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The future of work explored at Field Service USA: Gen Z’s impact and new hiring strategies

June 7, 2024

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By Steve Salmon, strategic advisor to the field services industry

Field Service USA invited me to host key industry leaders in a roundtable discussion, resulting in a lively and well-attended forum. Leaders shared valuable insights on the challenges and opportunities their companies face amid evolving macro trends and labor shortages, setting the stage for a productive event. 

Here’s a closer look at some of the key themes and observations from this conversation.

Industry-specific trends and challenges

As economic conditions remain volatile, different field service sectors are adapting to current market pressures. Representatives from the medical sector, a significant part of our roundtable, shared that demand for medical services and equipment remains steady despite economic fluctuations. In IT field services, a pullback in discretionary spending impacts certain projects, but rapid growth persists in areas like data center expansion, wireless infrastructure upgrades, and AV and digital signage projects.

The skilled labor shortage requires companies to adapt to the rise of independent contractors, reshaping workforce dynamics. Leaders agree that adapting to economic volatility, embracing automation, and strategically incorporating on-demand labor is vital for sustained success.

The labor market’s new dynamics

One of the most pressing issues discussed was the labor shortage affecting various industries, including IT field services. It was fascinating to hear how companies are devising new strategies to source labor. An emerging trend is the successful hiring of younger Gen Z workers, who are increasingly looking toward trade schools rather than traditional four-year colleges. In fact, WSJ reported a 16% increase in vocational-focused college enrollment last year, its highest level since the National Studen Clearinghouse (NSC) began tracking such data in 2018. This shift is a significant marker of changing career preferences among younger generations, who are looking to manage debt while feeding their ambition for career growth and entrepreneurship.

Strategic hiring and Gen Z’s workplace expectations

Discussions also touched on the distinctive work expectations of Gen Z. This generation has a different approach to work, favoring flexibility and meaningful engagement over traditional employment models. This shift requires companies to rethink how they attract and retain young talent, ensuring that job roles and company cultures align with these evolving expectations.

Innovations in training and development

The roundtable also shed light on innovative training approaches. For instance, one service company has implemented a multi-year apprenticeship program. This training approach allows new hires to gradually learn and take on responsibilities, a method that ensures depth of expertise but also requires substantial investment. Such models are not widely feasible but offer a glimpse into how leaders are thinking creatively about building a skilled workforce.

The importance of soft skills

A recurring theme was the importance of soft skills in the workforce. Technical skills can be taught, but soft skills—like interpersonal communication and professionalism—are harder to instill. Companies are increasingly prioritizing these traits in their hiring processes, recognizing that these non-technical abilities are crucial for long-term success.

Concluding thoughts

The roundtable discussions and other conversations throughout the event provided profound insights into how various service leaders are navigating current challenges. From innovative training programs to adapting hiring practices for newer generations, the strategies discussed highlight the need for flexibility and innovation in response to changing economic and social landscapes.

These interactions not only enriched my understanding but also emphasized the importance of such forums where leaders can share, learn, and strategize together. The collective wisdom gathered is invaluable as we continue to navigate the complexities of today’s environment.

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