Count the ways you can bring new recruits to the maintenance profession

Oct. 7, 2010
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, asks readers to become an ambassador for tomorrow's problem solvers.

This summer I got to put my vocal skills (aka big mouth) to good use by being the emcee of a hospice fund-raiser. We gathered more than $10,000 on a Saturday morning when more than 200 motorcyclists rode for charity. I pleaded to the crowd: “If we don’t take care of the caretakers, who is going to take care of us?”

After I reflected on that statement, I realized, if we don’t build a new generation of caretakers of equipment, who is going to take care of our newly sophisticated equipment and our aging equipment and fix our aging infrastructure?


Later that same week, I attended the SMRP strategic-planning meeting, where staff leaders and volunteers met to plan out SMRP’s big-picture future. A major issue discussed was diversity, and I brought up the greatest area of diversity — other than not enough minorities or women. We need to grow a new generation of skilled reliability technicians, engineers and managers to sustain long-term growth and development. During a reception, I met with several attendees including a couple of Babcock & Wilcox engineers who’d traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, from Lynchburg, Virginia. They also brought along their summer intern Chris Mascher, who is a junior electrical engineering student at Virginia Technical University.

Michael Eisenbise, an engineer and the chairman of SMRP, challenged me to put my money where my mouth was and to sponsor this 20-year-old’s emerging professional membership into SMRP. I agreed to not only sponsor Chris’ membership, but I realized that if I sponsored 10 people, then perhaps others would each sponsor 10. And those 10, if mentored properly, would attend future conferences, get references, get engineering jobs and perhaps earn certification, and then maybe in the future serve as a future leader in the engineering ranks and associations.

So, I challenge you and others to reach out to universities, engineering colleges, and technical schools and pull at least 10 students under your wing. Imagine if 1,000 of us each grow 10 engineers, we will have 10,000 new talented resources to fix the problems of tomorrow in our ranks that will be able to take on responsibilities as boomers retire.

Don’t have time?

At least become an industrial cheerleader to encourage others to get involved. Ten years ago at a Noria conference, Suzy Jamieson, the executive director of the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML), encouraged some Brazilian engineers from Silubrin to set up an internship program for at-risk kids in impoverished areas of São Paulo, Brazil. Now Silubrin has a thriving development program each year for 10 girls and 10 boys who are getting job skills, education, mentoring and career pathways into this industrial service company that serves South America. When I was on the fence seven years ago about whether writing a crazy maintenance song would be productive, it was Jamieson who encouraged me onward. That nudge was just what was needed to invest the time to put down the words to the song that has now become the industrial anthem worldwide.

It used to be that companies could act like pirates and just take other companies’ talent and quickly get them productive for their needs. However with the retirements of the current workforce, the cancellation of the apprenticeship programs, the complexity of new machines and the resistance of future generations to pursue skilled vocations, more companies need to become farmers and grow their own. Or better yet, partner with state and local programs to create new technical programs that generate not only basic skills such as welding, but also proficiencies with PLCs and modern automation systems.

For example, Caterpillar is in the process of building a new factory in Sanford, North Carolina and Central Carolina Community College just received several grants to build a brand new technical training center to support its addition and to develop future technicians for other area employers who, despite the recession, can’t locate qualified technicians. I have been asked to help them expand their curriculum with the most advanced predictive technologies.

Also, to help more individuals certify their maintenance management skills, I just arranged with the Association for Facilities Engineering to provide quarterly Certified Plant Maintenance Management (CPMM) review workshops at Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, North Carolina. We hope these sessions will be attended by industry professionals, but also returning soldiers who want to prepare for life after military service. Each year more than 7,000 vets retire out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Hopefully we can convert at least several hundred into industrial technicians and maintenance management professionals. If your employer is interested in interviewing newly certified vets, please let me know.

Pirates might be glamorous in the movies, but growing future maintenance pros is much more satisfying than stealing talent is, plus the workers are much more loyal. So my question to you: If we don’t take care of and build more caretakers of the machines and facilities that we depend on, who will?

Contact Joel Leonard at [email protected].