Even as fears grow about a looming recession, US workers continue to quit their jobs in record numbers — indicating no end to the Great Resignation.
Small business owners, particularly those in industries like field service that need workers with technical skills, face additional complications. Baby Boomers are moving into retirement and taking their hard-earned expertise with them, while younger workers are reluctant to even consider entering the field service industry. Those that are entering the industry face a growing skills gap that impacts costs and service.
Some of the industries experiencing the brunt of these challenges include manufacturing, engineering, logistics and any job that requires specialized knowledge and expertise required to perform specific tasks. The good news? There’s a lot that can be done across sectors to overcome these challenges and help is on the way — even the smallest of companies have the power to overcome these challenges and enable their workforce to work smarter (not harder).
It all starts with the power of AI.
Can Small Businesses Really Benefit from AI?
What many people don’t realize is that the same artificial intelligence that makes sense out of those piles of big data collected by large corporations is available to smaller organizations as well, helping to resolve persistent challenges and improve workflow across nearly every industry.
Take a look, for instance, at the field-service sector, where thousands of small businesses either contract with major manufacturers to provide repair-and-maintenance service or independently build their own base of customers. Field service requires dispatching workers or contractors to specific locations (typically the customer’s location) to install, repair, or maintain equipment or complex systems.The segment is growing by nearly 12 percent a year.
It’s a labor-intensive business, and owners of field-service companies find the mass retirement of veteran technicians or field service workers particularly worrisome. Many Baby Boomers now entering their retirement years have amassed decades of hard-earned industry expertise that extends far beyond the instructions in any service manual. They possess valuable skills, including the ability to make the right fix during the first visit, which has been passed from one generation to the next.
But Where is The Next Generation?
Jobs in the skilled trades have proven difficult to fill in recent years, and available applicants are far and few between. A recent survey found only six percent of high school graduates hoped to find a career in repair-services or the skilled trades.
An analysis by Fortune Business Insights found the lack of skills among workers is directly restraining growth of the field-service industry.
Managers are increasingly facing challenges with the younger workforce and this is often due to the lack of resources to train them. Experienced technicians don’t have the time to train new employees the way they used to and machines are becoming more and more complex, which increases the amount of hours it takes to train. Making matters worse, employee dissatisfaction is increasing and frustrated workers are quitting, leading to openings that are hard to fill.
Nimble new software is playing an important role in bridging the skills gap among providers of field-repair services. Big-data analysis and artificial intelligence has the ability to capture technical expertise, share it with field-service workers across generations and help service organizations deliver higher customer satisfaction and improve workforce productivity.
My company, Aquant, for instance, used industry data when we developed our AI-powered appliance repair software, Service Hero. The initial success of Service Hero for Home Appliances encouraged us to widen our appliance repair apps to include Service Hero for Food Equipment, which supports the technicians who service equipment in commercial kitchens.
Essentially, our new repair app takes practical information and expert tips gathered from veteran technicians, combines that knowledge with information provided by appliance manufacturers, and stirs in the insights from technicians who report back the results after they’ve used Service Hero. Through the power of AI, technicians have the information they need right on their phones and no longer need to cull through a manual, search for a YouTube video, or call a more-experienced coworker for help.
The primary objective of the technology is to turn every service technician, even the newest apprentice, into an expert. Users of Service Hero report they are able to resolve issues more quickly, become more self-sufficient, and increase their first time fix rate. This, in turn, allows owners of field-service businesses to hire from a wider pool of less-experienced workers, allowing companies to scale up their operations at a faster pace.
Not only does this technology help fill the knowledge gap, it’s proven to be a useful tool for recruitment and retention of new technicians. Younger workers are accustomed to using apps and technology to solve problems – this software makes their job feel more relevant and less archaic, while giving them the confidence to complete tasks with minimal supervision. This in turn boosts their self esteem, minimizes frustration and ultimately, reduces turnover.
Big Data to The Rescue
Service Hero is just one of the ways that big-data and AI tools are impacting entrepreneurs and owners of growing small businesses.
Denver-based Veritone Inc., for example, helps owners of franchise locations improve their employee-recruitment processes with PandoLogic, a tool that increases the number of qualified applicants, decreases the time to find and hire, and replaces inefficient processes with AI-powered recruiting solutions.
PandoLogic’s AI tools have been adopted by owners of staffing agencies to reduce the headaches and inefficiencies involved with sorting through the hundreds of thousands of job boards where openings are posted these days.
Moveworks, a company headquartered in Silicon Valley, brings the power of AI to human resources functions. Its conversational chatbot provides answers to those routine questions that employees ask every day: Do we get the day after Thanksgiving as a paid holiday? How do I file an expense report?
By automating these conversations, Moveworks saves time and energy and reduces the tedium faced by HR professionals who are burnt out from answering the same questions again and again.
Labor shortages, skills gaps and other challenges over the past few years have made it significantly more challenging for entrepreneurs and small business owners to scale their businesses. But the good news is that technology is here to act as the driving force for positive change. Small business owners can feel more confident with the help of AI and machine learning tools that have the ability to derive higher level insights from big data and solve key challenges within their organization.
Those who leverage these tools will stay ahead of the competition and be recognized as a leading employer, subsequently impacting talent retention and overall workforce productivity – and those who don’t run the risk of getting left behind.