Our counterparts in Europe are making serious progress in upgrading the maintenance profession by developing uniform job standards. The European Federation of National Maintenance Societies (EFNMS) is finalizing standardized job classifications for maintenance manager, maintenance supervisor and maintenance technician in 21 European countries.
Isn’t it hard enough to order a pizza that everyone agrees on?
Imagine getting 21 countries, each represented by successful engineers with perhaps sizeable egos, to agree on competency, job responsibilities and knowledge levels. When reviewing this 41-page document, I could only guess at the amount of arguing, posturing, blood, sweat and tears needed to pound out this noteworthy paper. They also agreed that European maintenance departments will use English as the primary language when documenting work orders, manuals and maintenance procedures.
When I shared this development with some U.S. engineers, some disappointingly responded, “Oh, we need to develop our own.” Without even having read it, they said, “We don’t want European standards. What do they know?” Well, despite the evidence of my countrymen’s ignorance, I hope many leaders make a more informed decision after reviewing this document.
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (www.smrp.org) is developing similar standards and will meet with the EFNMS later this year in Rome to ensure both documents are congruent, if not identical. The SMRP also is establishing standards and best practices for identifying, developing and optimizing key performance indicators for maintenance. These developments will ensure that the maintenance profession increases in professionalism and credibility in the years to come.
We really need our professional organizations to help us step up our level of performance to overcome some serious business obstacles. Fighting ignorance and apathy has been the biggest obstacle. Years ago, most people didn’t know about the pending maintenance disasters and didn’t care. After numerous public disasters in the media spotlight like Hurricane Katrina, refinery deaths, pipeline leaks, numerous large-scale power outages and, most recently, the Walter Reed Hospital mess, proper maintenance is beginning to be desired and not viewed as a budgetary line item to minimize regardless of consequences.
Each of these events has caused serious ripple effects in the industry. More companies are beginning to wise up enough to embrace proactive maintenance strategies and reduce chronic deferred maintenance backlogs. More laws, regulatory edicts and decrees are being written. Even execs and board members are being held accountable for proper maintenance — just ask former BP board chairman Lord Brown, who is now out of work and trying to salvage his golden parachute. Soon, industrial maintenance may have to produce monthly affidavits proving performance of PM inspections, a practice required for roller coaster maintenance. Although that might be extreme, it is perhaps warranted and even healthy to ensure shortsighted execs start taking better care of capital assets.
How many companies have a surplus of accountants and a very sparse maintenance department?
I recently convinced a major business expansion management and site selection magazine to consider publishing information for economic development leaders and site selection teams to determine which U.S. metropolitan areas have strong or weak levels of skilled maintenance technicians. Once the “Skilled Maintenance Technician Index” is published several times and enlightened regions begin using their concentrations of skilled technicians to lure new plants to their areas, more communities will embrace maintenance development. This will move maintenance out of “uncool” status so more kids will want to learn more about electricity, electronics, hydraulics and many essential skills that our retiring boomers will take with them.
If you’re wondering, what you can do to help fight the maintenance crisis? Here are some suggestions:
Be proud! Don’t buy into persistent, ignorant misperceptions that we are necessary evils, merely cost centers, or not essential to growth and advancement of the business and the economy.
Be good! Overcome the “Bubba and Skeeter” image of our industry forefathers and move from the maintenance cowboy era to developing, implementing and adhering to high levels of reliability and performance. Pursue professional certification through SMRP or the Association for Facilities Engineering (AFE, www.afe.org).
Tell the world! Business, government and education leaders must understand that our skilled workforce is retiring at historically high rates at a time when skilled workers are in hot demand; that existing equipment and infrastructure continues to age, requiring more maintenance; that new equipment is very sophisticated and requires skilled care to maintain; and that kids can make a good living serving in the maintenance profession. Then, they’ll be more likely to help fix the maintenance crisis.
Contact Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.