of their eventual productivity. No one arrives Day One able to do the job perfectly, no matter how much experience or training they have in maintenance. 

It’s true for maintenance techs and everyone else, too. In one study by Harvard Business School, it took an average of six months to reach the break-even point (BEP), where the company is seeing a return on their initial investments in a new employee. In that first month, they’re at only 25% of their potential. From weeks five to eight, they’re stuck at 50%. 

In the end, what do all these numbers mean? These days, good maintenance techs are worth their weight in gold. 

Why is it hard to retain maintenance techs? 

There are many reasons people leave companies, including feeling: 

  • Overworked and unsupported 
  • Bored with the work assignments 
  • Out of balance between work and life 
  • Under- or unappreciated 

These are general reasons you can find across industries, but it’s not hard to see how they would play out in the average maintenance department, especially when that maintenance department is still struggling along with spreadsheets or even paper-and-pen maintenance management. 

Out-of-date methods make everyone on the team feel overworked because they are, in fact, overworked. Without a streamlined preventive maintenance program that has the team out ahead of the maintenance curve, everyone spends all their time running around putting out on-demand maintenance fires. No one knows what they’re going to be doing from one day to the next, which leads to a lot of unnecessary stress. And even when things are planned out, techs waste time running back and forth between the maintenance office and job sites picking up paperwork. 

When it’s hard to plan because everything is on paper, it’s also hard to track, including everything from who did what work and how long it took them. That information might be somewhere on scraps of paper work orders, but there’s no reliable, automated system for collecting and aggregating the data. The maintenance manager has no real way to know who’s performing well, so they can’t properly recognize their top techs.  

For all the running around, putting out random fires, when everything in the maintenance department is disorganized, work is boring. Techs never have opportunities to try to learn new skills or try out new maintenance or repairs on the assets and equipment. If your workday is all about swapping out busted motors, you never have the time you need to learn and practice how to inspect, diagnose, and repair those motors. 

Finally, there is no “finally” for your techs. Work is never done because they never know what’s going to go wrong next. It could be the conveyor belt. It could be the boiler. And it could be anytime, which means when they leave Friday evening for the weekend, in the back of their mind, they know they could be called back for emergency repairs on an asset. They never have a good work-life balance because the uncertainties at work overshadow life, when they should be relaxing and recharging.  

And the result is a lack of team motivation. No one wants to come to work, and eventually they don’t. They find jobs somewhere else, with the hope that things will be better there.  

So, you can create a plan that addresses a lot of these issues individually, but it’s important to also think of them as smaller parts of a larger project with the specific goal of increasing team motivation in the maintenance department. When the maintenance team is motivated, they stay. 

How does an enterprise asset management solution help you motivate the maintenance team? 

A lot of the things you want to accomplish in your retention program are a lot easier with a modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solution. And the reason is simple. 

 The opposite of frustrated is motivated.  

Data-packed work orders mean no one feels overworked or unsupported 

If your team is still struggling with paper or spreadsheets, there’s a lot of extra work everyone has to do to make up for all the holes in the system. 

Because there’s only so much room on a piece of paper or inside a spreadsheet cell, your work orders have only the bare minimum of information techs need to work efficiently. Everything else, from manuals to insights, they need to track down for themselves. But with a modern enterprise asset management (EAM) software solution, techs have instant access to work orders that come packed with critical data, including: 

  • Asset maintenance and repairs histories 
  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Customizable checklists 
  • Associated parts and materials 
  • Digital manuals and images 

And because they have all this right away, they arrive on site ready to work, with the right combination of tools and parts. If they do run into anything unexpected, they can instantly upload comments and images to the work order, ensuring they get the support they need fast.  

Preventive maintenance helps you think ahead, not think about work on weekends 

The thing about on-demand work orders is you can’t predict when that demand is going to pop up, and it’s just as likely to happen Monday morning as it is Saturday night. When techs constantly have to deal with the stress of always feeling like they might get called back into work, they can never really relax, even when they’re not at work. 

With a solid preventive maintenance program, you can schedule work far in advance, so during the week, everyone already knows what they’re doing and when. And because you’re now able to find and fix small issues before they become giant problems, there’s a lot less chance of weekend surprises. 

Better tracking and KPIs helps you reward your top performing technicians 

How hard would the average student study if they knew that no matter what, the teacher was going to give everyone in class an A+? Not hard at all. 

And it’s the same for the average tech. When the department can’t accurately track work and so treats everyone the same, a lot of your hardest workers lose their motivation. Why try if it doesn’t make any difference anyway? 

But with a modern EAM, you can capture data automatically along your workflows, ensure you have the numbers you need to see who’s doing the best work. From close-out rates to associated metrics and KPIs like MTBF, you have actionable oversight on the team. 

And the rewards can be as simple as handing out gift cards to as substantial as offering opportunities for additional training and promotions. 

How does an EAM solution help with old tribal knowledge and new training costs? 

Of course, there are times when no matter how well you’re managing the maintenance department, people are going to leave. In some cases, it’s because they’re retiring. In others, they might be perfectly happy but also have a perfectly good reason for leaving. In those cases, you can use your EAM to soften the blow. 

When it comes to losing tribal knowledge, the main problem is that all that hard-won maintenance know-how lives inside the techs’ heads. It’s not written down anywhere, and even if it is, it’s not easily accessible when a new tech needs it. With an EAM, you can get all that knowledge into a save place where it’s also instantly available to the team, no matter where they are. It’s a bit of a project, but you can start simply, by getting the senior techs together and asking them to review your existing PMs already in the system.  

Later, when you are training new techs, it’s important to train them on the software as early in the process, so they have access to all the tribal knowledge you captured. Now, instead of having to constantly run around the facility trying to find a senior tech for help, they can look up what they need from their mobile device, saving both the other tech and themselves time and trouble. 

Summary 

 On top of all the challenges of keeping assets up and running, today’s maintenance and facility managers also deal with the growing difficulty of keeping the maintenance department properly staffed. With the older generation retiring and the younger generation being much smaller, retaining maintenance technicians is more important than ever.

When techs leave, they can take some of the department’s tribal knowledge with them, and getting new staff onboarded can be a costly, time-consuming process. People leave companies for all kinds of reasons, some you can never avoid, but many times you can more easily retain your best techs by keeping the maintenance team motivated.

The key is remembering that the opposite of motivated is frustrated. So, anything you can do to better support techs and recognize their work, the more likely they are to stay. By implementing a modern EAM solution, you can deliver work orders that come packed with everything techs need to work efficiently. And you can run a proper preventive maintenance program, so everyone on the team knows what work is coming up and that there’s a much smaller chance of them being called in on the weeks for on-demand maintenance that the team could have caught with a schedule of regular inspections and maintenance.   

About the author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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