Train your future in the present

April 4, 2006
Don't pay your maintenance favors back - pay them forward. Inspired by the 2000 movie "Pay it Forward," Joel Leonard describes how applying that message to maintenance just might solve the maintenance crisis.

During the March 7 session, “Fighting the Maintenance Crisis,” at the National Facilities Management & Technology Conference in Baltimore, Pete Little and I polled the 300-plus audience. Only three were in their 20s and 15 in their 30s. When we asked who planned to retire within the next 10 years, more than half the room stood up. Wow!

That wasn’t a scientific poll, but it’s quite frightening to witness first-hand that a significant portion of our skilled, seasoned maintenance/engineering workforce will no longer be available to perform the functions that many in our society take for granted. Our benches have been eliminated, everyone is fully deployed and no one is being groomed as replacements. Companies aren’t prepared for the boomer exodus.

How will we prepare for this tremendous demographic change? How do we develop our future talent now? How can we inspire more of our society’s current or future troublemakers to become future fixers? How can we ramp up the next generation of our workforce quickly enough?

These are tough questions, and I’d love to hear your responses. Meanwhile, here’s an idea I hope you’ll embrace: let’s Fix It Forward. It came to me when I witnessed a young man who got his start at a local skating rink in Greensboro, N.C. perform the very unselfish act of giving his winnings from the Olympic Games to a program in Africa to develop future Olympians. To refresh everyone’s memory, the movie that started it all:
“Pay It Forward” (2000)
When someone does you a big favor, don't pay it back…pay it forward. The rules are:

  1. It has to be something that really helps people.
  2. It has to be something they can't do by themselves.
  3. You do it for them once, they do it for three other people.

Play it forward

Olympian Joey Cheek put the principle into action. American gold medalists receive a $25,000 cash bonus from the U.S. Olympic Committee. At his post-race press conference in Torino, Cheek announced he was giving his money away:

“I know you guys all want to do sweet stories about Hallmark and chocolates and butterflies and all that, but I have a pretty unique experience and a pretty unique opportunity here. So I'm going to take advantage of it while I can.

“I have been blessed by competing in the Olympics in speedskating. If I retired yesterday I would have gotten everything in the world from speedskating and from competing in the Olympics. So for me to walk away today with a gold medal is amazing…. And so, I've always felt that if I ever did something big like this, I wanted to be prepared to give something back.

“As you know, there's been some media but not a ton [about] the Darfur region of Sudan [where] there has been tens and tens of thousands of people killed. My government has labeled it a genocide, and so I will be donating money specifically to refugees in Chad where there are more than 60,000 children who have been displaced from their homes…

“I'm going to be donating the entire $25,000 to the organization [Right to Play] that [Norwegian speed skater] Johann Olav Koss started in 1994. And I'm going to be asking all of the Olympic sponsors that give hundreds of millions of dollars if they will also maybe match my donation to a specific project. And if there's anyone who's going to be reading these articles, if you'd like to check out Right To Play, their Web site is”

Fix It Forward To preserve our economic viability and capacity performance levels to compete on global levels, we need to Fix It Forward. This simple idea could help change the maintenance world and avert the risks of enormous costs, like replacing New Orleans, from preventable disasters.

Want to help Fix It Forward? I am asking, begging, challenging all maintenance professionals to help repair for the future. We have all been blessed to serve our society in one of the most important career paths in our economy. Without us all performing our jobs daily, there will be no economy.

Spread the word: “The crisis is coming, the crisis is coming!” Please download the new PowerPoint presentation titled “Potential Career Path" using the download now button at the bottom of the page.  It is also available at the Maintenance Crisis Resource Center.  Use this tool to help you speak at your area middle schools, high schools and technical colleges and share with future generations the opportunities available in our industry. Also, feel free to print job descriptions and pay scale charts for a variety of positions at Armed with this information, even novice public speakers will have the foundation to speak in detail about these opportunities. Contact me if you need assistance.

Teach new dogs old tricks: While speaking at the schools, I encourage you to find at least three kids and mentor them. Pull these novices under your wing and work to make maintenance experts out of them. Teach them some of the tricks that helped you survive in the business world. Invite them to lunch, then present them a business problem and challenge them to solve it. It could be a technical problem, management problem or even a leadership issue. Ask them to help you solve it. Allow them to shadow you at work. Ask them to help organize your MRO supplies. Ask them to help you develop a newsletter about your department’s value for other departments.

Be careful not to intimidate them: Avoid technical terms. Strive to simplify as much as possible. If you make a decent income, show them your pay stubs so they realize the available revenue opportunities.

Share your challenges, successes and stories: And please, if you don’t have time, could you at least please share this article with others who might be interested in lending a hand to the Fix It Forward movement?

We may not be able to fix the world, but if enough of us join in, we can make a serious difference!

Contact Joel Leonard at [email protected]

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