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Navigating the Skills Shortage Minefield

Originally published
Originally published: 11/2/2023

Business leaders across many consumer-facing industries are facing up to the harsh reality of trying to remain competitive and profitable in a resource-scarce economy where costs are constantly on the rise. They can no longer throw more people at the problem—and Marne Martin, President of IFS Service Management Business Unit (SMBU), knows all too well the pain points of today’s service providers. More importantly, she knows the solution—it will require exploiting technology to work smarter to attract, upskill, and retain talent. See her expert advice below.

Today’s service landscape faces a pressing set of challenges—a lack of knowledgeable and skilled workers, ever-nearing sustainability targets, and a need to effectively address growing consumer expectations. The time to find the right formula for this field service management conundrum is upon us. Having the right technology has never been more vital for success, particularly when it comes to how companies manage their service and maintenance operations. 

The results of a recent global IFS report, "State of Service 2023”1, underline this current scenario. Industries were aware that skills shortages were upcoming over a decade ago. But what they weren’t prepared for was the extent of how bad these workforce challenges have become. 

The most innovative companies are now working smarter by using modern field service technology to fill the void.

Tackling the Growing Skills Shortage 

The current skills shortage has impacted businesses across the globe. Currently, a record 74%2 of U.S. employers have difficulties in filling positions. In the State of Service 2023 report, technicians not having the necessary knowledge and skills to complete the job at hand was ranked a top concern for field service companies, with 64% citing this as the number one reason for multiple site visits. The issue is a complex one, but it is true across the globe—between a low birth rate and an aging workforce, businesses simply don’t have enough skilled workers to fill the job openings. The same research conducted in 2018 found skills shortages ranked as number six in a list of concerns. Today, no matter the size of the company, the struggle to find, employ, train, and backfill thousands of people to fill skilled labor positions has become a prominent concern.

Businesses across all industries need to address these issues and they need to do so urgently. Today there is less and less new blood entering the workforce, further entrenching the old ways of doing things and causing people to be retrained on the way the old employees have worked. It’s a never-ending cycle, which is impacting the adoption of new technologies. 

A Shift in Mindset: Empower and Encourage, Not Manage and Control

For some time, service companies have struggled to transform field engineers into digital workers —that’s due, in part, to undervaluing the role, a lack of change management, and, in some cases, a lack of attention to issues around business transformation or the adoption of digital tools. But all this is putting pressure on field supervisors and the wider operations model, forcing a shift in mindset.

The conversation among service leaders has now changed to less about “how we control them”, and more about “how we empower them.” Keeping employees satisfied is important for the performance and long-term health of any company — with research finding that empowered employees have more than three times3 the engagement levels of their less-empowered counterparts. Here, not only can technology help “plug the gaps” in field service worker shortages, but it can also help empower and retain current employees out on the frontline to reduce attrition rates. 

Innovation will need to start from the very beginning, right through to the use of tools that accelerate the speed of onboarding for new workers. To ease some of the burden, companies must focus on implementing solutions that help expedite new worker training and encourage employees in the long term. For example, remote assistance powered by augmented/virtual/merged reality can be tied to knowledge management and self-service to help technicians perform self-diagnosis or resolution. With 44% of organizations planning to implement and 21% having it on their wish list, remote assistance has become a primary focus to remain competitive. 

Workforce planning and AI-powered scheduling optimization can also be key in this context. It makes working with a constrained workforce more effective and takes complex SLAs, ones as stringent as 2-hour windows to resolve an issue and makes it possible for technicians to deliver on those expectations. 

Bridging the Sustainability Gap to Attract New Talent

The power of AI-powered scheduling optimization now goes way beyond meeting customer expectations, it provides significant sustainability benefits too — and the direct incentives of “going green” now go way beyond a commendable corporate objective. As net-zero emission goals creep closer, the spotlight is firmly on organizations proactively making an impact — and workers from the younger generations are watching.

Recent research has found that more than half of employees would be more likely to work for a company that provides resources and tools for them to become more sustainable, with a quarter saying they would never work for businesses that profit from unsustainable practices. Here’s where technology can help. With a sophisticated planning and scheduling optimization tool companies can reduce technician travel time between 35% – 50%, which significantly reduces their carbon footprint. 

It’s also put reverse logistics in the spotlight — it’s even become a desired component of modern field service management platforms, as 54% of service organizations currently have reverse logistics capabilities, with another 28% planning to implement them. Having the correct tools in place to anticipate wear and breakage, combined with the digital processes to remedy issues in a timely way, helps companies control operational costs, and manage their sustainable impact.

The sustainable impact matters to employees, and in a scarce economy, companies should be putting staffing needs at the top of the priority list. Promisingly, IFS research revealed that 40% plan to implement scheduling optimization and automation, with another 15% having it on their wish list.

Overcoming the Shortage Challenges One Technology at a Time

Those that transition to an engaging and personalized approach, will be the companies that gain a competitive advantage — and it can be made possible with modern service management tools that can help companies serve customers more efficiently while also attracting talented employees.

Marne Martin, President, IFS Service Management Business Unit. As President of IFS Service Management, Marne’s focus is to continue to elevate the strategic importance of service management to the success of the overall IFS business. Marne works strategically to ensure the entire portfolio of IFS’s service management solutions provides customers with the business value they expect from a global industry leader in field service management (FSM). Connect on LinkedIn at

IFS State of Service Report (2023)
2023 Talent Shortage (Manpower Group, 2023)
Forbes, The 6 Key Secrets to Increasing Empowerment in Your Team (Folkman, 2017)

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