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Navigating MRO Staffing Challenges: Addressing the Skilled Labor Shortage in Plant and Facilities Maintenance

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The changing demographics in the facilities management and plant maintenance industry pose a significant challenge for organizations. The International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) estimates that 40% of existing facilities managers (FMs) will retire by 2026. This shift will trigger labor shortages of over 158,000 positions through the end of the decade and is being exacerbated by the fact that fewer young people are pursuing careers in this field, leading to a shortage of skilled trade workers. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic added to this already-burgeoning problem. According to The Guardian, the pandemic has reduced the US workforce by 500,000 people approximately. 

A skilled labor shortage can negatively impact plant and facilities maintenance efficiency. While there are strategies to help alleviate the impact, facilities and plant maintenance departments must take proactive steps to attract and retain skilled workers. 

Shortage of Skilled Maintenance Workers:

During the pandemic, many workers in the facilities management and plant maintenance industry decided to retire early due to the downturn in available work, while others were laid off as organizations had to make cost savings to survive. As the economy begins to recover, facilities management and plant maintenance teams are now facing the challenge of rehiring and attracting technical staff, with many having to raise wages to remain competitive. 

Employees have reevaluated their job expectations and consider factors such as work-life balance and industry stability in their career choices. However, working in facilities management and plant maintenance often requires employees to be willing to relocate closer to facilities and manufacturing plants, which can be a significant obstacle for some. Additionally, the industry’s fluctuating demand and instability may cause potential facilities and plant management staff to look to other industries for work.

Concerns about climate change and sustainability are also impacting the workforce, as newly qualified technicians seek meaningful work opportunities that drive sustainability, diversity, and other social responsibility initiatives.

At the same time, less-tenured people entering the workforce have a higher expectation for technology integration in their jobs. This expectation can be difficult for FM organizations and plant maintenance teams to meet if they are not keeping up with the latest technology trends.

Knowledge Management: Addressing the Skills Gap 

The shortage of skilled labor in facilities management and plant maintenance has also resulted in a loss of cultural knowledge and expertise, which has had a significant impact on the smooth running of services. This includes a loss of industry relationships and can lead to lengthy repair times and bottlenecks. Combined with materials shortages, this knowledge gap has created a challenging environment for the industry.

Facilities and plant maintenance organizations are finding it increasingly challenging to attract new technical staff, despite significant technological advancements in the supply chain. Many newly qualified technicians are being drawn to industries outside of plant and facilities maintenance, which is creating a skills gap in MRO staffing. Employees need to continually adapt their skill sets to keep up with the changing landscape of the industry. Organizations must continue to invest in new technologies and provide training opportunities to retain their skilled trade workforce and attract new talent. 

Increasing Employee Retention

To combat the shortage of skilled workers, Facilities Management and Plant Maintenance departments can take several proactive steps and leverage their Human Resources and Talent Acquisition departments as a strategic business partner and source of MRO value. 

  • Partnering with nearby colleges and schools to create training opportunities and internships can attract young people and bridge the skills gap. SDI partners with Penn State’s Center for Supply Chain Research for this purpose. MRO training programs should use a mix of teaching and learning methods, including combined in-person, e-learning, and augmented/virtual reality simulations, to help retain students and keep training relevant to the developing Facilities Management and Plant Maintenance environment.
  • Getting the word out about the great opportunities available in the industry, particularly in sustainability and digital technology, can attract new talent. Facilities Management and Plant Maintenance departments that adopt new technology early on can benefit from the job opportunities created for workers with the right skill set. Additionally, it’s important to consider the areas where labor might be drawn to when planning new facilities.
  • Diversifying the talent pool is also crucial. More work is needed to increase the representation of women and other underrepresented groups in the industry. By diversifying the talent pool, we can increase the number of skilled workers available and ensure that the industry is representative of the population as a whole. 
  • Investing in employee development and training programs is another strong strategy. Companies can work with their human resources departments to identify skills gaps within their workforce and provide relevant training and development opportunities to help employees acquire the necessary skills. This approach not only addresses the current skills shortage but also creates a pipeline of skilled workers for future needs.

SDI Employee Development & Training Programs

SDI has created career paths and career development programs to develop plant storeroom and facilities management employees from within to fill critical positions.  The SMRT Program is a year-long opportunity for current employees to learn the skills needed to become storeroom managers.  Participants complete online learning, on-the-job assignments, and learn from expert speakers.  SDI has been successful in promoting the graduates into storeroom manager roles. 

Additionally, internal employees and colleagues are always top-of-mind when SDI’s Talent Acquisition (TA) team is recruiting for open positions. When there is a vacancy, the TA team encourages the hiring team to consider internal employees from the beginning. View open positions at SDI

Find Creative Solutions

The skilled trade shortage in facilities management and plant maintenance is a worrying issue that needs to be addressed. By partnering with educational institutions, getting the word out about the great opportunities available in MRO, diversifying the talent pool, and investing in employee development, plants and facilities can attract and retain top talent, bridge the skills gap, and drive business success. The MRO industry is well-positioned to take advantage of new technology and sustainability trends, making it an exciting and promising field for those looking for a rewarding career.

SDI has a wealth of experience in helping organizations address the skilled labor shortage in the Facilities Management and Plant Maintenance industry. Our team of experts can help your organization bridge the skills gap and drive business success. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you overcome the skilled labor shortage

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