By Patrice Eberline, Vice President, Global Customer Transformation, ServiceMax

40%. That's the estimated percentage of the workforce over age 40 in engineering and skill positions currently. These are the Gen X’ers and the Baby Boomers, and not surprisingly their numbers are starting to decline as employees hit retirement age. Up to this point Field Service has been lucky in that attrition is typically quite low and career company loyalty is high, however that is changing. In a recent Chief Service Officer Summit, while most Field Service Leaders acknowledged the above, one company in high tech service cited that for the first time they were seeing attrition rates as high as 15-18%! Remember, these are the field technicians that keep our world running; we can’t afford to ignore signs of change. As we move into 2015 and beyond, the current, aging workforce will be replaced by a new generation of employees, and it will take you by surprise if you are not ready for it.

Enter the Millennials. By 2020 a full 50% of the labour force will be “Millennials”- those born after 1980. Why is this important? More than their large numbers, Millennials represent a huge shift in the makeup of our workforce - everything from educational background (roughly 61% of Millennials attended college/university compared to 46% of baby boomers) to technical savvy, to how they fundamentally think about work and their role in the world.

Millennials are making an impact across the board and getting the attention of business as well. Marriott for example, recently debuted a new hotel brand, AC Hotels, specifically for this new generation of travelers. From collaborative business centres and “social lobbies” for networking/relaxation, to rooms equipped with the latest technology. Businesses are embracing this new generation, and harnessing the power of their sheer numbers.

It’s been said that this generation is needy, entitled, narcissistic, and often tough to manage. I would counter that they bring a new element to business, representing a driving force and competitive weapon that can be used to differentiate your organisation, strengthen the connection between you and your customer, and further the revenue and bottom line growth for your company.

So what makes this generation tick?

Millennials have grown up with technology more so than previous generations. Most have only a cellphone (no landline), and have jumped fully into social media as an integrated part of their lives. They have access to millions of pieces of digital content that are consumed on tablets and phones, have digital “libraries” of music rather than bookshelves of vinyl, and as a group tend to believe that technology can be the key that brings people and worlds together.

Millennials have boundless energy. They want to make an impact. Quickly. With everything they do. Fueled by their social conscious and belief in contributing to the greater good, they expect to contribute and make an impact in a variety of ways, and in turn be recognised for their contributions frequently.

Millennials at their core are collaborative. Most have spent a good deal of their lives participating on teams, from sports teams to special interest clubs, and of course social media groups. They live in a world of “we” rather than “me” and crave a life rich with different experiences, based on relationships rather than leverage. They also value the role they play and the creativity they bring to their work. According to the Council of Economic Advisors (October, 2014), Millennials are “more likely than previous generations to state that making a contribution to society is very important to them”, and as such they strive to incorporate a social conscious and ‘greater good’ into their work lives.

While this generation is enthusiastic, altruistic, energetic, entitled, and yes, perhaps a bit needy- if understood and incented in the right ways, they can be an overwhelmingly positive asset for any organisation, and particularly for field services, where technician contact may be the most frequent “face to face” contact your customers have with your company.

Their attributes are actually a good fit for a career in the field service industry. Our entire civilisation now depends on field service technicians to maintain the very machines that keep our world running. Millennials not only want to make a big impact on the world and be recognised for it, but unlike previous generations, they have predominately grown up surrounded by technology and machines and have a social conscious to boot. Given the profitability potential that field service now has to drive meaningful revenue in a fledging economy where product shelf life is being extended rather than replaced, a career in field service gives Millennials the potential to both make money and make a difference.

So the question is “How”. How do tailor field service jobs to make them attractive to Millennials and deal with the change in motivational drivers and process to further your field strategy and keep the world running- better and better every day?

Use their love of technology. According to a Deloitte survey, “Millennials want to work in organisations that support innovation.” They are drawn to the latest in mobility, quickly and effortlessly incorporating these tools into their lives. From tablets and phones to wearables such as Google Glass and integrated wrist bands, embracing innovation is the norm for Millennials. The good news is that many of today’s companies are also harnessing new technologies, and rolling them out at high speeds in an effort to provide best in class experiences for their customers. The marriage of these trends can be a huge win for the future of Field Service, as the Millennial “hunger for knowledge” means lowered learning curves and quicker adoption of tools for your business.

Harness their energy. Millennials want to change the world for the better, and they have the energy and expectation that they will do just that. Remember, they grew up in a world where a grade point average at the highest scale was commonplace, and where their acceptance into college/university was as much a function of their marks as it was their participation in the community. Use that energy and vitality! Encourage active participation and ownership of customer loyalty at every encounter. Bring them into the fold to be part of the service vision for your organisation and passion for your offerings. They are eager to make a difference and will not disappoint.

Support their creativity and collaboration. Millennials want to be involved- let them. You will be amazed at the creativity they bring to the table- whether in uncovering new avenues for revenue generation, or new ideas around cost cutting. If you are open to their input and generous in your communication and feedback, you will reap the benefits. Remember however, that the Millennial employee’s need to make an impact quickly comes with an expectation of continuous feedback, frequent coaching, and multi-dimensional work experiences. Routine appraisals as well as active coaching and mentoring are needed to sustain them- even rotation of responsibilities in your services organisation will excite and incent them towards great performance.

Give your customers a “360 degree ‘best in class’ experience” Our customers are becoming more and more social as they look for faster and more efficient ways to interact with companies and get the "platinum" service they deserve. Let this new workforce use and push your company’s social presence to meet the needs of your customers. Millennials’ love of, and in fact need for social interaction in their work can be a huge plus for field service loyalty goals, as customer satisfaction via relationship building may come more naturally to this generation than previous generations. The groundswell of relationships and brand awareness that results will help you truly be a multifaceted partner to your customers.

It's easy to see the correlations between the changing needs of today’s field service organisations and the strengths of the Millennial. With ever widening product bases and time (in some cases years) needed to train an engineer, companies cannot afford to take the risk of high attrition. The key is to capitalise on the golden opportunity in front of you. …But you better do so quickly, before you get caught behind the 8-ball or your service business will stop running as efficiently as it has been.