How evidence based technician qualification can reduce risk

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Risk is a part of any business venture but the construction, installation, maintenance and repair industries come with a greater risk of employee injury and fatality, with the National Safety Council listing these industries in their top 5 occupations with the largest number of workplace injuries that result in absence from work. This, of course, compounds other risks, such as the risk of projects being delayed or executed at suboptimal standards, resulting in rising costs, customer dissatisfaction and reputational damage.

The accumulation of seemingly small lapses in judgment or training, resulting in shortcuts, faulty installations, and inconsistency in service quality can bring about considerable fallout. Mitigating and reducing risks in this context comes down to the skills, training, and dedication of your field technicians and engineers. But this is where things get even more complicated.  

Growing shortages

The Great Recession may seem a distant memory for some but during this time 1.5 million workers left the construction industry and the effects of this are still being felt. What’s more, both the construction and utility industries are dealing with aging workforces, with the median worker age being higher than the median across industries in the USA, according to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A closer look at these numbers reveals that in construction less than 9% of the workforce is under 25 and in utilities less than 4.5%, compared to 12% across US industries. In practical terms, this means a considerable depository of skills, experience, and undocumented knowledge will be lost from these industries as older workers retire, leaving a vast number of vacancies and a sizeable knowledge gap. The Department of Labor estimates that up to 50% of the country’s utility workforce will retire over just the next 5–10 years.

The effects are already being felt, with a survey carried out by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America finding that 78% of construction firms today are struggling to find qualified workers to hire. Likewise, a recent survey by the Solar Training Network revealed 84% of solar companies found it difficult to fill entry-level installation vacancies. HVAC technicians are also in high demand, with 70,000 vacancies at the last count.

The fallout

The problem of skilled labor shortages is expected to worsen as the construction and utility industries continue to grow and increasing numbers of experienced hands retire. With a smaller, less skilled workforce and growing demand from customers, the stage is set for risks to skyrocket. This presents itself in 4 main ways:

  1. Fewer experienced field technicians and engineers available to mentor new hires by sharing their undocumented knowledge and leading by example when it comes to best practice, compliance, safety.
  2. Growing frustration as less experienced field technicians and engineers are unable to access the support and learning they need from more experienced hands, who are already stretched to capacity as their peers retire.
  3. A higher rate of accidents, injuries and fatalities resulting from a widening knowledge gap between those retiring and those starting out, as well as exhaustion from overwork as fewer employees are tasked with completing more work.
  4. A growing number of legal disputes and insurance claims as projects overrun, costs rise and injuries become more commonplace.

The solution

How can you mitigate and reduce risk in this climate? How can you ensure your field teams understand and adhere to established practices and procedures?

There are already several solutions industries are implementing as risk mitigation and reduction becomes a strategic priority.

The AGC of America industry survey reports that a staggering 90% of construction firms are managing risk differently today than 5 years ago and of these firms, 82% are using new risk management tools, 55% are providing risk management training and 37% are creating positions dedicated to risk management.

However, there is a general consensus that a shift in mindset must also occur, away from risk management being a departmental problem and towards it being something that is everyone’s responsibility. It’s about creating a culture of safety, reinforced through monitoring and accountability. This can be achieved through more comprehensive training of your field technicians and engineers, with a focus on the following 5 aspects:

  1. Facilitating ongoing mentoring by experienced team members while continuing to meet project targets and customer demand.
  2. Disseminating undocumented knowledge from experienced team members through your organization more efficiently.
  3. Monitoring the training progress of field technicians and engineers.
  4. Monitoring engagement between mentors and those undergoing training.
  5. Fostering a culture of safety through risk awareness.

How can On.Board help?

We developed a mobile learning, coaching and technician qualification platform for the construction and utility industries — On.Board. Accessible from any digital device, your workforce can connect to their training on the job anytime. By taking the classroom and technician qualification to the field, On.Board can more effectively embed risk management at the local level.

Here’s how:

Ongoing mentoring

On the job shadowing and mentoring can only last so long before the need to meet growing demand requires that new field technicians and engineers work independently. However, with On.Board, this does not mean that the mentoring experience needs to end. The Performance Hub connects your field technicians and engineers to their technical coaches, who are instantly notified every time a learning or assessment task is completed. They can then verify, using uploaded evidence, whether a task has been completed correctly and provide feedback to reinforce best practice or address unsafe or ineffective approaches.

Disseminating undocumented knowledge

Training activities on On.Board can be custom-built around industry-specific tasks. Verification and feedback from technical coaches on said tasks is therefore specific to everyday challenges and is consequently more likely to draw out knowledge that comes from years of hands-on experience rather than a textbook. This helps new hires carry out their work more safely and efficiently and reach competency faster.

Tracking training and mentor performance

On.Board provides quick and easy reports on the progress of each of your field technicians and engineers throughout their training program. If your team is stalling at points or failing to complete certain aspects of their training, you’ll be able to identify exactly where the problem lies and take action to correct it. The same goes for your technical coaches. On.Board provides manager performance reports to give a clear view of the frequency, length, and timeliness of digital feedback provided by each of your technical coaches, providing clear accountability.

Fostering a culture of safety

On.Board’s simple to use builder enables you to create forms which prompt technicians to identify and consider risks before starting a task. Furthermore, you can create assessement documents specific to the tasks your technicians need to demonstrate proficiency with, therefore enabling ‘in the field’ technician qualification. 

For example, a training task can require a HVAC technician to assess his or her surroundings to note whether or not there is a risk of exposure to asbestos, the presence of damaged wiring or overheating equipment. Then as part of an assessment an observation form can be used by an assessor to verify these checks were completed as part of a technician qualification process,

In this way, on the job training can foster a greater awareness of risks, reinforce risk mitigation and reduction practices and ultimately create a culture of safety.

To improve your technician qualification process and reduce your risks at the frontline and reap the benefits at every level, try On.Board; request your free demo today.


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