By David Berger, P.Eng.
When reviewing the user requirements that many companies rely on when seeking a new computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), it’s clear that human resource (HR) management issues aren’t the main driver behind the selection process. Instead, the emphasis generally favors software features that maximize equipment reliability, availability and performance, as well as optimize supply chain efficiency and effectiveness. These are important elements to get right. However, don’t underestimate the importance of the human element when trying to get the most out of your CMMS and, in turn, your maintenance department. Here are examples of typical HR issues and how a CMMS can assist in resolving them.
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Several issues relate specifically to the choice of maintenance department supervisors and managers. One key issue is the appropriate supervisor-to-worker ratio for each trade. Maintenance shops vary widely with respect to this benchmark. If forced to provide an industry average ratio for larger maintenance departments (defined as having more than 30 tradespeople), a ratio of about 15:1 would be reasonable. Smaller shops with a mix of trades tend to have lower ratios.
Another variable in determining the appropriate supervisor-to-worker ratio is shift coverage. If maintenance is required around the clock, seven days per week, then a medium-size maintenance department of, say, 30 workers, has four or more crews of less than 10 people each. If there’s at least one supervisor for each crew, then the supervisor-to-worker ratio will be low. Note that as a general rule, the ratio will be greater to the extent that the CMMS is used in a more sophisticated manner. For example, a supervisor who employs comprehensive mobile technology that can download an entire detailed schedule to each technician and receive detailed, real-time feedback as to what has been accomplished will be in a better position to supervise more people effectively.
Lead-hands are senior hourly employees who have been given the added responsibility of supervising a crew. Some plants assign a working lead-hand to supervise a smaller crew, such as an electrical lead-hand on nights, to help increase the ratio. Many companies have a problem attracting lead-hands because the perception is that a few cents more an hour is just not worth the additional aggravation and frustration. The frustration to which they refer is the increased paperwork, politics, administrative duties and responsibility to discipline fellow workers. This is especially difficult if the lead-hand hasn’t been trained to use the CMMS as an effective management tool.
A second issue is the matter of supervisory qualifications. As is the case in production and even office environments, the best workers tend to be given promotions to management positions. Sometimes this means converting a good worker into an untrained, inferior supervisor. Companies must spend thousands of dollars on supervisory training to help a worker make the transition. This must continue far beyond a supervisor's probationary period. The company is responsible for ensuring that expectations of the new supervisor are crystal clear from day one, and that deviations are discussed and corrected during the probationary period. Most CMMS packages can track the training that technicians and supervisors acquire. More sophisticated HR modules can assist in establishing and tracking training schedules to meet any identified competency gaps.
Another problem with worker promotion in companies suffering from chronic overtime is that workers will take a drop in income or will be required to work longer hours for no additional pay. This makes it difficult to attract and motivate new supervisors. The CMMS can track overtime hours and alert management when a chronic overtime trend is emerging.
Ensuring adequate redundancy by production department, function or trade, and shift, is essential for workers and management. For example, reliance on one electrician or a single resident mechanic in a given production department in a large facility can be fatal if a serious or large-scale emergency arises.
Redundancy implies appropriate backup is available in the same sense that NASA uses redundant computers for its space vehicles. The level of redundancy required depends on the criticality of the relevant processes and the type of maintenance required.
A CMMS can assist in tracking the skills acquired, competencies and formal training of each technician. When assigning work to employees during scheduling, a more sophisticated CMMS allows maintenance planners to search for workers with specific skills and certifications for a given job.