Field-ready wisdom: A conversation with Jeff Novotny and Shawn Fields

4 min read

Jeff Novotny (Field Nation’s Director of Network Development) and Shawn Fields (Field Nation’s Senior Field Services Strategist) are veterans of the field service industry and have worked with some of the largest, most well-recognized service organizations in the country. In this conversation, they compare viewpoints on the market conditions affecting field service and predict where the industry is going next.


Jeff:

Shawn, when we left off we were talking about the factors that service companies have to take into account when setting competitive prices. Obviously, there are a host of market factors that go into this process as well. Could you talk a bit about the state of today’s labor marketplace? 

Shawn:

Certainly. There are 11.5 million open positions out there right now. 700,000 of those are technical, and 40,000 of those are field service openings. A lot of the field service workforce is 50+, and they’re retiring at an unprecedented rate. Some are calling it the “silver tsunami.” So on one side of the equation you’re losing your most tenured field service engineers. On the other end, you’ve got to think about the younger workers. A recent Service Council study noted that when you look at field service engineers ages 25 and 40, 50 percent aren’t sure they’re going to stay in the field. A lot of companies are looking for W2s and they can’t fill the positions.

My point is this: you need to optimize the work that your current W2s are doing, and you can do that by shifting to a blended workforce model. It takes pressure off the need to hire. It also helps keep your W2s happier because they’re not driving two hours to do a preventative maintenance call. They want the challenging work, the more engaging, complicated technical work. You can keep retention high and you can save on cost in the process.

We’ve both been in the services industry for many, many years. Jeff, if you could offer one piece of advice or guidance to your fellow service leaders on the topic of cost, what would that be?

Jeff:

I would suggest to service leaders that, number one, you have to keep an open mind about where the market is going and where the workforce is going. You have to take an honest look at your accounting. Don’t live in a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mindset. The industry is evolving. There is no one size that fits all. The variable work market is the wave of the future. And the blended model has a place in that future, Field Nation has the resources available to help you in both lean markets and assist W2s in the high volume markets. Just keep an open mind.

How about you, Shawn? Any wisdom to share about where the field service industry is headed?

Shawn:

I’ll close by saying that, as a veteran of this industry, I love the Field Nation platform. Why? Because it helps put people to work. And regardless of how that takes place, that’s what all service leaders are doing today, no matter what system or platform they use to do it. That said, I would submit that we’re going through a seismic shift akin to the advent of the internet or buying books online. This––the blended workforce––this is the wave of the future. And when I’m having these conversations with service executives, my counsel to them is: Don’t be late to this party.

If your competition is opening themselves up to the blended workforce, the pricing advantages that they gain allow them to set more market competitive rates. I wouldn’t want to be the company that is chasing those other companies into this marketplace. I would want to be one that’s leading the way and reaping all the advantages that come with being able to architect the work correctly. I realize it’s a big change, but as Eric Shenseki once said, “If you don’t like change…you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

Jeff: 

Agreed. Eventually, we are going to get to a point where W2s are no longer the dominant resource in the service industry. Today, a company might have a 50/50 split of on-demand workers versus W2s. In the future, that company’s workforce might be 90/10 on-demand to W2s, where the 10% of W2s see high volume, have high touch, are highly technical, and are highly compensated for their specialized expertise.”

Shawn:

I think people are starting to see that external talent marketplaces and the hybrid workforce will continue to build, but they’ll actually live inside the organization. There are going to be internal talent marketplaces where your W2s can catalog what they’ve been trained in and what they’re passionate about. You may have somebody in your data analytics organization who’s passionate about AI and RPA and ML, for instance. Well, if and when that work comes in, you can use your internal marketplace (which might be augmented by an external marketplace) to assign the work. This is going to provide these enterprises so many more advantages.

It goes back to the NASA model. NASA has 10,000 employees, they have a contractor network of 30,000 employees, and they have an innovation network of 1.4 million people. So when they have a problem to be solved, they have literally a million and a half people who will help solve that problem versus the 10,000 people who work for them. That’s what the wave of the future looks like. We’re talking about a specific segment of that in terms of field services, but the overall change is coming.