Legendary Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards, once said, “I ain’t getting old, I’m evolving” – a statement that could quite easily be applied to the thousands of men and women who repair, service and maintain the ever growing machines and equipment around us.

These field service technicians are seeing their profession undergo massive change. With the exception of The Rolling Stones, most baby boomers are retiring or scaling back, looking for part time work – taking years of product insight and expertise with them. But the experience required today – and tomorrow – is very different than the previous generation of service techs. Today is a brave new digital world. And keeping that world running will command a premium.

As an increasing number of consumer products are servitized and organisations shift to outcome-based business models, this has put service in the hot seat, triggering a shift in perception at the boardroom level. Service is now a revenue generator (not a cost overhead), making the service professional an integral part of any organisation.

For the first time in the history of service, field service technicians are strategically important, rather than tactically required. They can upsell services onsite, are seen as ‘trusted advisors’ by customers because they’re technicians rather than sales people, and for many product companies, they’re the only human ‘face’ of the product or company a customer will ever encounter. Not only must field service techs be more rounded with a consolidation of skill sets, they must also master some of the customer facing softer skills, rather than just technical competency.

With connected devices expected to rise to 20 billion by 2020, the unfair image of field service technicians as the stereotypical ‘white van man drivers’ weaving in and out of traffic, costing their businesses money as an expensive but necessary overhead (rather than a revenue generator) is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. As a profession, field service is growing up. Fast.

Why The Gig Economy Suits Service

With digital transformation sweeping just about every industry, the traditional break/fix model of maintenance has to change. The economics simply don’t work for maintaining all assets the same way. In the next few years, low risk assets, for example, will be serviced by an ‘uberization’ of field service workers with field service management companies, such as ServiceMax, becoming the ‘network’ between its customers and its agents. Of course, an uberized technician talent pool is particularly well suited for simpler, more repeatable service and maintenance tasks.

A service execution platform will enable jobs to be auctioned to technicians that are available with the relevant credentials, enabling them to work as much or as little as they like.  While companies may use an Uber-type delivery model for their service and maintenance delivery, customers want to have a consistent brand experience with how a company’s service is delivered. They don’t really want to know if a technician is a badged PAYE employee or third party. Customers want it to go well, regardless of who is sent.

It could be ad-hoc on a day-to-day basis, and the work gets thrown out to bids. A service tech could see there are ten jobs in the vicinity, where companies could see who is available to address the workload they’ve got that day.

The £100K Service Technician

At the other end of the spectrum, premium, higher paid technicians will focus on harder, more complex tasks. The predictable service model of digital twins to manage assets and account work better will result in fewer but more experienced senior technicians. They will be the problem solvers, such as delving into ‘no fault found’. The skill level and complexity level with new technologies will drive up salaries, reaching six figures within the next few years. We expect this to happen first in more scientific and tech roles, with other industries following suit.

But it’s not just expertise that will drive up technician salaries. Customer demand for high availability and throughput means businesses want off-hours, weekend and 24×7 support, triggering more paid overtime and increases in shift allowances, lone working extra resource, and compensation for unsociable hours.

The Mixed Labour Model

But how do you capture the senior skills, hands on expertise and years of knowledge in a generation on the brink of retirement? Technology and time typically provide an answer to most dilemmas. It’s inevitable that the industry will face a skills shortage. In the next five years, the number of baby boomers will shrink dramatically. This will have a twofold affect: 1) driving up wages of existing field service techs as their skills become more in demand and 2) encouraging older techs to still use their knowledge and skills in the Gig Economy, working on their own terms and earning extra cash. There will undoubtedly be internal roles too, transitional periods where businesses and field service workers come to terms with knowledge transfer.

Ultimately, it will be technology that makes it all possible. While digital twins increasingly predict service requirements and model change, automation will lead to greater efficiency for low maintenance tasks. Service will continue to become more efficient, thanks to technology and data analytics, which will enable senior service skills to be more valued and rewarded, either in terms of educating new recruits particularly on legacy assets, helping to upsell valued clients or working in the gig economy.

In the field service industry this means knowledge and the ability to service clients, regardless of machine and regardless of time. Coupled with advances in automation technology, this should mean greater efficiencies despite greater demands from customers.

As senior service skills and experience become more valued and rewarded, it will elevate the levels of professionalism in field service higher than it’s ever been before. The potential for a career in service maintenance will soon offer far broader opportunities, ranging from blue collar gig-based jobs to white collar premium positions. And just like Keith Richards, it is indeed evolving.