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There is a recurring, age-old question that one would think easy to answer. “How can I determine the optimum maintenance- technician staffing levels for my plant?” Some would say it’s easy. But I would argue there is no reliable international standard for maintenance-technician staffing levels. Some would say they use a formula to calculate an optimum staffing level. Again, there is no reliable formula. What stands in the way? It’s the variability of people.

Let’s put on our RAM-pro hats and figure out what we need to determine the optimum staffing levels for maintenance technicians.

Keep in mind that maintenance-technician work is much like the highly variable work of production-job shops. (Those shops  typically must deal with custom work, short runs, intermittent workloads, and a narrow line of work due to the limitations of various facilities, machinery, and on-board talent.) A typical maintenance department IS, for all intents and purposes, a job shop. Accordingly, we must consider the following aspects of its staffing.

Maintenance Work. We can start by looking at the types of work required. In the world of maintenance work, there are equipment breakdowns, emergency work, planned and scheduled work (including preventive maintenance), lubrication, condition-monitoring, proactive rebuilding/reconditioning, and end-of-life equipment-decommissioning/replacement. Sounds highly variable to me.

People. The BIGGEST variable, i.e., the PEOPLE, must be assessed. It goes without saying that maintenance people are not all the same. Nor are maintenance crafts or trades all the same. Surprised? In my career, I’ve performed hundreds of job-task analyses and interviewed and observed thousands of maintainers to determine equipment-specific training and qualification needs of maintenance personnel in hundreds of facilities, across more than 50 different industries. The maintenance tasks in my database number well over 20,000. Believe me when I state there are no standard maintenance crafts or trades.

Skills. These maintenance-technician-staffing variables must be defined: skill sets, skill levels, and skill proficiency required to maintain a defined plant and set of equipment. Skills, in general, include hands-on skills and applied knowledge required to get a job done right, the first time, every time. While we can calculate the probability of reliability for a piece of equipment or process, it’s not that easy (or possible) with maintenance technicians.

Deployment. Beyond what we know about our maintenance technicians, we must ask how they are deployed. This is where the efficiency of maintenance-information systems, maintenance planning and scheduling, and spare-parts management come into play. In addition, the requirement to follow defined maintenance procedures dictates the degree of maintenance-task efficiency.

Equipment. What about the equipment that maintenance technicians must maintain, troubleshoot, adjust, and repair? How maintainable is this equipment? I once worked in a plant where it took three different wrenches to remove a small machine panel (not a guard) to perform the monthly lubrication. No maintainability consideration had gone into that machine design.

So, beyond the current (or desired) level of equipment performance and the fundamentals of maintenance and equipment management, what else would we have to know to determine the optimum maintenance staffing level? We need to know the currently deployed maintenance-technician skill sets, skill levels, and skill proficiency.

Maintenance management can develop systems and procedures for EFFICIENT maintenance. It’s the maintenance technicians and their deployed talents that make for EFFECTIVE maintenance work.TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the “people-side” of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His vast background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or

Tagsreliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, skills shortages, skill sets, skill proficiency, training and qualification