Maintenance in distress

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We are living in a technology driven world. Most things that we do use technology. Our homes are full of it, not to speak of our workplaces. We need cars, phones, televisions, and stoves to mention a few of the most basic. And then we get to computers, fax machines, printers, copiers. Not to speak of the iPods, portable MP3 players, DVD's, and so one could go on....

And it goes without saying that most production processes are driven by technology. The point here is that all this technology must be maintained. By people who are trained to do such maintenance. And this is our problem, the point of distress of maintenance. We do not get the quality of people anymore, and the training is getting poorer and poorer.

When a new model car are introduced, what happens? Before the new model can be serviced at dealers the mechanics have to go through retraining. But, do we do the same in our industries? Do I hear a loud no? When we bring in a new production machine, we assume that the craftsman will just know how to maintain it. After all, they are artisans! It does not matter whether they have been trained twenty years ago or yesterday? We have a very naive view of training in our field.

A second point have to do with the quality of the human material we get to train as tradesmen/women. The best of young people are interested in what technology has to offer, but not in maintaining it. We are a generation of end users. We specialise in doing nice things. We travel, we enjoy TV, we play, we communicate, and we eat out. We need technology for this. But the most gifted people today are not interested in a career in keeping these things running.

These professions were regarded as good vocations in the first part of the 20th century. But they are now more and more marginalised. But that does not mean that they are less needed - on the contrary they are needed more!

So, what should we do? One answer might be to replace human maintainers with robots. Shall we call them mainbots? The other is to get the right type of people interested in maintenance as a vocation. And then to train them properly.

The people in control of maintenance should boost the maintenance profession. They should visit schools, taking maintenance to the pupils. The objective should be to win them over. There is always a number of smart pupils who are naturally attracted to machines' guts. However, they often make other life choices - by sheer ignorance. Persuade them of the benefits of a maintenance career. Take them on a trip to your business - excite them using demonstrations and video. Take an keen interest in apprentice training. It is after all not the training people will eventually work with the trainees! We as engineers must make sure that we get able workmen/ women.

The pay of maintenance workers needs to be in line with the importance of the job. It needs to compete well with the pay offered by alternative job possibilities. It is again the task of maintenance managers/engineers to effect this. We should wake to the crisis that we maintainers face!

In the meantime we must invest in our present maintenance personnel. Maintenance managers, including supervisors, should coach their personnel to success. We give too large a proportion of our time to meetings - this leads to our most important asset not being developed sufficiently.

Maintenance results depend on people!

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