Next-generation maintenance professionals need more education opportunities

Jan. 20, 2011
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, says the Maintenance Crisis will find you, no matter where you go.

A guy can’t even have a relaxing day of fishing without the maintenance crisis rearing its ugly head of equipment failure. The day after Thanksgiving, several maintenance pros and I decided to take advantage of the last few days of open fishing that Randleman Reservoir in North Carolina provides. However, to our surprise, we almost had a Gilligan’s Island experience.

The boat was a 1972 Boston Whaler with a Johnson 90-hp outboard. Greg Stockton, of Stockton Infrared Thermographic Services, knew it was experiencing difficulty but figured it would last one more day on the lake and thus deferred maintenance. We cruised 2 miles from the landing and were almost at our usual “honey hole” and then bap-bap-bap. The boat engine obviously blew a gasket as we could now only go 3 mph without a loud whirring noise. So, as opposed to fishing, we putt-putt-putted back to safety 45 minutes and many frayed nerves later.

What was fun was that we were going so slowly that I could grip my Droid well enough to chronicle the whole experience on Facebook and was able to alert friends to our predicament as it was happening. So, once again, I not only talk about the Maintenance Crisis, but actually experience it. This was a clear example of what happens in industry every day. A company might have a predictive maintenance expert and an electrical engineer and perhaps even someone with great propensity to explain the challenges of the maintenance crisis, but that might not prevent them from facing a failure beyond their skill sets.

Finding appropriate talent is still difficult despite the current 9% national unemployment rate. Companies are constantly contacting me for potential maintenance generalists who can handle not only mechanical, but electrical, electronic, pneumatic, hydraulic and automation challenges, too. Finding a staff to handle all of the maintenance challenges is next to impossible.

The immense challenge of taking on the maintenance crisis can be quite overwhelming and, sometimes, I just want to throw in the towel. Then, when I’m at my darkest, I meet others taking on enormous challenges, and this inspires me to continue fighting the maintenance crisis.


Do you know Ron Clark? Well, this passionate 6th grade educator of the year, who was featured in “The Ron Clark Story” movie in 2006 and is the best-selling author of the “The Essential 55,” spoke at a recent education summit. Already an accomplished teacher, he wanted a new challenge. After hearing about the need for New York City schools in Harlem to find effective teachers, he quit his job in North Carolina, packed his clothes and drove to Harlem to talk his way into a job. He got a challenge alright. He was given the worst-performing group in the school, and he transformed them to the highest performance on the standardized tests in not only their school, but the entire district.

He now runs the Ron Clark Academy outside of Atlanta and not only educates students, but runs regular programs for more than 3,000 educators and school superintendents. Clark equips our teachers with better practices and modern tools to accelerate their ability to educate students.

That is why I’m so thrilled to have seen the technologies that Lockheed Martin developed to train its technicians. During the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., Lockheed Martin allowed kids to use virtual simulation systems that are used to train technicians to repair F35 jet fighters. This technology allows technicians to understand how the components in the fuselage operate and learn how to perform routine maintenance and troubleshoot failures before actually working on or actually breaking a real, multimillion-dollar jet fighter.

Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina and its private development firm, Navigator Development Group, are feverishly working to industrialize interactive 3-D technologies. The goal is to teach more future technicians to accelerate technical learning, respond to industrial failures with the right corrective action and anticipate failures before they occur. I wish they had developed a program for outboard boat engines.

Also, I’m delighted to have seen the new virtual welder that Carl Peters, director of training at Lincoln Electric, mentioned a couple of years ago at the FabTech trade show in Atlanta. A realistic puddle simulation and arc welding sound tied to the welder’s movement provides a realistic hands-on training experience. This virtual experience can be a great recruitment tool to a new generation of workers. And it doesn’t waste consumables while it provides the foundation of skill sets needed to develop future talent.

In an effort to help the community colleges in the 11-county region surrounding Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to upgrade their reliability performance, I’m arranging a virtual welding demonstration tour among five community colleges in February 2011. In the future, area industry will have a larger labor pool of prequalified welding technicians.

I’m also serving as an advisory board member for the North Carolina Community College System, which is trying to upgrade the curricula with modern maintenance strategies and approaches. Also, I’m delighted to be able to offer the AFE Certified Plant Maintenance Manager (CPMM) program reviews and proctored exams at Fayetteville Technical Community Jan. 24, 25 and 26, as well as another session April 4, 5 and 6.

Why not join me in this challenge to fight the maintenance crisis?

Contact Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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