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We face challenging situations every day. In many cases, dealing with short-term challenges is basically a normal way of life for a maintenance organization. The real problems are our long-term challenges, the ones at our doorstep or looming just over the horizon that we often put off tackling.

Back in April 2017, I spoke to nearly 90 maintenance professionals at an Oklahoma Predictive Maintenance User’s Group (OPMUG) event. Maintenance managers, supervisors, technicians, mechanics, planners, and engineers, they came from a wide variety of industries. Regardless of their role or business, though, they were all actively pursuing better maintenance practices.

I asked the attendees to take a few minutes and think about the top three challenges for maintenance that they expected to see in the next three to five years. Let’s review what they pointed to and how those things compare to challenges we may be facing today. Based on my analysis, the 117 items they came up with fit in the following nine major categories (some fit in more than one):

    • Skills Gaps (35)
    • Culture of Reliability (35)
    • Training & Qualification (27)
    • Top Management (26)
    • New Technology (11)
    • At-Risk Assets (10)
    • Parts (10)
    • Knowledge Transfer (8)
    • Life-Cycle Asset Management (5)

Looking for a common theme among the OPMUG responses, it’s not too surprising to see that it was “people,” i.e., the biggest variable in improving equipment maintenance, performance, and reliability. Of the nine major challenges, three of them—Skills Gaps, Training & Qualification, and Knowledge Transfer (with a combined total of 70 responses) pointed to challenges on the front line of maintenance.

Many responses alluded to difficulties in finding qualified technicians and shortages of skilled trades people. A few referenced the Millennial Generation’s communication skills, work habits, and expectations. Several addressed the lack of competencies for and interests in industrial maintenance careers.

Capturing the knowledge of workers nearing retirement appeared to be a sizeable challenge for many respondents. They noted that their organizations stood the chance of losing all skills and knowledge gained from years of experience. Furthermore, there was concern that even if they could capture crucial knowledge, without a capable replacement or the mechanism to train new employees, that knowledge would be lost.

A second group of challenges—Top Management, Culture of Reliability, and Life-Cycle Asset Management (with a combined total of 66 responses)—pointed to the need for leadership to improve equipment maintenance, performance, and reliability. Whether it’s the pursuit of best practices, asset-management processes, or culture change, top management sets the tone and defines the culture by purposeful actions, or, by default, through inaction.

Some responses tied the challenge of Top Management to struggles with hiring and training priorities, i.e, management’s inability to grasp the severity of skills gaps, shortages, and knowledge transfer. Several referenced decisions to cut maintenance costs and staff, reductions in time for preventive maintenance, and misinterpretation of the reliability requirements of new equipment.

Others referred to “silo” organizations and the type of decision-making that hindered maintenance and hurt the reliability of equipment and processes. Those siloed objectives and decisions led to an organization’s inability to focus on common goals for overall business improvement.

Regarding “Culture of Reliability” ranking right up there with “Skills Gaps” as a top challenge: Leading a culture of reliability means that the line of sight between reliability best practices and the goals of the business are understood. Frequently, that line of sight is not so apparent with reliability best practices appearing as a flavor of the month.

Granted, these findings from five years ago were based on what experienced maintenance and operations-reliability folks thought the maintenance environment might be like these days. But things change. So, stay tuned. I’m back with OPMUG this week and will provide an update of the attendees’ perspective on top maintenance challenges in an upcoming article for The RAM Review.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, workforce issues, training and qualification, organizational culture