All organisations’ goal is to have a robust and reliable workforce, but for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in the packaging industry, this is even more critical. Without a strong field service team, no matter how great the equipment – maintaining it is just as important.

For several years now the industry has been facing a talent shortage, especially in the field service department. In this article, we’ll focus on field service and how OEMs are navigating the highly competitive nature of the job market and all the challenges that come with it.

Despite sustainability concerns in the packaging world, OEMs are staying busy. Overall, the need for high-speed equipment is increasing. Along with this growth comes a growing demand for skilled field service technicians.

We’ll start by discussing the importance of qualified field service technicians for packaging equipment manufacturers. Then we’ll go over the current challenges and strategies to attract and retain skilled field service talent in the industry.

The importance of skilled field service technicians in packaging equipment manufacturing

Naturally, the packaging equipment manufacturing sector depends on qualified and experienced workers. Field service technicians play a critical role. These technicians are frequently game-changers when it comes to customer satisfaction, reducing downtime, and optimising equipment performance.

Of course, a strong field service technician needs technical expertise in troubleshooting, repairing, and maintaining the equipment. But, they also need a combination of soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, customer service and adaptability.

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Field service technicians are often the very face of the company, as they are the main point of contact for customers. To guarantee customer satisfaction, they must diagnose and fix the issue as fast as possible, all while communicating with the customers in a professional manner. This is crucial in order to maintain a trustworthy and lasting business relationship.

The growing skills gap in the industry is undeniable. It can be explained by factors like an aging workforce and rapidly changing technology. The equipment is becoming more and more complex and efficient, thanks to increased automation, robotics and AI.

As field service technology continues to advance, the skills required for service technicians are constantly changing. Now more than ever field service technicians need to be versatile and flexible. As a result, it’s become more challenging to find qualified candidates who possess both technical expertise and interpersonal skills to succeed in field service.

Challenges in attracting and retaining skilled workers

The combination of the competitiveness of the job market and ongoing skills gap make it increasingly challenging for talent acquisition professionals to find reliable and qualified field service technicians.

On top of that, according to PMMI, over 73% of companies do not have a real talent strategy. This lack of vision, combined with job hopping trends in qualified field service technicians create instability. Strong candidates are hunted down, and they often have opportunities coming in left and right. Motives like seeking better compensation, work-life balance, and career growth opportunities, make it tough for even the most reputable companies to recruit and retain talent. On top of that, it also increases costs for packaging equipment manufacturers.

More and more, skilled technicians have a diversified background and don’t necessarily work in a single industry which makes it tough for packaging OEMs to compete with companies in other industries. This intense competition may lead to higher salary expectations and a high turnover rate among technicians since it is more likely that they will job hop for better overall opportunities.

It turns out that the costs associated with job hopping can be prohibitive for OEMs. Some costs associated with this are hiring and training new employees, loss incurred by decreased productivity as a result of the influx of such a large number of new workers, and ultimately, loss in customer satisfaction. It could go on to cause potential damage to the company’s general reputation.

Strategies for attracting and retaining top talent

To attract and keep top field service talent, packaging OEMs have to adapt and come up with a new approach that successfully attracts and retains talent.

Attracting capable candidates starts with creating a strong employer brand that focuses on field service excellence. Many candidates prioritise reputation when job hunting. The packaging industry is a small world and name image plays a big part in successful recruiting.

To be competitive and attractive, companies showcase their cutting-edge technology, innovative vision, and opportunities for growth. Obviously, competitive compensation and benefit packages – including travel allowances and per diem pay – are vital to stand out in the job market. Some companies are focusing their strategy on social media and professional networks as this is a highly effective way to target a younger generation of workers.

The vice president of human resources Krista Combs and HR director Sara Secaur at PROMACH have demonstrated that marketing efforts can have a huge impact. Their communication strategy resulted in a 122% increase in the number of average applicants per month, within just 60 days of launching a new social media campaign (PMMI, 2023).

Finding skilled field service technicians is one thing. Keeping them is quite another. Ambitious candidates look for training and development opportunities. They also look for teamwork and a positive company culture. Career advancement is also a major factor in joining a company. Providing a path from operator to technician to supervisor is something many candidates are after. Successful training programs and a strong company culture can help reduce turnover and thus maintain a stable workforce.

Investing in training and development helps technicians stay current with the latest technologies, therefore making the company more attractive. Other ways companies can be attractive to field service technicians is by promoting in-the-field training programs, mentorship, certifications, and a human-centered management.

On top of that, creating a team culture where technicians feel valued and empowered to contribute can boost job satisfaction and work productivity. Promoting growth and investing in the employees therefore plays a vital role in retaining the top talent. The investments in employees not only help retain the current talent but also attract ambitious candidates who are looking for long-term career movement.

Field service is a one-of-a-kind role, requiring a diverse set of skills and personality traits. To remain attractive in the highly competitive job market, companies have to make employees a priority. They should make field service talent management a top goal. They should develop strategies to attract and retain top talent, which makes all the difference in the world when it comes to recruiting for packaging equipment manufacturers.

To create a successful strategy, companies should include developing a strong employer brand, offering competitive compensation and benefits, using social media to target up-and-coming employees, promoting training and creating a supportive company culture.

Another trend we’re seeing in the industry is the expansion of contract-manufacturing. Outsourcing field service operations can help companies face these challenges and reduce costs in the face of candidate shortages and uncertainty in the economy. By collaborating with specialised service providers and utilizing a network of dependable contract technicians, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can tap into a more extensive talent pool and adjust the size of their field service teams as required.

In the long run, the key to remaining competitive in the field service job market is to invest in people. By nurturing and retaining field service talent, packaging equipment manufacturers can establish a happy and motivated workforce which, in the end, results in happy customers and smooth sailing for all.

About the author: Heloise Walters is business development manager at cooperative firm SOCAPS.