One reason skilled technicians leave electrical service firm jobs and plant maintenance jobs is that they don’t feel there’s much career advancement. Work becomes a grind. And the growing shortage of skilled technicians makes this a significant problem for many employers.
Employer-sponsored training and certification is one answer to this problem. But managers may hesitate to approve (or provide) training and certification, because of fear that they’ll make their workers more employable and thus have to pay them more to keep from losing them to a competitor.
You might turn this around and ask yourself why you’re not paying your employees more if they are more qualified. Especially if their being so is something you can use to improve your bottom line.
Yes, some certifications have real commercial value, which give your employees potentially better job prospects. But it’s a short list and somewhat “in the eye of the beholder.” When you hire, do questions of which candidate has the most “additional” certifications really keep you up at night? Think on that question, if you believe your employees will stampede for the door after they get a few certifications on your dime.
It’s probably not the case that if one of your electricians accrues several minor certifications that your competitor would hire him away for $1 an hour more. It is the case, however, that if you don’t offer training and certification, your employees have an incentive to leave you for an employer who does. And sometimes, employees will take off even if it means a pay cut.
If your employee is dissatisfied enough to consider leaving for a small pay increase, or even a drop in pay, you have some issues to address. Lack of certification opportunities may well be on that list of issues.
Generally, most available certifications don’t have much “resume juice,” so the job mobility threat isn’t the problem some perceive it to be. This perceived threat isn’t a good business reason for denying certification to your employees. The fact is there is huge value in taking the opposite approach. This approach means your company has an ongoing program whereby your technicians can work toward, and obtain, certifications.
The value is there for several reasons. First, you’re sending a message that your people are important. You’re also sending a message that you expect them to continue to get better at what they do. Both messages improve employee retention and help imbue a culture of excellence.
If your company is a technical service firm, do you assume your employees have good skills for communicating with customers? Or do you provide training? If you’re sharp about this, you provide training.
But your field service technicians went into a technical field, not into sales. Just how motivated are they to master “salesy, touch feely” material? People work harder if working toward a specific goal. If they’re working toward a certificate, they’ll be more motivated to learn something outside their core area of interest.
The learning process itself provides value. Aside from breaking the routine, it helps stimulate people to think in different ways about what they’re doing. The effect carries over from the material at hand to other issues that arise.
For example, John is an electrician working toward a certificate from an online short course in the basics of project management. While on a project, he encounters delays in material delivery. This isn’t specifically covered in his coursework, but he’s thinking about project management.
Instead of just griping that “they messed up again” John thinks about the problem and offers a solution. Because of his perspective of being in the field, his solution differs from what George, who doesn’t work in the field, had proposed earlier.
Which solution is better? That may not matter so much as the fact that someone who normally isn’t consulted about how projects are run is actually thinking about how they are run. And consequently volunteers ideas that are “outside the box.”
Maybe in this example, George is staring at the project management software screen on his desktop computer and trying to determine what step to add. But John looks at the smart phone he carries on the job and sees that as providing a solution. The final solution might incorporate both.
By now, you’re probably thinking of some areas where your people (and your company) can benefit from certification programs. Make sure your list includes these basic areas:
- Common safety topics (e.g., lockout/tagout, arc flash protection).
- DMM measurement techniques.
- Construction techniques (e.g., how to correctly cut, bend, and assemble tubing and conduit).
- Basic troubleshooting methodologies.
- Mathematics (intermediate coursework, such as trigonometry, geometry, and algebra, and how to apply directly on the job).
- Your internal processes (e.g., your work order process).
For more advanced training, consider these:
- Equipment-specific safety (e.g., what are the dangers presented by Line 3?).
- Equipment-specific training (e.g., Line 3’s systems and major components).
- Thermography (anything from seminar/webinar completion to a total training program).
- Using power analyzers, vibration analyzers, ultrasonic meters, etc.
- Industry association certification (e.g., NETA certifications).
- Advanced mathematics (e.g., calculus and statistics)
- Soft skills (e.g., basic management, project management, leadership, communication skills, dispute resolution).
- First responder skills (e.g., First-Aid, firefighting, perhaps even EMT certification).
- Defensive driving (if your employees drive company vehicles).
Most of the training can be done at little or no cost. In return for the investment, you get employees who are more capable and more loyal. Should you plan and implement a comprehensive program of certification? For most firms, there is only one right answer to that question.