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Today’s maintenance departments cannot, and do not, function autonomously. To be successful they must first recognize that success is based upon a series of integral partner relationships, set up and managed to provide mutual benefit for all partners. For many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a damaging effect on maintenance staffing levels through sickness, lay-offs, and early retirements. This situation, in turn, has forced countless organizations to reassess their existing business models and partnership agreements. As devastating as it may seem, this should be viewed as a change opportunity whereby a business puts in place a more efficient operating model than it had pre-pandemic: one that’s designed to meet the immediate situation and grow into a revised future state.

Moving forward successfully requires a Maintenance organization to review corporate’s current and forecast production deliverable projections against the deaprtment’s ability to maintain assets at the required RAM (Reliability, Availability, Maintainability) levels with its current maintenance-workforce staffing and resource capability.

In work, just as in life, many resign themselves to playing the cards that fate has dealt for them and frequently suffer the consequences. Just like in a game of poker, a royal flush is the dream hand everyone wishes for. But in the absence of that hand, many are willing, often content, to gamble on a single ace or simple pair and lose more times than they win.

In the game of real life, two identical sister companies, manufacturing the exact same product, under similar conditions, with the same equipment of the same age, will require totally different management approaches to achieve similar levels of excellence. The differentiating factor is the people and their relationships.

Different workforces will display different levels of enthusiasm, pride, knowledge, experience, training, and cognitive understanding with which to go about their daily activities. As in poker, a workplace royal flush is just as hard to find, especially in a post-pandemic environment. Achieving excellence, though, is a result of understanding the hand you are dealt (good or bad) and “stacking one’s deck” with strategic partnerships.

When rethinking strategic partnerships, the first partnership meeting should be with the union(s), if a one exists within the company. The union is a crucial partner required to help navigate the difficult changes ahead, especially when they may challenge the existing collective agreement. In doing so, a union representative should be part of all negotiations and policy change meetings surrounding the setting of new policies for use of outside contract services on both a short (interim) and long-term basis.

Once current staffing levels, experience, and capabilities have been assessed against a site’s revised current and future production needs, a new policy and operating agreement surrounding the use of outside contract services to supplement existing maintenance staff can be formulated and agreed upon.

As in the pre-pandemic world, high-demand skilled work within the current core capability of the internal staffing group should continue to be kept in-house and only contracted on an interim basis when short staffed in these areas. Similarly, low demand work requiring a high level of expertise is once again a likely candidate for contract services, and could include work such as overhead door or roof maintenance. Marginal work such as Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) can be negotiated depending on the internal expertise level and staffing availability. Total workload will also play a role in determining what type of work can be taken on by internal and/or contract labour.

Establishing a new “Contractor Use Guideline” document allows plant management and workers to agree on when contract service providers are to be used in the new operating environment. As the post-pandemic period is still fluid and ever-changing, this guideline should be a “living document” that will be reviewed for validity and required changes/updates every three months until the marketplace has settled somewhat.

Because contractors are in short supply, it behooves a corporation seeking their services to set up a relationship model in the form of a service-level agreement (SLA) that meets and surpasses the expectations of both parties. An SLA clearly spells out the deliverables, guarantees and expectations of both parties up front. When many competitors may be vying for the same contract services, spelling out a clear value added partnership-operating agreement would go a long way to ensuring you are always the “A” client.

From a maintenance expectation, the SLA should place an expectation on the contractor to minimally deliver the following:

♦  a work proposal within X days (if and when required)

♦  guaranteed first time quality work

♦  use of certified trades personnel

♦  use of industrial high-quality materials and parts (these may or may not be provided by the internal
MRO stockroom, if there is one)

♦  work to performed in X hours or days, based on an agreed upon criticality /priority rating

♦  job-site cleaning performed upon completion of work and appropriate items/materials removed

♦  contractor to follow all documented processes and procedures that internal maintenance staff follows

♦  contractor to work off the standard corporate maintenance work order and complete that work order
once the job is finished (if authorized, the contractor may be able to complete the work order online
through the site’s CMMS/EAM system)

♦  contractor is to advise the supervisor immediately upon completion of the work

♦  invoice submitted within X days.

In addition, if advantageous to the corporation, maintenance may wish to specify named contract personnel to be assigned under a retainer agreement for a guaranteed X hour/days per week. This will ensure you get the resource you want, when you want.

From a contractor’s perspective, an “A” client will provide the following within the SLA:

♦  guaranteed minimum number of work hours

♦  payment premium over normal charge-out rates

♦  X-day turnaround on all work proposals

♦  guaranteed access to assets upon arrival at the site (requires a partnership agreement with Production
to hand over the asset in X hours, once a repair is scheduled with the contractor)

♦  guaranteed payment on the next payment cycle, or within X days, upon invoicing

♦  production-operator assistance upon machine start-up.

Relationships are only as good as each partner’s effort, so they must be beneficial to both. Because contract services are currently in such high demand, when setting up revised agreements, forego the typical RFP (Request for Proposal) and try, as soon as possible, to negotiate directly with your preferred contractor. Finally, base the site’s choice of contractors and associated SLA agreements on work quality and turnaround time, rather than price. After all, as most RAM pros know, where failures are concerned, time is always cost plus.TRR


Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management systems, planning and scheduling, work orders, skills crisis, contract services, service providers