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The answer to staffing for reliability, availability, and maintenance (RAM) improvements may not be outside your plant but inside. Sure, sites are facing some mighty big headwinds these days. This staffing-related one, though, is the  biggest I’ve seen in over four decades in this business.

We’re in the midst of a perfect storm that’s only getting worse: ongoing skills shortages, needed skills no longer taught in schools; unattractiveness of hands-on jobs; cash subsidies for not working; significantly diminished child-care options; the lowest labor-participation rate in more than 20 years (with the exception of early pandemic times); on-shoring of overseas manufacturing; and horrific supply-chain woes. You name it. We have it. And, as if we needed anything else to exacerbate this bad situation, we also see inflation rates and consumer prices hitting all-time highs. That means countless low-wage earners can’t break even if the do have good jobs.

I won’t get into the underlying statistics here, but evidence of this storm’s wrath is everywhere. And no wonder: It has been building strength for two-decades or more. We can see the signs in our daily lives at home, work, and in our communities. That’s not the point of this piece, however. The real point is what can we do/should we do to keep our plants and facilities humming? In my opinion, one of the best ways to prepare for (and survive) the ensuing tsunamis is to address the people-side of RAM.

This is the ideal time to grow your own; recruit from within; identify a few reliable employees who know how to work in your plant and have the potential to learn new skills. Grow your own reliability technicians, maintenance mechanics, planners, storeroom clerks, and the like. For decades, studies have shown that promoting from within is more cost-effective, more successful than recruiting and hiring off the street or poaching people from other employers. How can we do it?

First. identify potential talent in the organization, inside and outside your department. Make the case for job promotions, pay increases, new career paths, but most of all how such a move would improve plant or facility performance. Negotiate with decision makers to build the case for a common-sense approach to staffing and improving performance at the same time.

Now is the time to coach. Engage your highly skilled technicians who can communicate well with others as coaches. On-job training and coaching is one of the (if not the) most efficient and effective ways to build skills in our line of work. Think of coaching this way: The coach is like a lighted candle. When that particular candle lights another, neither will lose anything. Instead, together they produce more light. In the process, other candles can be lit in ways that, say, engage a plant-floor workforce in reliability improvement actions, as well as new career opportunities.

As I’ve discussed in the past (see article links below), coaching must be formalized and organized. But it’s not difficult or complicated to get started. Be advised: There are few alternatives (if any) to solid, focused on-job training with a genuine coaching approach.

Preparing for industry’s intensifying perfect storm doesn’t mean stocking up the lifeboats. Rather, we should be altering our course to steer away from the storm. And don’t forget the candles. Godspeed.TRR



Click The Following Links To The Referenced Articles

“Skills-Training Quick Start” (April 5, 2021)

“Develop A Skills-Training & Qualification Checklist” (April 17, 2021)

“Make On-Job Training (OJT) Effective And Efficient” (April 22, 2021)



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, asset management, skills development, on-the-job training, supply-chain issues, training and qualification, professional development