MRO Q&A: Finding Qualified Technicians

March 12, 2013
MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q: Our facility is located in a rural town. We are having a hard time finding qualified technicians to maintain our production. Do you have any suggestions?

A: You are not alone! There are, however, several avenues you can pursue; each varies in difficulty and time required for execution.

Consider the short-term and relatively less-difficult option. There are contract services that provide mechanical and electrical services for a fee.

At the outset, they will not know your specific needs, but they will learn after a few months. This service may be more expensive than trying to hire employees yourself, which brings up another option.

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There are several reputable agencies that help with placement of military personnel whose tour of duty is expiring. They have had thorough training through their service and are anxious to get out into the public workplace. They are mobile and are accustomed to relocating. Many young men and women who will muster out of the service want to return to their hometowns and families, provided they can find employment.

Using local ads and networking with their families are ways to tap into this resource. These prospective employees may need time to learn your specific competencies, but the combination of the hard skills they have been taught and the character screening, done by the government, may be more attractive than working with a contract service provider.

Other possible solutions are longer term and more time consuming. Within your state there are organizations that offer vocational/industrial/apprenticeship programs for students. Most of these institutions are willing to develop a curriculum specific to the needs of local industry.

Employee incentives to enroll in these programs could be mutually beneficial to them and the company. If this isn't feasible, consider internships or co-ops for local students with the goal of hiring them after graduation.

Another long-term strategy is to determine your technical requirements and build a training program inside your organization. This may seem like a daunting task, but if you engage your employees in developing the curriculum, you may realize unexpected benefits in terms of loyalty, teamwork and esprit de corps. You also may discover that creating a career path can result in a great pipeline of internal talent, starting with an equipment operator and progressing to other technical positions. The likely candidates for this type of training are the people who actually run your equipment. They already are knowledgeable and may only lack some specific skills to be successful.

Finding qualified technicians is a serious problem and can have lasting effects, but anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do it right.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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